Losing a child is crushing. I’m choosing to process some of my grief out loud in writing. First, it is helping me when I feel like I’ll explode with rage or pain. Second, maybe it’ll help another parent walking this horrific path feel less alone.
This is a very personal journey. Please click away if reading about someone else’s loss – and particularly the topic of suicide – will be triggering for you right now.
First a few notes…
O’DaviDesign Art Scholarship
I’ve created an art scholarship in my son, Jairus’ name – it is one way I can honour the fuller, beautiful truth of who he was and hopefully help remove shame and stigma and share a message of hope around living with mental illness.
Resources for Grief &Trauma
I’ve pulled together a resource page On Grief: Living Whole and Brave After Loss.
Holding Your Breath
You can connect with me on FB at Holding Your Breath. The intention of this page is to share about grief, mental illness and mental health, self-compassion, and finding our way forward – gently, after losing a child.
TW: suicide, depression
My beautiful son has ended his life after a long, hard battle with severe depression and persistent suicidal ideation. I’m so PROUD of my three kids – how they’ve loved and supported each other this past year. We know community matters but ask that you not message me or drop by our home unannounced. This is devastating and we need to focus on family right now.
In honour of Jairus, laugh with your family. Belly laugh. Love without condition. Meet each other where you’re at. Talk about mental health with your kids – and about what lights them up and makes them afraid. Listen well. Take care of yourself so you model health to the people you love. And remember, life is so damn short so don’t waste a day on things that don’t truly matter.
I would give you my breath
To hear you laugh once more
And I would offer up my life
In one heartbeat for yours
I would pour out my life blood
To buy back your peace
But I don’t know how to live
I would trade all pleasure
To end your pain
I would carry your suffering
If I could
I would give up my freedom
To release your chains
But I would never trade
Jairus was a deep thinker and challenged me to consider and see differently. He was playful, loved to tease, and loved when I’d play video games with him that scared me. He was also a deeply sensitive soul who wrestled hard and wasn’t sure he was good enough.
He wanted to live. Wanting to live and knowing how are two different things. And mental illness, just like cancer, is not something we choose. It is not shameful or a reflection of character. And it is not the fullness of who we are.
As a mom, one of the best gifts is for your child to have friends who like and love them. Jairus had a solid crew who will help us celebrate the gift of knowing him. He knew he was loved.
If you want to share a story about him – or about your relationship with him- please do so here. And please share this post so other extended friends and classmates know they are welcome to share here too. xo
How is it possible that one day we drove our baby home from the hospital, so in love with him and excited, after 22 hours of labour and birthing. Then yesterday, only 23 years later, drove the remains of him back home in a small rough-hewn wooden box.
How is it possible to express the fullness and beauty of a life bursting with laughter and personality, joyful memories, hopes, fears, anguish, desperate prayers, and unconditional love and acceptance when there are no human words to meet the need.
How is it possible to condense our son’s existence into rows of Rubbermaid containers, to discard the less important, to sift through his life and make judgement calls about what we keep and what we share and how to keep breathing through it all.
How is it possible to find our way forward when one of my favourite people – the one most like me – was ripped violently from my life but I still want and need him. And I know many parents have done this before but it feels like a cruel impossibility.
How is it possible to not lose hope, to find light or trust or believe that there is any rhyme or reason in this world when it seems that everyone I love gets picked off slowly, one by one; I rise above and get beaten down.
Where is hope in the midst of this?
I hear someone spinning their tires
somewhere in the neighbourhood
fighting against the thick blanket of snow
that has fallen in the two days since
I woke up enraged
that I had to say goodbye to my son
long before I’m ready.
They spin their tires
to find their way forward
and I am spinning too.
Reeling in response to what
my heart cannot bear to accept
Railing against the injustice
of his beautiful life
fallen through the cracks
our pleas for help unheard.
Remembering, over and over,
with a harsh and jarring finality
he is not coming home again.
Yet I must find my way forward.
Beauty looks like old friends who don’t ask, they just come in the night and love you in practical ways when you aren’t able to walk or breathe alone.
It sounds like family gathering, belly laughing together, a whiskey shot in celebration and crying together, in the middle of the most inconceivable storm.
Beauty looks like your kids showing up for each other when one is hurting badly – never giving up on each other. No judgment, only love and acceptance.
It feels like a friend willing to lay aside her own needs and hurts to listen, no advice, no talking over you, but sitting with you when your heart is crushed and your life irreparably fractured.
Beauty is also community – community rallying together, imperfectly but determinedly, to lift up one of their own.
It smells like your sisters’ perfume and shampoo that lingers after they’ve returned home.
And a young man who comes and rakes leaves in the dark, wet snow falling, because that’s what he has to offer.
Beauty looks like friends who loved your child, their friend, and are willing to stand up and share stories about him after he is gone, even though it’s really hard.
It feels like memories – aching but also joyful memories – of the fullness of a life laid to rest.
Remembering that we are not just one thing. And there is never any shame in being human.
It looks like one faltering step forward. One meal, one cup of tea, one hug, one venture back out into the world even when you’re afraid and nothing will ever be the same again.
The past 18 months have been
a long, wrenching goodbye.
The depth of fear, loneliness, and love
we felt as a family
too unwieldy and raw
to compress neatly into words
others could understand
and it wasn’t our story to tell.
So we sat here
in our living room
watching the little boy next door
with big curls so like our son’s
as he pushed his little plastic lawn-mower.
We laughed and cried
And now that our beautiful boy is gone
we sit here watching still
as our sweet little neighbour follows his daddy
and they shovel our sidewalk together.
I think about all the mamas
whose sons left to war
willingly — or not
how they kept living in the waiting
and desperate pleading for safety.
They kept living but
not for themselves, likely,
but for those left behind
and because there was yet work to do.
This is what mamas do.
I think about how many mamas
never saw their boys again
or they came back
in a box
or forever changed
yet a mom never stops loving
even when her hands are tied
and all her yearning and wailing
cannot change the reality of what is.
Still, she will attempt to
move heaven and earth
for those she loves.
Because this is what mamas do.
I think about all the mamas
whose boys grew into men
and fought battles
of every kind —
Battlefields come in many shapes and sizes.
Of how she carried an ache within her
and suffered silently
because others could or would not understand.
I bet they were so proud
of the children they bore
and wanted the world to witness the beauty
they already knew.
This is what mamas do.
ON GRIEF AND LEARNING TO KEEP LIVING
A handful of weeks ago a driver sped across our path leading to a sickening realization that we may never return home again. We rolled over and over after the fierce impact, just enough times for my brain and heart to plead for the care of my children. And though we were pulled from the wreck, my body panics at movement as I drive and I no longer feel safe in the world.
A few weeks ago after many long months of calling hotlines and hospitals, loving and walking alongside, pleading for help from a faulty system with so many gaping holes I’m surprised it catches anyone, my son’s life ended only 23 years after we met. I don’t sleep and when I’m awake I remember. He is really, truly gone. I’m filled with pain and anger and I don’t feel safe in the world.
I’m not a stranger to loss or letting go and while I want to keep them close, my girls still have to live a full life. I drive one back to university and the other will return to school and I’ll need to learn once more to parent from a place of hope not fear. The world has already moved on while I haven’t even begun; every choice to leave my home requires tremendous effort. And I don’t feel safe in the world.
I know that I will find a way because I always do. My husband and I will fight for wholeness for each other and our girls. I’ll mine for the beauty in every day because it keeps me alive. I’ll return to work before I’m ready so I don’t spiral down. But for now, everywhere I look I see people going about their ordinary lives and I wonder if they need a small kindness or maybe just a smile – and if it would help them feel safe in the world.
I feel shattered yet get out of bed in the morning and clumsily make my way through my morning routine because it keeps me moving. I don’t taste my coffee anymore. But I drink water, tidy my kitchen, and think of three things I’m grateful for.
I feel like a critical part of me – something of enormous beauty has been violently ripped from my body and this world yet I answer texts, pay bills, wash my hair in the shower. I don’t do this for myself but as an act of love for my daughters.
I feel afraid, afraid of feeling afraid forever, and wonder how we’ll survive this day and the day we clean out his apartment. And if I’ll ever again be happy with him gone. But I pick up my daughter from school and listen for how I can support her.
I feel so deeply angry I could scream for days but instead, I pull open my laptop and search for words that might help me find a speck of light or keep me from exploding. I have nothing to give but my brokenness right now and I hand that over willingly.
I feel lost yet attuned to the suffering in this world so I look for purpose in this day or hour – in an art scholarship, a smile, in modelling what it looks like to keep living. I couldn’t save my son but maybe I can stop one other person from drowning.
I feel alone. This is a solitary journey. I’m grateful for the meals and help, love and support, yet no one can travel this road with me. I wonder if my parents met him when he took that last breath. I remember to keep breathing myself.
I feel grateful for the gift of loving him – I’d do it all over and over again for him. I’m grateful that he knew I loved him and for his beautiful laugh. Now I determinedly turn my attention to loving my girls and helping build a kinder future for them.
I have lived 28 days without you
and really I just want you back,
not to pull you back into your suffering
but because you were not JUST suffering.
You were laughter and teasing and
challenging me on political issues.
You were beautiful and talented and
when you talked about your art
your face lit up.
And because the world needed you.
I need you.
Your voice and heart and personality
and frustration with the way things are.
I have lived 28 days without you
and every day I awaken and
realize again that you’re not here
I have to say yes to life all over again
or else I too will die.
HOLDING YOUR BREATH
When you lose your adult child…
You let friends and family gather and keep you distracted as you plan a memorial. It cannot be just any memorial because it needs to reflect your beautiful child.
You want to make space for friends to share their stories.
You are so grateful your son was loved.
You talk with medical examiners and police.
You receive a Ziplock bag with his personal items – there is blood.
You bring your child’s ashes home in a wooden box.
You clean out his apartment and share his belongings with those who loved him. It feels harsh and wrong to disperse a big, beautiful, important life this way.
You try to remember to eat.
You hug his little sisters, your beautiful daughters.
You cry for hours with your partner and sometimes force away the tears so you are not just sadness for your girls.
You file death certificates and close accounts.
You plan for Christmas though you’d rather just hide from it all.
You get out of bed and wash your hair.
You make coffee because it’s part of your morning routine, but mostly the coffee sits there untouched.
You start an art scholarship in his name. But really you just want him back – you want him to make more art.
You wander into his room and look again at the high-school memorabilia, the posters, the childhood toys.
You stare at the photos stuck to the front of the fridge. You will never again look into those dark soulful eyes, smell him, or touch him. He will never again cajole you to play a video game with him, he will never again snuggle up close to you as you watch a movie together. The guy who said he didn’t like hugs.
You will never see him playfight with his sisters or pull out his lightsaber with a friend. He will not fix your tech issues and warn you about online safety.
There will be no more conversations about politics, religion, or the latest disappointing StarWars movie.
You wear his clothing but it doesn’t help.
You bring his bedding home, including the fuzzy blanket he had since he was a little guy; it smells like him so you can’t bear to wash it. Not yet.
You try to keep living and moving. A little bit each day.
People ask how you are but you ignore the question. There are no words for this. Only ugly, wrenching sobs.
You find a letter – a will – written before his first attempt. But now it’s too late and you’ve done some things wrong. You keep doing the best you know how in an impossible situation.
You notice yourself holding your breath – you exhale.
You’ve been holding your breath a very long time.
You pull your brain back from tomorrow over and over again because how can tomorrow be good without him.
You pull your heart back from the suffering, the what if’s, the pleas for help and raw conversations with him when you knew – even when other people talked over you and thought he was improving – you knew he was saying a long goodbye.
You knew your son in a way no one else did. But you couldn’t choose for him. You couldn’t fix it.
But you hoped anyway.
He never masked with you and his dad which is both privilege and pain.
You’ve been handed a cruel and impossible task: keep living, keep loving people. Keep talking about what matters.
Crack the door just the tiniest bit to hope or possibility.
You are proud of your boy in a way maybe others wouldn’t understand. But you know his fight. You know this was dreadful for him too.
You know he didn’t want to hurt you or anyone else and he held off as long as he was able.
You would never trade the gift of loving him. Of hearing his heart or even sometimes being at the receiving end of his great pain.
You love him. Not loved – but love. Actively. Wholeheartedly.
You look for examples of other mamas who’ve survived this. There is proof it can be done. It is not a club you wanted to be a part of.
You worry. What if – what if another child struggles too. What if you don’t know what to do.
You don’t know what you believe anymore – there is no certainty. No guarantee.
Right now there is only waiting and holding your breath.
This message circled loudly, persistently, in my heart and mind this past year as I did everything I could to help my beautiful son live.
“If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” -Mother Teresa
I wanted to remove shame, eradicate the idea that he wasn’t good enough, help him see the truth that we had his back (we’d always had his back with joy – not out of obligation), his friends had his back, and we all have permission to let others carry us for a while when we are not OK.
This is part of what it means to belong to each other.
I wanted to fix it and I couldn’t. We’ve read messages about how love fixes everything – but it doesn’t. Love matters – but love cannot repair everything that is broken. It cannot heal all illness or give hope where there is none or eradicate all the pain and suffering in this world.
It moves us to act and that is powerful – but in this world, we can pour out everything we have and still, it is not enough.
Still, we keep pouring. Because this too is part of what it means to belong to each other. Giving our own brokenness, our own meagre loaves and fishes. Hoping against all odds that they remind another messy, beautiful human that they are loveable, wanted, needed, that they matter.
Belonging to each other means permission to be awkward, imperfect, afraid and still loved. To reach out our hands to lift up another even when we don’t have all the answers ourselves. To be slow to judge and quick to forgive. To remember that we are all fighting battles, many of which are not visible to others. To offer kindness.
It means talking about things that are vulnerable and risky – because unless we talk openly about trauma and suicide and mental illness and chronic pain or about learning to love ourselves, to practice showing up fully to life, about making mistakes, and how we are all gifted, on purpose… then we will isolate. We will pretend and mask and some will die long before their time.
There is no shame in being human. No shame in feeling lonely or broken or fucked up or afraid, in needing medication or therapy or moving home for a season or in not knowing how to find your way forward. There is no shame.
I refuse to wear shame. I will not put it on you.
Because we belong to each other.
I pretend for much of the day
because it’s too painful
to admit you are gone — forever.
My heart and brain struggle
to make sense of the finality.
It feels like my chest
has been sawed open
our family broken
and when I wake up
in the thick of night
my body reminds me — callously
of your absence.
You are not a statistic, Jairus,
but a beautiful, messy human
like the rest of us.
Loved and worthy.
You made our world better.
It isn’t fair that other families
live intact and we got a mere
23 years — to love you.
I’m not an expert on anything, just a fellow sojourner walking through a messy life, but I’ve learned to dream and envision what might be — and then to loosen my grip so that I’m not tying my happiness or wellbeing to one specific outcome. To one exact way that life must look in order for me to feel happy or whole.
I hate that life doesn’t go according to plan. I hate that there is suffering and injustice in the world. I wish sometimes my life felt easier. I wish I still had my mom and my dad. I want my son back. But wishing doesn’t help me.
Stubbornness helps me, though. Learning to just take one small step, and then another helps me. A daily practice of releasing comparison and perfectionism helps me notice what I’ve done well today and gives me courage to forge ahead.
Telling the truth about pain and fear and longing allows me to also keep speaking about light and hope and beauty. If I shut down one I will lose my voice. I need permission to be all in – to talk about all of it. Heartwrenching sorrow, incredible loss, deeply rooted compassion and acceptance, desperate hope.
I have nothing to offer if I cannot be real – if I cannot feel it all and give voice to it all. Anything else is hollow. An empty shell or shadow of what it really means to live awake and human in a world that doesn’t seem all that focused on our ease or comfort.
My happiness and wellbeing are not, then, tied to a specific outcome or one way life must look. And my job is not to paint the full canvas but to get out the paints. Nor to write a novel but to sit down at my computer willing to write out one sloppy sentence. Willing to be bad at it but to show up anyway. Not to guarantee a happy future but to simply show up today. To breathe in this moment and to stay present and open to the reality of what is. The beauty and the heartbreak. All at once.
It isn’t my job to find the rhyme or reason to it all – but simply to say yes, I’m in.
We make supper
and go to work and school.
We plan for Christmas;
it’s the right thing to do.
We wake up each day
I feel numb and this
makes me afraid
but also I don’t
wish it away.
A temporary respite,
my brain and heart’s way
of surviving this pain.
Your story has already
saved a life.
Doctors are sorry,
does not bring you back.
And no amount of love or care
restores our life
to what it once was
with you in it.
This is unimaginable,
there’s nothing about it
that is acceptable,
but you’d want your sisters
to feel safe and well-loved
so we try our best
to plod ahead
one heavy step
It’s not ok.
I want you back.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
but I don’t want more strength, I want more time with people I love.
They say that crisis or trauma helps you prioritize what really matters
but I already know many times over what it means to watch someone I love suffer and die. And I know where my priorities lie.
They say that struggle teaches us compassion and we can use trial by fire to teach or help others
but I refuse to make someone’s pain or existence simply a means to an end.
They say this life is simply training ground, about learning to love, or evolve, or to spread good news
but at times this life feels like walking through hell.
They say you should be grateful for what you have
but gratitude is not a panacea for all that is broken.
They say choose the direction of your thoughts and life is what you make it
but we don’t get to joy or purpose by denying the brutal reality of what it can mean to be human in this messy world.
Grief is a verb – a partnership of sorts that we walk out.
There is no shutting our eyes, hoping it will disappear. No sleeping or numbing it away. It is active, the hardest work we’ll ever do I think; it dismantles us and our world as we let it have access to our whole self and participate in what it came to do.
It feels scary. Horrible. Nightmarish at times. It feels like a breaking down of every comfort, of every effort at control or finding safety in this world. It cuts deep, ruthlessly, tearing away platitudes and shaky beliefs, ripping apart hope and belief about what the future will hold, until we are laid raw and bare. Spent. Perhaps, eventually, surrendered.
Grief can look and sound ugly. Angry. Venemous. Someone must be to blame. A deep gutteral roar of pain and rage that disfigures and rejects efforts at false hope. This cannot be fixed. There is no ointment powerful enough to eliminate the brutal reality that he or she is gone. They existed and suffered and we loved them. And now they are gone.
Grief is a choice to get out of bed in the morning and say yes to brushing your teeth. Getting into the shower and not dying right on the spot even though it seems that you must. It is a decision to keep living even when this feels wrong, impossible, cruel. It is dreams of loss and fear in the night. Over and over as though real life wasn’t bad enough.
It is forcing your chest to rise and fall, steady. It is a choice not to hate the world around you – their lives have kept turning. To ignore false comparisons and concede that people do not know what they don’t know. And you wouldn’t want them to know this. It is somehow not pulling away from everyone who loves you when it feels like there is no point. You can’t protect or keep them.
Grief is a verb – saying yes to love even though it hurts like nothing else.
WHEN HE WAS YOUNG
My husband I remember when we were gifted with our first pregnancy. We were so excited in the waiting and preparing our humble nest.
We were told something was wrong was him – a murmur and deformity. But after an induction and lengthy labour, Jairus arrived small but perfectly formed.
We adored him from the get-go and I remember counting wet diapers and feeds to ensure he was well cared for. We’d carry him in a sling or walk with him for hours.
We didn’t have much money but it never bothered us. We were happy to share life together and delighted in every first. First words, first steps, first pair of hockey skates.
He rarely left the house without a costume or play hat on and as a toddler wore skates with guards around the house. We played goalie together and I was Patrick Roy.
People always thought I was the nanny or looked for his mom when I standing right by him. But if you knew him at all you’d quickly see that he was my boy – similar in so many ways.
He had big dark curls and soulful eyes; he hated that older men and ladies always wanted to touch him. He was a gentle little guy and from the start, he made life better.
He loved the toy kitchen and baby dolls, he loved super heroes and drew hours a day. From 7 or 8 he knew he’d work in animation or illustration one day.
He adored his sisters as they arrived but always got to be the boss. If they played house, Ninja Turtles were involved, and if they played Batman, his sister always had to be Robin.
We read books aloud and went on nature walks, listened to stories on tape and discussed them. We rented the same VHS tapes over and over (Batman and Dr. Freeze!).
He was a trustworthy guy who liked order and to know what came next. He wanted others to follow the rules like he always did. He was deeply nostalgic for the simplicity of earlier years.
There were sibling fights about who sat where and whose turn it was to use the computer. I always knew he was keeping track. He wanted to be good and to do right.
He loved to tease and dance in the kitchen. His laugh is one of my favorite things. He’d follow me around to tell me about the stories he was creating. He regularly cracked me up.
He struggled with anxiety from a young age – we didn’t have a name for it then. We loved him completely and always tried to honor who he was, what he needed to feel safe in this world.
61 days. xo
I’m not trying to “get through” grief, to make it ok, and I don’t care about making it look/sound/feel comfortable for others.
I’m trying to just be here, present in this stage of loss, holding space for my husband and daughters, allowing grief to do its work in me although it feels horrible and I would never choose this for myself or wish it on anyone else.
I’ve walked through grief before – it was so hard. But nothing can touch the pain of losing my son. Nothing comes close.
Have you found anything that helps you right now, in the season you’re in? Again, not to fix but to survive or thrive or just BE?
Here is what I’m noticing…
I don’t want to talk to many people but my son’s best friends have come to visit over the holidays and though hard, it also feels important and good. We all loved my son so much. Knowing he was loved is good.
I’m getting out for a few walks in the snowy cold each week. The cold makes me feel … alive I guess. It reminds me that I am still here, it connects me to the world, it wakes up my body.
Although talking doesn’t feel that helpful (or only with a select (very) few people) I do feel a strong need to express my love for my son. And my pain. I thought writing would come more easily – all I have are snippets of writing and these do help.
I am getting a tattoo to mark Jairus leaving this world. It feels like part of my body has been violently ripped away and it seems appropriate to mark this on my body.
Finally, I remind myself to listen in and trust that my spirit always leads me to what I need. I am wise and have put down deep, strong roots of self-awareness and self-compassion. Though I hate that this is my reality, here I am. I will find my way forward, gently.
P.S. Shortly after my son’s first suicide attempt, he moved home so we could help him get the care he needed, and we took him with us to Mexico. It wasn’t a “fun” trip but we were together. He took this selfie 👇🏼 on my cell phone like old times (the last photo I have of him) ❤️
I want to mark you on my body
like you marked my soul
I want to mark you on my body
like you marked yours.
I want to look down and remember
that you were really here
that you laughed and made life better
for 23 short years.
I want to mark you on my body
and feel the pain that you felt
a physical reminder that
you were mine and that you hurt.
I want a scar that bleeds and heals
matching step with my heart
I want to mark you on my body
so that no one can forget.
I wanted you to stay.
Grief feels like…
A heavy, constant weight in the middle of your chest. Loss and horror hitting you square in the jaw every time you awake.
Flitting between ignoring and remembering. Grappling fiercely with reality. Knowing that no matter how hard you fight – you lose.
Abandonment. You wanted him to stay. You are being forced to reimagine life without him.
Crying all the time. Crying until you are spent and hollow yet you sense that the floodgates have not even been opened yet.
Wailing – groaning – a tearing of mind and spirit. One day there will be scar tissue while there’s yet only raw, unforgiving pain.
80 days in, still pleading as though this could all be undone. As though his ashes don’t already live in a wooden box on the coffee table.
Anxiety that spikes in the most inconvenient moments wreaking havoc with your efforts to show up in spite of it all.
Panic attacks that last for hours. Your world has been splintered. Your life has tipped off its axis. It cannot return.
Fighting to keep going for your other children. Loving them through this great sorrow.
One day, not quite yet, carving an alternate path and hoping against all hope that it can be different and also good.
Realizing that to find your way to healing from grief, you first have to live inside of it. You don’t want to do this.
Working, trying, wearing a fragile mask that allows you to be in the world temporarily. Returning home and de-veiling.
Practicing saying “my son has died”; learning you can say it out loud and somehow survive.
People telling you what you need, who you are, what you should read or listen to or how you ought to feel. Letting you know what they want from you.
While you’re still trying to remember how to breathe.
That I knew you.
That I got to cuddle with you and teach you to read.
For your laugh and beautiful smile when you felt most at home. That you danced in the kitchen.
That you had friends who loved you.
And mostly you remembered you were loved.
That you measured yourself on the kitchen wall, neck straining to beat your dad, and the marks are still there.
That you drew so much and one day when I’m ready I can look again through your cartoons and art and I will laugh.
That because of you I am a better human.
And I enjoyed who you were as a human.
That in the last year of your life you spent extra time with us.
That even though it was not what any of us had planned or hoped for you came home and allowed us to be there for you.
That we played video games together and talked and cried. And you trusted me to hold some of your deeper truths even though I was shaky and felt unqualified.
I will watch the birds come and go again.
I will meet with curiosity and patience the slow shifting of the seasons.
I will notice my deep impatience, almost frantic desire to move out of pain into whatever is next.
I will wait and watch.
I will sit here and love myself fully in the messy, harsh, reality of what is.
I will forgive myself for not knowing how to do this work and wishing I didn’t have to be the one to do it.
I will allow myself to be held and loved in turn.
I will slowly remember and then quickly pull back to what I can touch and know in this one moment. Back and forth. Gently.
I will breathe and sleep and walk and wail and eat and tend and hug and laugh. I will keep living.
I will watch the birds come and go again, showing me the way forward.
📸 by @hereandnow.art
PERMISSION OR PRESSURE
I felt the panic rising
and willed my brain and heart to steady
for the next right thing.
DO this and then DO that
as I tipped into
But pressure to perform
doesn’t still this particular storm
and only helps me
that I am in control.
It does not allow for healing
like rest can.
Or like permission to take it slow
or simply show up
one moment and one
shitty day at a time
Permission not pressure
reminds me that I matter;
reminds me I am allowed to BE
brave and broken all at once.
Or to simply BE.
Permission speaks love and holds me up
when I am weak
in the knees.
Permission – not pressure
holds me as grief breaks me open
bloody and weary
and I wonder how the hell
I will survive this pain and loss.
How can anyone
This loss that is horrendous
that cannot be undone
no matter how much
Permission makes space
for me to sit here
in the middle
of this life.
toward the end
that I had violated your trust
that I had wrecked your
last safe space.
But I was still
and always have been
a willing and solid
landing place for you.
This is why I risked
your hurt, misunderstanding
to try to keep you safe,
when you were no longer able
to be a safe space for yourself.
3 months of life without you
Part of my deepest grief is that I saved myself
and could not save you.
I know that logically we cannot truly save each other.
We can only offer love.
But my missing you, wanting you,
how badly I need you,
are not rooted in logic alone.
You were a longing before we met face to face.
You were a gift I carried inside of me and I talked with you
and shared life with you before ever I laid eyes on your beautiful little body,
Brown and sweet with glossy straight black hair that would later form into
big bouncy curls.
We made family with you.
Dad was like coffee, you said, I was like cream.
You were our favourite in-between.
You were my little buddy and I learned how to love myself
as I learned to be a mom to you, Jairus.
I learned that life was worth living
and that I wanted to find healing
because I wanted to be better for you.
I learned that life could be far more beautiful than ever I’d expected
as I watched and listened and
learned from who you were.
In my grief, my brain wants to pick apart
to focus on all my many imperfections.
All the times life was hard, we had to bury people we loved,
or my body was hurting, and I wasn’t as present for you as I would have liked
or perhaps as you needed.
But the truth is
perfection cannot be what is required;
because all of us are healing, maturing, doing our best as we parent.
And this I know – always, always, I loved you. Completely.
Always, always, I wanted you and approved of you.
I delighted in you.
I hurt with you.
I laughed and cried along with you,
and now I mourn and hurt – without you.
You knew that stigma was alive and well
that shame was present and real
for many people like you who suffered
and could not envision a kind future ahead.
You raged that all the lip service
amounts to very little
when a human lives in persistent fear
of the streets or being locked away forever.
You were angry at how many people
played with words you felt they trivialized
mocking or trying the labels on for size
that constricted and strangled you.
You felt we were too far from solutions
for the brokenness and darkness you felt
from a strong and compassionate safety net
to catch you, kindly, as you fell.
You were and are loved completely.
We have to keep talking. xo
You were one of the few profoundly beautiful, heart-altering, stretching gifts and delights of my life. thank you for 23 years. May you be at peace.
hold it together
conserve my strength
seek out information
please don’t leave
put on weight
grip you tight
scream for help
plead and wait
deep pain and fear
you are gone
forced letting go
clean out your home
lose my peace
lose part of my body and my life
I’ve watched people die.
I’ve heard my dad scream
As tumours fed on his spine
and I prayed as he took his final breath and hoped we’d meet again.
I’ve listened to my mom,
My best friend,
Express her profound grief
That people would cross the street
To avoid her after part of her skull
I’ve loved a young man,
A beautiful soul,
That I had known his entire life
He was MY life.
And I stood by him without fail
as he tried to wrest free
From the earthly chains
That kept him bound.
I sat with and sobbed with
and fought with him
Because he needed to leave and
I needed him to stay.
I have loved
I have felt fear that I hope no other parent ever feels
And I live with the agony,
The stark and cruel reality,
That my beautiful baby boy is gone.
This is not pretend.
I have watched people die.
It never looks quite the same
But little pieces of my heart
are ripped violently
I don’t see a lot of super honest posts about what it looks like to grieve and learn to let go of someone we love so completely that their absence tears the fabric of our life to the point that we’re forced to rebuild, stitching together pieces of what was into something new but not quite as beautiful.
It isn’t pretty. It isn’t something that would easily translate into a viral post. It’s scary and ugly and visceral and animal-like. There is not a thing neat and tidy nor Instagram-worthy about this kind of loss.
For me, losing my son has meant running. Running as hard as I could because facing the reality of life without my son was impossible. I’ve been running for four months. I am so tired.
It has meant panic attacks. While driving, before client calls, in a mall. It means processing trauma and missing appointments. It means that I had to be so strong for my son and the rest of my family – I had to fight for him with every last breath possible – but then he was gone. I didn’t get a say in the matter. I was only there to hold space.
And I’m supposed to somehow know how to keep going without this guy I’ve known for 23 years plus almost a year inside my belly. I loved him completely. He was my dream of family realized – my vision for life. And now, he is gone.
I have to keep writing our story.
I see beauty – that is easy. I have only to look to my two amazing daughters and husband. But the fact that they are here does not somehow fill his absence. They are different people. He was needed and wanted and now he is gone.
Losing a child like this breaks you open. There is nothing that can make this ok. People say the shittiest things sometimes trying to make it ok – but it isn’t. That’s lesson no.1 – stop trying to make it ok.
But I have to live. I want to live – I want my daughters to live. Fully and with great joy. I want my husband and I to somehow, as impossible and wrong as it feels, to somehow learn to really laugh again. To remember our child and also feel joy in what is.
I don’t see posts that reflect the hard, cold, raw reality of what it looks like for me to have birthed a child who was so deeply loved, who was courageous and tried so hard to live, who ended his life, and to learn to live fully anyway.
If you don’t see your reality reflected here, you are welcome to share it in the comments. I will listen.
When you’ve given
everything you have
and it isn’t enough.
Each day I muster strength
To do what I must
And to care for the family I have left.
But I am so tired.
And no matter how many people say
“I know exactly how you feel”
I understand that they
don’t have the faintest idea.
And I feel alone. Abandoned. This is the loneliest path I’ve ever walked.
One of my favourite people have left this world and everyone is busy focused on survival. I want to scream.
I am not ok and how could I be?;
he was a fifth of me.
I will sleep and rest and
Netflix like the best and I will try
to show up “as if”
at least part of the time.
But it’s for your benefit. Not mine.
I forgive you.*
I release you, Jairus.
I honour your choice.
I want you to be free.
So go, Jairus, we will be ok.
I wish you peace. I love you.
I will love you forever.
Aug 4, 2000
I saw you again last night.
You had come back to us – you planned to stay. We were all crowded together on my parent’s bed, just starting to get reacquainted when I woke up, as I do most nights now,
with a gasp. Heart beating wildly,
reminded again that you’re never coming back to us.
It was only a dream.
The agony of this doesn’t stay behind in the dream world but follows me back to this reality. This is my job now: confront this truth over and over and over again, fight hard for hope in the touch of your sister or the leaves that change colour almost overnight – startling and beautiful – and then gone.
Nothing stays the same.
No matter how much we want it or need it or love it or grasp for it, nothing is forever.
My heart knows this now. My body resents this now. My spirit grapples hard to make sense of this now.
I dig my toes into the floor to steady my sway and listen hungrily for the voice deep, deep inside that comforts me to not lose hope as I live in the mystery of what it is to be fully human and awake, and to not know.
Though even in the not knowing there are some things of which I am sure: you, Jairus, were on purpose, you were so completely loved, you deserved better than the pain you carried.
It’s almost been a year and that admission threatens to break me and I remember…
I remember you sobbing and saying you didn’t want to hurt me.
I remember you telling me that you knew I loved you and would do anything for you.
Once in a while, I get a glimpse of your laughter and sense of humour and your beautiful smile when you felt free. And of your hands. I loved your hands.
It was grandpa’s birthday yesterday and I wondered again if you are with my mom and dad – if you’re dancing together in that funny way that grandma used to dance.
Are you at peace?
I saw you again last night.
May we meet again.
Sept 29, 2000