Tag Archives: Grief Talks

Letters in a journey of healing

I remember reading years ago in our local newspaper about an incident that happened in our community in which an infant died and the young father ended up in prison for his baby’s death. All of it just broke my heart . It was such a sad and troubling event that I made sure to speak about it with my boys. I had no clue my boys would even know the young man involved but, as it turns out, they did because they had all gone to the same high school together. I remember how Andrew rushed home after I mentioned reading about it and expressed my concern and worry. He had already known and tried to explain the circumstances as best as he could without passing judgement and imploring me to try to reserve any negative judgement because as he said “Mom. Don’t. We don’t know what really happened and right now two families are hurting enough. We should find a way to be helpful not hurtful.”
He was correct.
Two families are hurting enough
.
Yes.
Unimaginable pain.
Be kind with your words.
I remember how Andrew had discussed what he knew about the young man and insisted that we not hold judgement without knowing the true character of this, or any, person. Impossible to disagree with that point. I love him for being that way. He is always that way. Andrew’s soul is still that way and I can feel him around me reminding me to look beyond what I can see. I try. He knew, as we all did, that the young man was going to go to prison and that two families were hurting enough. It truly was a sad time in our home.

Years passed. Life happened. We moved. Andrew died.

I died a lot with him. Those first 8 to 12 months after he died were simply endless, joyless, painful, numb, dark and lonely days. A mother who has known the joy of the birth of a child and has experienced the tenderness of those first tears, the smell of their newborn skin, putting on their little tiny clothes and smelling the baby shampoo and talc on their soft warm skin should never have to be torn to shreds over the memory of how precious that time was. Most mothers may have those memories as building components to their children’s future and see hope and promise in them and that’s the way it should be but to be a mother and be torn to shreds by those memories knowing that those hopes and promises will never be is unnatural. It doesn’t matter at what age your child dies. It’s the same. It’s not supposed to be that way. It’s unnatural and cruel and it shreds your soul forever. Yet somehow, in a twisted game of confusion and despair, life does go on after your child dies. We keep breathing, the days pass and at first we can’t breathe and the tears are as heavy as the world’s oceans with waves of despair crashing on you relentlessly and seemingly without end. They carry a senseless tide with them as well which at first is maddening and you feel like you would rather die than live like a shipwrecked adventurer who was left to survive in the ocean with nothing but a teaspoon in your hand. Nothing makes sense at first. But as the days and months pass the Mad Hatter ocean begins to calm down and the tide of tears subsides a tiny bit. Months pass and somehow, if we allow the universe to speak to us and try to understand it’s message, we begin to try and find purpose again and eventually the days begin to shine a little light on our faces and then one day there it is: we crack a little smile as Hope sneaks her way in to save you .

Andrew was 22 when he died. He was a young adult living his young adult life and although I have always been very close with both Andrew and Alec I do not pretend to know every little detail of their daily lives and that is the way it should be.

Things weren’t always like that however. I fondly remember going through every little corner and crevice of my boy’s rooms up until they were about 13. Putting clothes away, straightening up dressers, closets and cleaning under the beds and feeling angry and amused simultaneously when I would find GoGurt wrappers or an empty packet of CheezIts from days ago and countless other surprise science experiments. But as kids grow they begin to take on a life of their own and you give them the space they need to spread their wings with the hope that maybe one or two of the pep talks you’ve given them throughout the years has settled in their souls and will help them achieve a bright and purposeful future. I’d tell them things like “Happiness comes from within and behaving kindly towards others is the seed of the happiness plant that we call a heart. Bitterness works the same way. Your actions determine which one will grow. You can choose to grow a beautiful tree which keeps producing endless fruit or a thorny bush with nothing but falling leaves year after year. It’s all up to us and our choices.” hoping that my words and actions would be followed by kind actions on their part and I would see two beautiful and strong trees producing endless fruit well into my old age. By the ages of 22 and 20 they were both starting to look like 2 beautiful and strong trees.

And then there’s life and death. You don’t plan for your children to die before you. Why would you? It’s unthinkable. It’s unnatural. It’s insane. You do not go there. Ever. There is absolutely no sane or logical reason to be prepared for the part of having to go through your child’s things after they die and how this part, of all the parts, is the time and place where your soul is shattered beyond repair. It is, by far, the worst part. It’s finding the old movie stubs, the lists of things to do that now will never get done, the parking tickets you paid and were upset about and now you’re ready to pay for tickets every day without complaint if you could just have him back. It’s the card you sent him years ago that he still carries in his backpack everywhere he goes because it meant everything to him and you didn’t know until that very second. It’s the socks that are mismatched but clean and put away that will not be worn again and it’s their scent on everything they own. Their scent is on everything and the desire to attach that to their bodies knowing you never will again is what shatters you. Going through all the things that defined him as a physical being here on earth is, by far, the hardest thing to do.
It took me days to go through his things.
Endless, sorrowful and soul shattering days.

I remember going through his desk when I found some letters from this young man who by now had been in prison for a number of years. At the time I was too shattered to even think about that for too long but I remember crying because I knew when I saw them that these letters were part of the fruit from Andrew’s tree and I had enough sense to put them in the “must keep section” of his belongings. I had no idea that Andrew was regularly writing to this young man in prison but I knew how special that was and I cried for a long time about it.

But then the ocean of grief took hold of me and I don’t remember much of what happened the following year.

I guess it did take about a year for me to get back to some of the boxes I had marked “important: keep” and when I did, I found the letters. I cried and cried again. I thought about all that had happened years ago and Andrew’s sincere concern for this young man. His care was so sincere. His sadness so thick. I wanted to reach out to this young man to let him know that he meant a lot to Andrew. I needed to let him know how important it was to Andrew to stay in touch with him. I wrote him a letter letting him know that as Andrew’s mom, knowing how my son felt about him and knowing how important these types of things were to my son, I will be here for him as well should he ever want to correspond. And then I waited. And he wrote back. And the tree is growing.

I’ve bought a book of stamps.

I can hear Andrew saying, “Mama! You’re the mama.” and he’d pat my head the way he always did followed by his goofy laugh.

Oh, Andrew…my first baby
“Oh, mama my second mama” …and we’d both laugh.

I remember Cinnabons and I remember love

“When all is said and done I’d never count the cost. It’s worth all that’s lost. Just to see you smile”

Just to See You Smile performed by Tim McGraw

Every time I hear that song I cry. Not because of what he’s actually singing about but because of how this simple line in the song reminds me of you and Alec and a few of the simple things that brought you both such joy and how I would give anything just to see you smile like that again.

I can’t find a picture of us ever eating a cinnabon but I know we did. Hundreds of times. They sold them at the mall. The one in Gaithersburg. Lakeforest Mall which no longer exists. Funny how things change so much that you cry because it’s really not funny at all. The Cinnabon was downstairs near Sears or JC Penney. That part I can’t remember exactly but I remember the times we had there. Neither one of you would ever have known this because I would never have told you but we really couldn’t afford those Cinnabons yet your delight eating them was so simple and genuine that if it meant that I had to work an extra hour a day just to see you smile from eating a Cinnabon I would have worked as long as it took to earn that extra money for those Cinnabons on the regular. Just to see those beautiful smiles.

When you were little you’d both just ask for them not thinking one little bit about it and I would get us 3. One for each of us and we’d sit and eat right there at the mall. You and Alec would have just been done running around that play area in the center of the mall. You’d be almost sweaty. Grinning and ready to go on to the next adventure. But first: Cinnabon. But you, Andrew, loved them more than either Alec or me and as a teenager you understood that it wasn’t that easy to just “get something” and your eyes would always wander towards any place that sold Cinnabons. At the airport on our travels, sometimes gas stations as we drove down 95 to Florida, random places we’d find ourselves in or if we ever went to a mall anywhere you’d see them and you’d be shy about it but I knew. I’d get you your Cinnabon and you’d smile that smile and say “Oh mama. You’re the mama” and you’d pat my head the way you always did. I just wish that I could stay there in those times. Forever. Just to see you smile.

Your little 5 year old smile, Andrew. I can’t believe how clearly I can see your 5 year old face. Your hair was soft and wavy. Your little teeth were perfect and your smile was like a flash of beautiful little white miniature chiclets. Your big brown eyes full of sparkle, spirit, mischievous adventure, a little sadness and a lot of kindness. Those eyes never changed. I can see you clear as if you were right here with me this very second. Fork in hand eating that Cinnabon. Smiling and smelling of that sweet Cinnamon and frosting mixed in with that dewey boy sweat. Delighted with the world.

Maybe I always knew this was a fleeting moment and I’m glad I “wasted” all that money on those Cinnabons. Best money I ever spent. I’d do it all over again. Just to see you smile.

“I can’t forget the way you looked at me. Just to see you smile. I’d do anything…”

….Just to see you smile
Be Prepared

Word Dump Part 2,356,875

This entry may not make sense to anyone. It’s OK. This is what I’ve been rummaging through in my brain recently.

I still walk around thinking you’ll just walk in and slam the door like you used to. I wait for it. It won’t happen. I know. I still wait for it. I keep wanting to talk to you about the pandemic. I know you’d be in a frenzy over preparing and being careful about everything. You’d probably throw a few conspiracy theories that “could be” behind it. There would be the endless jokes about it as well and I miss that so much. I seriously cannot believe your beautiful soul is not in your body any more. I know you’re here because I hear you. As I type this I know it was you making that sliding glass door creak. I feel you right here so I know it’s you.

Remember that time you bought the MREs and we had to keep them in the basement in that big container because “you never know, mom. We need to be prepared”.

Be Prepared
“Be Prepared”

I’m not prepared. I never was. I wonder what kind of “MRE’s” one could make for a mom who never wants to eat. I literally live off some vegetables and seafood, corn chips and cheese. Vodka. I hate love that shit. No more though. It’s a liar. By the way, I’m never going to The Olive Garden again. Ever. I don’t even think your grandfather realizes that the last birthday meal you two shared together was at your all time favorite birthday place and I miss you. I want to see you eat 4 bowls of that salad and go through your meal in 30 seconds. How many years did we do Olive Garden birthday salad. 10? 15? Probably 15. Had to be because we used to go there with your great-grandmother and she left in ’07.

18 minus 7. 11 years. You followed her 11 years later. How can that be. You really never had a clue as to how much she loved you. You must know now. We found about 25 chargers in your car when Alec and I cleaned it out to sell it. There they were. All those times you “cleaned” your car out. What was going through your mind?

Anyhow, I found the courage to look at our last messages on FB the other day. I miss you. I will make sure the cats have a way out in case of fire. You are still a good helper. You always will be. I miss you slamming the doors and then saying “Sorry, mom”. I hear you loud and clear. I always did.

The last message you sent me on FB messenger. I miss you.

You’re my first baby
(and you’re my second mama)

It’s all dark across the waterway now.

We moved in to our home 2 years ago almost to the date. We live on the water so our backyard neighbors are across the waterway from us.

It seems like yesterday and also a lifetime ago thinking about the day we arrived. Andrew and Alec had driven down from our condo in Tampa, Rick and I along with our 3 cats and 1 dog drove 2 trucks and a boat down from Maryland and we somehow timed it just right that the 4 of us managed to meet each other a couple of blocks away from the house and, like a beautiful parade, we all marched on together the last few minutes as we made the final drive to the new house in Bradenton.

Such a wonderful day. Finally moved to Florida. Our dream had come true and for the next month and a half Andrew and Alec spent their days off from work here at the house with Rick and me. We cleaned, painted, set up furniture, went shopping for things, cooked and talked and fought and loved. I had no clue that just a couple of months later the old man across the waterway from us would become a companion I would never meet and that almost 2 years later I would be mourning his passing as well.

…And I miss you like the deserts miss the rain

Everything but the girl

The old man died 2 weeks ago. I knew it before anyone told me. I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to hear it. Rick told me a couple of days later because neighbors talk. I already knew. I had already been crying for a couple of days. How could he leave me? Didn’t he know that I counted on seeing his light on at 4 or 5 o’clock every morning since Andrew died? Didn’t he know that my first thought every morning since that horrendous day is to first scream (internally or externally and sometimes I don’t even realize it’s external until Rick grabs a hold of me) and then I wonder why…why is he gone…why so soon…why can’t he just come home now…why do I have keep hurting…why am I here…why can’t I go.. why am I’m still breathing…goddamn it why… and then I would see his light and somehow I felt a little tiny bit of comfort? How could he leave me. It’s all dark across the waterway now and I’m not sure what to do next.

He would watch TV or sometimes the kitchen light would be on and I could see that he was there right from my bedroom window. Open my eyes, scream, disbelief, shock, pain, tears, old man is there, a little comfort, get up, blur till whenever I passed out that night, repeat. Almost 2 years of this. It’s all dark across the waterway now. I miss him. How did he not know how much I counted on him being there? I know his wife passed some years back so I know they are finally together again and I feel relief for them because deep down inside I always knew he was waiting for that day to arrive. To be with her again. And I miss him.

Andrew, I hope you know how much I counted on you being with me. It’s all dark now. And I miss you like the deserts miss the rain.
(Oh mama.)

P.S.* In real time as I re-read this and heard Andrew say “Oh mama” as he would have if he were here and heard me say what I think about I suddenly remembered the rainbow across the back of the house on the day Andrew died and it is not all dark. Comfort. This is how grief works in real time*