Dear Ethan.

Ethan. I say it aloud. Twice. Dear Ethan.
Ethan. We chose your name carefully. We discussed it. It was on a list that got shorter until the day you were born. Ethan. That was the name we chose.

And 20 years after you were given that name you took your own life. You died by suicide. Dear Ethan.

And I really wish you had not.
How do I tell people that I have lost a son. Not only did I lose him… he took his own life.
It has been eight years and I keep waiting for it to get easier.
I keep waiting for the questions to go away.
I wait for the rationalizations… those logical, reasoned and soothing aphorisms to sink in.

But I also wait for you to come home for Spring break.
I wait to hear you laugh.
I wait for your hug.
For those things…

I wait for that time when I stop thinking that I can fix this.
Or the feeling that there is something I can do to go back
And save you.
That there is something I haven’t done
Something I have not thought of.
That there is a solution.

There is a Kobayashi-Maru solution out there… a Gordian knot to be found and cleaved in two…
Even though I know that there isn’t.

I like the sound of your name.
I like the good memories you left me
Of hugs and laughter, of camping, and school, and music… and noise and clatter and motion.
I will tell people about these things… even though it means I have to, at some point tell them that you are dead. Because your life doesn’t equal your death. And you are more than how you left. You were. You are.



The night we lost you, I got in my truck and screamed. I screamed in the dark, at the night. I screamed at God.I screamed words and pleas. I screamed the word “no” as I pounded the wheel.

I screamed through tears. I screamed when the words ran out. And when my voice failed I screamed in silence. I waited for your brother in a turnout by the highway and I heard an owl in the night.

And I guess I never stopped screaming.

Nine years.

And I am still screaming.

I recognize the grief in your eyes…

After speaking with a friend for a while I notice something
That look behind the mask that only a parent who has buried a child can have
That look of someone who has wept..
And wept
Sometimes silently or secretly
And sometimes with her face in the carpet and a hand full of hair
She thinks is her own.
And some who weep never shed a tear
Standing strong yet hollow
And other with gasps and gulps wake up in tears
And with their tears, fall asleep.
Some will weep until everyone is gone from their lives
or find relief in a bottle or a pill or find that anger is easier than pain.

Maybe I can see the grief.

Maybe we never stop weeping

And we just pretend to live in between the sobs and tears.

or maybe we learn to breathe and live on the outside.

On Summers long gone

There was a moment when I may have been close to happy. When I was at peace
And I thought I had it all figured out.
I had gone from a child that was desperate
For love
For attention
For some sense of significant.
To being a teacher and a husband and a father.
And the kids had grown up and moved out and had gone to college.
They were both going to be okay. And that made me okay.
And I had stopped wanting things. I learned to breathe.
From being poor in East LA… and not fitting in anywhere…
I thought I could turn down the corner of a Sears catalogue and somehow at some point I would get that GI Joe set and I would be happy. Or the bike. Or the denim jacket.
And when the TV guide came in the paper… each of the kids in the house would circle shows he or she wanted to watch… and I thought that one day I would have my own TV and I could watch what I wanted.
I thought I could sit in the library and read books above my understanding… and it would sink in. Or take another shift and try to save money to buy that bike. To be good… to try to be someone else… anyone else.
Summers long gone where between the activities I was just lonely.
I just wanted to fly away… to run… or to sleep and not wake up.
Between activities and stuff… material things… I learned, at least I thought I learned
That they would never give me what I wanted.
And that kid from East LA that I was… with every sibling that moved out and moved on
There were fewer fights and less screaming.

In the middle of this I found God. And that gave me peace.
More peace, better peace than buying an album- a new vinyl record and playing it loud
Over and over on headphones.
I thought this was it… I found love and dated and married. I thought I belonged to something. I found a career
It seemed to work… and there were moments of happiness and what I thought was some joy and peace and I could breathe… I was getting older.

And then my younger son took his life.

And I find myself again thinking about that Sears catalogue… and what thing on what page would have made my life work. Because things won’t make you happy.
Or wondering if my dad had ever been around… if this summer night would seem so empty now.
Or if all those hours spent in prayer or worship or reading the Bible amounted to some store of peace I could draw from.

And those people who I thought I belong with, belong to… who have strangely now gone… What I lost in that moment when I lost my son.

And I wonder what it would be like to go to sleep and never wake up…
Because I can’t think about killing myself. That would be wrong.
I think about the summers of my childhood… and swimming at the park pool
The smell of chlorine.
I think of big fires in concrete pits at the beach, and body surfing waves.
I think of the road trips we took the boys on when they were young.
If I could just have one more
Or one more summer with both my sons.

I know for a moment that I am still that kid.
Still scared and alone.

Rant without words…

I write this at the time I usually wake up… having not slept the last few hours or so.
And I thought about what to say…
About feeling sad about something I can do nothing to fix.
About feeling angry at things that I am not really angry about.
About the dog sleeping on the kitchen floor
Or the cat purring near the top of the bed
And I listen to the sounds of the night
The quiet snow muffled sounds of a dog barking far off
And the fishtank
and my wife sleeping.

And I am awake.

Writing to the entropy

I’m not too sure how this works, but someone told me that everything is thermodynamics… the laws of thermodynamics… that somehow that is the basic set of laws that everything must follow.. and I nod, because I was thinking about contemporary poetry and writing it and trying to determine if what I write is any good. ?

And I guess thermodynamics is just as good a set of rules as anything… as much as the principles of a sonnet or parameters of haiku. It is about language and ideas… I think.

As far as purpose… I’m told that art is about expressing ideas and emotions and connecting with the ideas and emotions of others. Evoking emotions… provoking some kind of critical thinking…

All while respecting the conservation of matter and energy and the science that says that things fall apart. More than the rhythm of language… or rhyme schemes that were both falling out of favor a century ago.

Ambiance and melting permafrost.

The bottle was opened and for the most part used… most of the magic was gone
But there was enough on the bottom, and the fumes were good for a few spells.
It was powerful… the distillation of a thousand days of ancient sunlight
And it gave us power, and plastic, and colorful dyes, and control over speed and time and distance… and all the miracles of a modern world.

I don’t know who left it up on the counter top
And we all know that these stories with magic always have a twist
There is always some irony that functions to say that even magic isn’t free.

So should we be surprised when the cat just jumps on the counter and makes a beeline for the bottle?
The bottle with the magic in it.
And should we act shocked when the cat turns his head ever so slightly and edges up to the iridescent green glass
And lifts a paw?
Or when finally he pushes the bottle off the edge?
Or when it does a half turn in the air, and lands on the floor with a crash?

The bottle may have been magic, but the laws of thermodynamics are a bitch…
A bigger bitch than karma… with twice the attitude.
It was too late to unbreak the bottle
Or stop the room from changing
Or stop the cat from being a cat
Or change the laws of thermodynamics.

And you know the rest.
The part about melting permafrost and zombie pathogens released from a dozen millennia of sleep.

And so nothing is ever free.
And things fall apart
And cats will always knock things down.
Energy is neither created nor lost
It just moves downward like that magic bottle
From higher energy states like light
To infrared energy… heat
And so the room got warmer.
And the zombie germs were freed upon an earth with no immunity.

I tipped my head back and thought back to a memory that was written before I was born.
There was an art film… a hippy thing with scratches and flawed bright colors
And sound by Brother Joe, who also provided the music.

A blonde young woman in a gingham two piece ran with a whippet on a leash
Bouncing her technicolor being of reds and whites and yellows until it bled together
And then there was a flash
Because there is nothing that is free
And the energy released in that moment was neither created nor destroyed
And the matter recorded on the screen was merely transformed
And the young woman and the dog were gone before the blast wave hit
Leaving nothing but their shadows burned into concrete
As Brother Joe sang us out with a folksy twang
In the key of G.


Taking responsibility for grief

There are people out there that really do think they know what is best for you. And they try to control conversations because they believe that certain things will trigger you and they don’t want you hurt… when what really triggers me is being treated like an emotionally damaged child.

I lash out at such behavior. I find it condescending. I find it patronizing. I don’t find it helpful. But every single one of these people thinks in their heart (I think) that they are being helpful and kind by watching out for me in ways they determined I need.

They aren’t being assholes. But it comes off that way to me. They don’t understand why what they say comes off as dismissive to me. Why I should feel bothered at all by their attempts to be sensitive. It’s the equivalent of a pat on the head… a paternalistic, condescending gesture… not meant as an insult, but as a comfort. And the patter never understand why the patee would slap his hand away.

Then of course they are mystified by my ire towards them. They don’t think I should feel hurt, so that is puzzling to them. And now they want me to apologize for hurting their feelings… which I am very slow to do, because they aren’t going to stop talking down to me. Not now. Not tomorrow… really never.

And I can never explain to them how that makes me feel in a way they will understand.

I had one friend do this and it really rankled my hackles. He gave some half hearted apology, insisting that the did nothing wrong and that I shouldn’t feel how I feel. So I asked him about our friendship and he gave some flip answer and said I should move on.

That was years ago. And last night I rehashed the whole argument with him online. With the exact same result. He really does believe that I shouldn’t feel how I feel and that his controlling of topics of conversation to avoid triggers in my life that he has identified is not only perfectly okay, it is a sign of caring. This didn’t make me happy.

But this really is my grief, my emotions, and my shit… not theirs. Intentions do matter. And I should stop treating them in the same insensitive way that they treat me. I should not repay condescending bullshit with condescending bullshit. I am in many ways emotionally crippled… and although I seek empathy from those around me, there are people that don’t know how I am feeling, or understand what this is… there are those with significant deficits in emotional intelligence that don’t understand feelings. So intentions do matter. And they judge themselves, as we all do, by their intentions… not by the feelings their behavior triggers.

And that isn’t their problem. My feelings are not their problem. And expecting people to be something that they are not is not their problem.

So I will apologize for my response to them over the year. For treating them like I feel treated. For making them feel how they make me feel. Because in the end I am still sad, and depressed, and they don’t need to join me in that. They didn’t create that nor did they intend to amplify those feelings. And really that needs to be enough.

What missing you feels like today.

I have stopped carrying the pills that stop my panic attacks… because they have become more mild and manageable. So I think that is progress. Like after climbing stair after stair after stair, I have made it to the landing between floors and have stopped for a breath.

I have fewer hard moments. Fewer times where I am stuck and paralyzed and so sad I just don’t want to do anything…. anything…
Because mostly things are at least okay.
Sometimes they are even better than okay.

And painting has reached a new level I think… with sad robots.
No one really knows that they are all about you.  Like a code that is easily broken.

Sometime missing you feels heavy and it makes it difficult to move.
Like lead. Like an opiate. Like mud.
Sometimes it just feels so empty, like I have been hollowed out.
Like an egg shell with its contents blown out.
Like arms reaching out for a hug that isn’t there.
Sometimes it feels a lot like anger, and although I joke about bar fighting, sometime I want to punch something or someone… and I don’t care if they hit back.
Sometimes it feels like hunger
Like longing for a flavor I can’t remember.
Like wanting to go somewhere that is long gone
Or to see a picture that has long faded
Sometimes like a fatigue that has no name.
Like lying down and staring through the walls at something I cannot see.
Like hearing music in the silence

Sadness is truth.

Sometimes I still just want to die. (and that isn’t easy to say… given the circumstances…)
Shouting “hello” and waiting for an echo that never returns…
Sometimes I just want to go back and save you.
And other time I just want to go back and hang out and hear your laugh again… and leave the moment with one last hug.

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.