The Ineffable Silent Feeling of being a grieving parent.

I strain to put into words what cannot be put into words. That set of feelings that is indescribable except to those who have suffered a similar loss. I try. No matter how eloquent my words might be, I know they will fall short.

But I think there is some general expectation that I function well. That I work. That I eat and sleep and act normally. That I am productive, cordial, civil… that I maintain relationships and schedules and hygiene. That I pay attention when others speak and that I am able to hold a normal conversation.

And most days… after six years of mourning… I can do that.

So I feel compelled to try to explain… to you, to others, to myself… how I feel.  Maybe it is something I have to “get out”… to heal. Maybe it is an excuse for why I act the way I do sometimes.  Maybe I have to tell myself something so that I don’t feel empty. Maybe I think it will help someone somewhere deal with loss.

Painting is easier.

The unchanging fact of my every day life can be summed up in four short words: My son is dead. Nothing I do or say or read or pray… changes that. He is dead… for six years now, by his own hand. He will be dead tomorrow. He will remain dead. And that leaves me feeling hollow. I could feel sad or angry or confused. But those four words are independent of how I feel. There is a pain… physical pain. Emotional pain. Pain deep down in the fiber of my being. The longing doesn’t go away. That sense of loss is alway there… Time goes on… Life goes on.


I have been

I have driven over every curve of California’s coastal highway
I have read great literature and seen great art
I have tasted food in the finest restaurants
I have slept under the moon in the wilderness.
I have watched a musical on broadway
I have been across the ocean and stood on lava beaches
I have dipped my toes in two great oceans
I have been on stage performing for thousands
I have stood at the tops of mountains
I have walked the width from rim to rim of the Grand Canyon
Twice I have held my newborn child in my hand.
I have heard the thunder and felt the shock of a bolt striking the ground.
I have been burned, stabbed and spit on.
I have married the woman of my dreams
And I have held the ashes of my youngest child.

In the end there are only ashes.

I am not done loving you, although you have been gone a while.
I am not done loving you, so I am not done grieving.
I am not done wondering if you enjoyed life enough
Because I am sure you did not. And it still does not seem right.
Because time, like a river, has grabbed my by the soul and moved me on…
And you cannot fight that current.
Although they days you count as life are over… I am not
And that will never seem right.
And I do try… try to make it right.

There is no reason to keep hope.
But it isn’t something my heart can do.
I keep loving
but in the end there are only ashes.

Happy Birthday, Ethan (Would have been 26)

So, by Thursday, my anxiety was bad enough to take a pill and I took Friday off. (Which is difficult, since it was finals week.)

And Friday we, the three of us, drove to Yosemite via 395 to visit the tree by the falls where some of your ashes were left. It was a great drive with brunch at Schat’s Bakery… And Yosemite, even when unseasonably dry, was amazing. The falls by the tree were dry… and that is the first time I’ve ever seen that. But we scrambled up there to spend time and snap a couple of pictures.

We drove back through the burn area and after dinner at In n Out in Fresno made the trek back down… getting in about 2 AM.

Then the next day we went to see UCLA play Fresno State at the Rose Bowl… Tore my pants in Costco where we were buying a sandwich tray. Bought another pair. We went early and set up a tailgate in the park for some of Ethan’s friends. Marquita picked up her Fresno shirt from the opposite side of the stadium, and one of the band parents gave us shirts as well. But I wore my UCLA blue… and saw my football team beaten badly.

Then on Sunday, I got my finals graded and grades done. And they weren’t bad. Only a few failed in each class…

Ethan would have been 26.

Memories and candle light

And like the metal on metal of rusty wheels on a rusty track
Like the unending  dripping of ancient water
Like the sinew tearing under strain
The bone breaking away
And the sound of lost breath.

I remember.

I remember seeing my son for the first time.
That first sound… just a peep- not a cry
And I remember dreaming of a bright future.

I can remember the ashes falling from the sky
And settling on every surface
Some like ghosts of the leaves consumed
With the skeletal structure of veins branching from the midrib
And having it dissolve into grew white powder in my hand.

And like the child crying in the distance
Of a dark night long ago
And the wail of cats outside my window…
I remember.

The wind blows the branches against the house and
it scratches and screeches against the stucco
And dry leaves sound like paper

Sorrow surrounds me like heavy blankets
That don’t quite cover me
And my feet grow cold.

And I stare at the eyes in the mirror
To try to find them… to see that soul
To see anything more than grief and pain
To find anything not lost, anything that still hopes for tomorrow
And believes in the future.

I remember that it was there.
Like the stars in the sky
I remember.

The way I used to feel

I wake up to a world that does not feel like my world
And I wonder if I ever feel the way I used to feel.
I wonder if I can ever think of the things they way I used to.
Because things are not the same
And after all this, I am not the same person.
And it is just on part of me
That remembers what that yesterday was like
And all the hopes and expectations
That went with you
And how when you left you took them with you
And it changed me
It changed my world.

Coffee. Sea Air. Sunday Morning

I don’t know if this is “normal” or really what is really normal anymore. I can get up and go to work every day… and I can exist for weeks without any sort of “panic attack,” I don’t have to pull over driving home because I am crying so much I can’t see. And those days when life feels so heavy and my energy is so low I can’t move are exceedingly rare.

For the most part, I think life is good and I believe myself to be happy.

Five and a half years after my son died, this is my new normal. I can laugh and be happy and ride bicycles with my wife up and down the coastal highway, taking time to walk in the sand and let the waves wash over my feet. That feeling of gray sameness is gone and food does have flavor. I find myself less “stuck” on things. I can enjoy a weekend away really with little evidence of anxiety, or sadness or depression.

But there is a persistent sadness behind everything. A deep sense of loss that is always present and like a gel on a light… it colors my world. With that life takes more effort and intentionality. And sometimes, if it isn’t some oddly compulsive and repetitive behavior, that strange sense of panic, or that feeling that everything is off, or that everything is fake…. there are darker moments.. And sometimes I have to work to keep that at bay. And I work on being positive and moving forward as if my life depends on it.

And so sometimes I have to do stuff to keep my mind from wandering or from fixing on something random… things that keep me from looping or repeating thoughts.  It is distraction. And it might be a word game on my phone, posting on social media, or something to keep occupied and busy. I intentionally look for beauty in things, to see the colors in a sunset, or to listen to the chord changes in a song. It helps to paint. It helps to walk.

I see a psychiatrist once a month for a few minutes and he tells me this is normal. I carry anxiety medication that I rarely if ever use. But these things are helpful. I know they are there if I need them.

I have this ongoing conversation with God. And He seems to find humor in it and be very patient. And if I ever get tired of His long moments of silence, I will talk to my pets… especially the cat… and they give me looks.

Marquita is nearly ready to leave for breakfast. I hear the train going by and the whistle mixes with the sound of surf. The air is already warm and heavy, but there is a bit of a breeze. It is the end of Summer.