Thursday, October 13, 2016

how you survive loss

you don't
the person you were dies
not suddenly
but slowly
you grow a hard shell around her
you can still push through it
to the soft flesh inside
but it takes ever more force
to feel the dead you inside

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothers Day

Not just Mothers Day, mind you, but the fifth anniversary of the last day I spent with my son.  Tomorrow will be the fifth anniversary of the last time I hugged him goodbye. September will be the fifth anniversary of his death.  "The years keep rolling by, but ah, the days are long," goes one of the saddest songs by The Walkmen.  Someone who lost his brother wrote the other day that with each anniversary it gets harder.  How do we survive the unsurvivable then?  We don't.  We die and are replaced by someone who can.  That someone is us now.  I used to be a sad person.  Now I don't allow myself to be sad.  I almost never cry.  I can't go there.  I try to get away from myself.  I try to think of myself in the third person.  Yes, how sad for her.  Such a pity.  But I can't feel like that person.  Except when I don't have a choice.  When my body takes over.  Like last night when I went to bed.  I felt like a balloon under my diaphragm was pressing on my heart, trying to suffocate it. I felt like I was dying. It's still there.  I cried a little here and there, mostly reading other women's accounts of loss.  It seems that half the things I read about mothers today were sad.  See, you're not unique.  Get over yourself.  But I can't.  The balloon is still there.  It's like I'm holding my breath, while still breathing.  I think of cancer often, a lot.  It's the only death I'm familiar with and I hope for it to rescue me.  Because it only gets harder.  And how can I bear it?  And how can I be this person I am not?  Why is she still here?  I don't want to be her.  I don't want to be the person who survived her son's death for five years.  I want it to be over.  Now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

why I don't write anymore

They say that when you have a child, it's like having your heart walk around outside your body. 
When you lose a child, you lose your heart. 
I have always wanted to write, at least since I was 11 or so, and I have always resorted to writing in my most difficult moments.  Writing a book about my son's death seemed the only true thing I could do, and I pushed through the pain, because he was worth it.  But now that the wound has scarred over, it seems worthless to reopen it.  It's not that the pain is gone, but it seems like there is no one left to feel it.  There are still the moments of terror, when I'm falling asleep and it all comes to me so clearly that it seems impossible to fall into the forgetfulness of sleep.  But I have to believe I can, for the sake of sanity, fall asleep.  Otherwise I would have to end my consciousness some other way.  And when you do that enough - when you push back those thoughts in order to regain your peace of mind, then you are no longer you.  You are just a zombie living out your days.  And that is what I am, and why I can't write anymore.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Achilles absent was Achilles still

That quote figured repeatedly in his posts.  And I have used it to evoke him.  I just realized why he identified with Achilles.  He broke his heel.  Literally.  When he jumped out of a window.

Thursday, March 27, 2014


your lack,
the void you left
what am I if not your mother
the world is devoid of tragedy now
I can leave at any time and it will not be tragic
but I stay, to feel the void
all that is left of you - an emptiness in the shape of me

Saturday, March 15, 2014

how to survive when you don't want to

This is how you do it: you empty yourself of desire.  Any desire leads to longing, longing leads to regret. 
You become the pain.  You know when it comes.  You know that breathing deep can ease it, but you don't.  You clamp down on it, let it wash through you.  You become it.  You don't avoid it. This is you now, this vessel for pain.  Anything else is a delusion.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

life as suffering

When I was little I was grateful that I was born after the wars had ended (little did I know that wars never end) and 20 years since the last world war seemed a long time, indeed - a nice buffer for me from all that suffering.  I thought that no matter what happens to me, it can't be that bad.  Then I heard of accidents - car crashes and the like, and freedom from suffering became a little less certain, but still I felt impervious.  If only I did my best, I thought things would likely turn out alright.  What I didn't realize is that things never 'turn out' alright. It just depends where you end the story - isn't that the cliche about happy endings?  Because in the end it's never alright.  My mother's death taught me that.  Things are alright until they're not anymore. 

What I still don't understand is how I'm supposed to continue in the face of things never being alright again.  How much suffering can I take.  Last night, as I lay in bed my heart literally hurt, or at least the left side of my chest.  And it's like this every night, and every time I wake up, and in the middle of the day, when my mind can't be distracted and now it comes with hot flashes, not just spasms in my core.  But it's not the physical pain I mind - I could probably seek redress for that, and it's not the lack of a happy ending - I know there is none.  It's the why go on like this that boggles my mind.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

only in dreams

I was thinking again last night about whether it gets easier.  In a way, yes, the habit of loss sets in.  People can get used to anything - even a missing limb, even a missing person.  But like a missing limb, it's always there - your body or your life will never be complete.  It hits you over and over, despite the habit.  It's not that you forget, but sometimes hope sort of rises unconsciously and then you think, well, actually, no - it doesn't matter whether I'm healthy or sick, whether my day is interesting or dreary, whether I look good or haggard, whether anybody cares, or not, because this will never change - my son will never not be gone.  And then you wish there was a place where you could scream at the top of your lungs, but that wouldn't matter either, because your grief doesn't change anything either, so you just get used to keeping it inside and plodding on.

Ah, but there is one space still left to you.  And it happened last night.  In my dream I knew he hadn't died, though I didn't set out to convince anyone, perhaps because I knew they wouldn't believe me.  How it happened, I didn't know - he got off on a technicality perhaps.  This dream was familiar to me from when my mother died, but because she was sick, it was also filled with sorrow, because I knew she was still to die.  But not with my son, because he didn't have to die - it was all a stupid mistake, and if only he had dodged it, everything would be different.  But it's not.  Death is the only incontrovertible truth.  You can fall out with people, and it could seem that nothing would bring them back, but there is always hope that you would see past the betrayals and find each other again.  Death is the only absolute.  And, so, no - it never gets better.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


"There is always a little flicker there. It is a bit like the small glowing embers you see after a fire dies down. I carry that around me, a little ember, and if I need to, if I want to have Claire next to me, I blow on it, ever so gently, and it glows bright again."
 That is how it is, except there are times when the flame burns so bright, you want it to consume you, but it can't and you are left outside in the cold, still there knocking your head against the wall. The article I got the above quote from reminded me of my son's first experience with death.  It was my grandmother, his great-grandmother, who died when he was four.  He saw her in the months before that when she got sick.  I remember we were in the car, when I told him she had died.  Somehow, he already knew what death was, I didn't have to explain.  Acting well beyond his years, and a little theatrically, I thought at the time, he teared up and hid his eyes with his little fists.  Soon after that he woke up from a nightmare crying.  When I asked him what it was about he said that he dreamed I was old. I didn't ask him, but I'm sure he associated being old with dying.  I could only assure him that I was not going to be old for a very long time.  As it turned out he would never see me old. 

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Thanksgiving used to be my favorite.  I loved making all the dishes, even in my smallest kitchen, where I had to keep moving things around because I would run out of counter space.  He always came home for Thanksgiving.  I don't remember one without him.  It would just be the three of us and he would keep eating throughout the day.  I would have the turkey ready for lunch, then in the afternoon we would go out for a walk or a movie, then eat some more.  I can't have Thanksgiving anymore.  I won't say there is nothing to be thankful for anymore.  Things could always get worse.  I'm sure they will get worse.  There is no way they will get better.  But I am grateful for the past.  I will always be grateful for him.  But bearing with it is wearing me down.  Today I can't have a moment without thinking of his absence and how no matter what else happens, it will always be thus - he will never be here.  And no matter if my life is no different from before - after all it was only a few times a year that I saw him, and as much as I try to live in the moment and not go over the past or think of the future, I always come back to this immutable fact - he doesn't exist anymore.  And it always surprises me with its finality.  Other things can change, but this can never change.  My life is somehow dreamlike and this is the recurring motif - I wake up to this realization many times a day.  I still haven't internalized it.  And the pain has returned at night, but at a lower intensity - it comes in waves, repetitively, rhythmically.  But the pain is a crutch.  I welcome it.  It is much worse, when I am awake and I can't even cry - I can never cry, because it will be endless.  He will never not have died.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I have been thinking of retiring this blog.  Like other things, it has stopped working.  Many times it has saved me from doing worse, knowing that there is somewhere to pour out the pain.  It has replaced writing to people, who I realized, do not want to hear it.

I have been chastised for taking too long. Too long for what?  It doesn't get better.  I balked at this, but couldn't quite formulate my objection.  And today I read this in a book about suicide:
Nietzsche urges us to see that human suffering is necessary, but what is not necessary is painfully regretting that suffering. Our condition hands us difficulty, and unless we are careful to stop ourselves, we add more difficulty to our lot by fearing and loathing that difficulty. We suffer and then hate ourselves for suffering. We are much better off accepting the pain, seeing it as universal, noting that it can be borne, and, when possible, expressing it.
When possible, I will keep trying to express it.  Even if people do not want to hear it.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Winter's coming

Now that the worst of the pain is gone - that paralyzing pain that would freeze my body at night, only faint memories of it returning - it seems that it should be easier.  It's not.  I have the everyday despair to deal with.  All of my life is in the past tense.  I'm the walking dead.  Sometimes, there are distractions, of course.  But the panic that there is not enough to make a life out of strikes again and again. 

Time, so much time has passed.  How did I get through two winters already?  Coasting on the pain.  How will I get through another?  I have to find something.  Looking forward doesn't work.  Looking  backward is worse.  Staying in the moment works, until it doesn't.  Until I would rather be anywhere but here.  Smoking stopped working.  Drinking is not up to the task.  I've been taking it easy on myself, but that has run its course, too.  I'm at a crossroads.  It could go either way.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

in their words

This week I received two missives from friends of my son - one solicited, one not.

"He could see everything that was wrong with the world, others and his own self and could do very little to fix these problems. His clairvoyance was really just eating away at him on the inside"

"He just simply knew and felt too much."~ G.
"I remember the first moment I saw you in the basement of our middle school. Time froze around you, there was a coolness and an ease - you were different energetically from everyone else. Tall thin, pale and resonant; you were a being from another universe to me. We were young, only twelve or so, and I had never dreamt of the things to come from knowing you."

"Through your brilliant individuality you shined a light within me to blaze. With the precision of a surgeon you dissected our perceptions and cleared away the falsehood of convention."~K.
Sometimes I wonder if I made it all up - his special quality, apparent from a very early age.  But it seems not.  Maybe this was the price he had to pay for shining that light so brightly.  No, this is the price we have to pay for basking in that light.  He is at peace now.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

love is not enough

Two weeks ago as I was parting from my son's friends after toasting his 28th birthday, one of  them held on to me and told me insistently "it's alright, he's at peace now.  he was in so much pain.  so much pain."  Enveloped by his strong, young arms, so reminiscent of those other ones, I nodded in reluctant agreement.  He meant to comfort me, but what was I agreeing to - that he's better off dead?  A few days later I asked him to elaborate, my son's words that I'm in denial continuing to haunt me and spurring me on.  He responded that he would reply later.  I'm still waiting.

But what can he really tell me?  Do I really think there is something I don't know?  I know there are things I will never understand - the reality of being a young male, but really the despair he must have felt I feel every day.  This morning I woke up with the thought that no, love is not enough, one must be cold and calculating, even in love.  If so, what are we here for - what is this whole circus for? Beauty is not enough.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A death foretold (in reverse)

I had my son's hand-written notes for a novel that was lost with his stolen laptop.  I even tried to write it myself and gave up.  Today, in one of the many backups of PCs abandoned throughout the years, I found the beginning of it.  It's much better than my own attempt at it:

               "It was the ceiling that did it that great expanse of white that brought on the weight of it all. I had gone from one moment to another and left my mother behind in the process. That was already the past and this, this unpitying void above my head, was the world now.  That which had passed sat already written, demanding that I fill this page with the future. This is what stood between me and the skies above. This was the roof over my head and I felt sure that I could hold the weight of the sky before I could budge the weight of this. My mother’s death was a sentence on the page, it could not be ignored, but the page demanded another still. I was the one who would speak it.
I lay there on my back in her bed which still had the smell of her perfume in it. It was a lie with no one to tell it. My mother would never smell like that again yet it was the only proof I had that she was ever here with me. The way a person smells, sometimes that is all that’s left, this was something that I understood then for the first time. Im not sure it is something that I will ever be able to grasp again. How can you really be expected to face something like that?
Somewhere in the night my mother had stepped off  the shores of a Montauk beach and in a sadness quickened with gin entered the waves of an ocean, those silver curls of black darker than night, walking off the earth leaving me here with this great silence above my head, not an absence but a presence, an enemy. A gathering anticipation of consequence which rang like brass in the air, it sang of a world to come which conspired against me. I would never be able to fight it away, a monster like that, a truth with wet fang and a taste for my flesh.
Tears came, orphan tears, the pressure of them caving in my chest taking the breath from me. I shook with them. They washed the future from my eyes, this was something I could live in for now. I had lost my mother, the woman upon who I had taught myself to love this world. I would now have to learn anew.                 

I woke with the heat of the sun on my legs."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

the banality of grief

So I read Julian Barnes' book on which this reviewer was too kind, I thought. Though many passages echoed my own experience, the collection was disappointing.  Some writers are better at fiction.  Mixing the two only served to point that out.  Although the grief over a love affair and the grief over death do go hand in hand in my experience. ("Every love story is a potential grief story.  If not at first, then later.  If not for one, then for the other. Sometimes for both.") But the whole didn't hold up

But he did speak of the dreams in which he realizes his wife is dead even though she is in the dream.  He also related a last dream, in which his wife realizes she is dead and cannot be there. 

He also speaks of the isolation of grief.  How people refuse to talk of the dead and are at a loss when you mention them.  How some friendships don't hold up to grief.

My favorite passage was:
 "This is what those who haven't crossed the tropic of grief often fail to understand: the fact that someone is dead may mean that they are not alive, but doesn't mean that they do not exist."

Sunday, October 6, 2013


That is a word that has often come to my mind as explanation of my tragedy.  And I mean it in the classical Greek sense. 

Contrary to what my son may have thought, I was always proud of him for being different.  And now he is the most different - he's dead.  And part of me can't help but be proud of that - that he did it his way, that he wouldn't grovel to save his life, that he was above it all.  

Now don't I deserve this?

Friday, October 4, 2013


I have been having a lot of dreams about my son lately.  Usually he's small and I am trying to protect him in some way.  Usually I'm not aware that he's dead.  But last night I had one from the undead variety.  I had those a lot when my mother died, but they started right away.  With him, it has taken me two years to get here.  What I mean is, in the dream I am aware that his death happened, but somehow he is still here, so we can have it both ways.  The death was a mistake that shouldn't have happened, therefore it didn't. And the feeling upon waking is not the spasm I used to have, but it is like a heavy weight on my abdomen, sort of like the weighted pillow they put on me after I birthed him, to help shrink things back to normal, I assumed.  I feel hollow inside. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

two years

"It hurts just as much as its worth." 
Two years came and went on Monday.  I was bracing myself for the pain on Sunday night, when my husband casually asked me "So, who dies tonight?"  I froze before I realized he was talking about the TV show we were about to watch with anticipation. But that was a defining moment.  We grieve alone.

I did have a bad night then and the next one, but the cutting pain just wasn't there.  The quote above is from Julian Barnes.  In his memoir about the death of his wife (which I haven't read yet) he speaks of the well-meant and misguided consolations people would give him.  One of them struck me: "two years, they say."  He, like me, scoffed at such measures.  And yet my body tells me differently.  Maybe there is a biological limit to how much you can hurt.  If it doesn't kill you...

So where does this leave me?  Is that all it was worth?  Two years' worth?  Has the pain evolved into something else?  Or has a part of me died?

"And lead me to some slender rest
And please dismiss what I confess" ~ Two Gallants