Tag Archives: losing a son

Just for Today

Ten years. Ten thousand sighs. Ten million tears.

Inconceivable that it could be so long, that I have carried on.

Unbelievable became the truth;

Grief became the norm.

But slowly inconsolable became absorbed

And glimmers of hope emerged.

Would there be new life one day,

Would I be glad I stayed?


I’m glad today.

And that’s all I have.

malc smiling


The myth of “one year”

“While medications may help to allay some symptoms of anxiety and depression, we hear over and over from those taking tranquilizers and antidepressants that their symptoms persist or, in some cases, are worse. As noted bereavement therapist, Peter Lynch, MSW, said at an annual Holiday Service of Remembrance, referring to the many feelings associated with grief, “The only way through it is through it.” Medication doesn’t make the pain of grief go away. Clients need to understand this important point.”


The only way through it is through it. And for some of us the second year is worse. How can that possibly be? Can I really hurt more than I hurt now? Maybe you are really feeling it, really overwhelmed by the pain of it. But for some people those first few months, that entire year of firsts, is survived in a state of withdrawal from feeling, as if you are observing yourself going through the motions. And after some months it is possible that the defenses start coming down and the reality of the pain begins to be felt. For me it was just a week before I felt it. The day after the funeral. That was when my numbness receded. I was overwhelmed and had to be hospitalized. But for some a whole year can be spent in emotional separation, distanced observation, numbness. As your psyche hopes to build up strength for when the pain becomes more real and the fantasy of “it can’t be true” finally breaks down.

I imagine it must be much harder to resist that fantasy if you don’t get to see your loved one before burial. For example if they die overseas in a military conflict and there are no remains to view. I do believe in the value of that last viewing, of the emotional closure it allows. But me, I couldn’t watch as they closed the casket; I couldn’t watch as they lowered him into the ground. That much reality was too much for me. I was still in the distanced observation stage.

So be kind to yourself. Don’t set expectations on your grief. And don’t allow others to give you a time limit. We each have our own path to take. Just don’t take it alone.image

Hope in Seasons of Loss

traces of hope

How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?

This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.


The Giant Sad


Once upon a time there was a little boy called Malcolm who had a mummy and a daddy who loved him very much. And he had a baby brother called James that he wasn’t so sure about at first, but who he grew to love and love.

Little Malcolm really liked to laugh and make jokes. He loved camping and fishing and making a secret language with his cousin T.J.. Little Malcolm had a giggle like his mother. But some days Malcolm was sad, and some days he was very, very sad. And the Sad inside him grew like a big rock.

When Malcolm was all grown and finished college he came back home top live and study some more. His baby brother was all grown up too and just starting college.

Time passed at home and Malcolm had some lovely days and lots of good friends. He went to Austria and took beautiful pictures. The sad inside him was still growing but there was room for the Happy, the Silly, the Serious, and the Helpful as well. Malcolm was helpful to lots of people, and even to his own mummy when her Sad became too big.

One day Malcolm began to feel that his Sad had grown too big; there was no room for Happy and Silly. But Helpful continued to smile a big smile so no one noticed. Then Malcolm began finding it hard to breathe because Sad was so big it filled up his whole chest.

Malcolm was so good at helping others but he hadn’t learnt to help himself. His smile was so big it could shrink other people’s Sad, but it didn’t help his own. If only he had believed he deserved help; if only he had believed he deserved people’s time and love. But he didn’t believe it. he never had.

Then one day the sad was too big altogether. It was bigger than Malcolm. And Malcolm did a very bad, very sad thing.  He took a gun and shot himself in the heart. It was the only way he could think of to get rid of his giant Sad. But he didn’t get rid of it, he passed it on to his mummy and daddy and his brother and all his family and friends. And when he shot himself he killed his whole Self – the Happy, the Helpful, the Silly, and the Serious as well. Now there was nothing left of his beautiful smile.

And now Malcolm’s mummy and daddy and his brother James  have a giant enormous Sad that is Malcolm-shaped and is sitting on their hearts and making it hard for them to breathe.

The End.


From Faith to Doubt to … Hope

This is a draft of an introduction to my next book. I would very much appreciate feedback.

Natural disaster, institutional evil, the suicide of a loved one. The experience of each of these tragedies results in grief and loss: denial, anger, blaming, depression, and eventually, so the theory goes, acceptance and renewal of hope – a new beginning. In the face of tragedy, understanding the common stages of grief and loss can offer victims some sense of order in an otherwise chaotic emotional landscape. But what if, while reeling under the impact of a tragedy, we also face the loss of our religious faith, and along with it the very structures of meaning that have held us together for so long? What if we find ourselves doubting the goodness of our church, the existence of God, the purposeful nature of creation, the meaning of life, the very possibility of hope?

Three separate tragedies – Hurricane Katrina, the Catholic abuse scandal, the loss of a son to suicide – connected through the common ground of grief and loss, and carrying in their wake a profound challenge to religious faith. This may seem too wide a topic for a single book, but it can’t be: this book is not an intellectual exercise; these tragedies tell the story of my life. The questions I raise here surface from the depths of my own grief and sorrow and from my desperate need to reclaim hope, the hope I once relied on, the hope I tried to offer my students, the hope that my son wrote of, even as he prepared to die.

If you are looking for a story of spiritual transformation, a wrenching tragedy followed by a poignant renewal of faith, then this book is not for you. If you need to find immediate comfort, and the reassurance that God has a Plan and everything happens for a Reason, this book will not serve you well. I’m telling you this because I don’t want to cause any more pain: grief and loss are too damn difficult already. But if you are grasping for a raft in the midst of overwhelming tragedy, emotional chaos, or spiritual drought, if you are disillusioned with organized religion, and not even sure about God, let alone God’s plan, then we are on a similar journey and maybe we can share the road for a while.

Typically, spiritual odyssey stories generate speaking engagements, t-shirts, and affirmation cards. They take the reader from the pain and chaos of suffering, sin, and loss to the comfort of forgiveness and the renewal of faith. This story travels in the other direction: from a career teaching theology and leading liturgical music — feeling that I was in God’s hands — to the desolation of suddenly feeling that God had let go.

I used to readily call myself Catholic; now I don’t know what label fits. If “Catholic” can be a cultural descriptor, the way “Jewish” is for many Jews, then I am certainly Catholic. I was born and raised in the Church, received all the relevant sacraments, earned two degrees from Catholic universities, taught theology for nearly three decades in Catholic schools, and raised two sons in the Church. I would not hesitate to check “Catholic” on a census or on a hospital admissions chart. Nonetheless, I am currently ambivalent about God and find it too distressful to attend Church with any regularity.

My story will not nurture a soul hungry for immediate spiritual enrichment, but to those who are struggling to make sense of suffering and God it offers the consolation that you are not alone. It may even help you let go of the guilt of doubting God. And for those who are searching for some sense of meaning and purpose when life seems devoid of any, perhaps it will even offer you a little hope. That is certainly my hope.

Spring cleaning

Grief, like spring cleaning, is all about baby steps. Last week I decided to sort through a desk drawer and made piles, what was important enough to keep and what I was willing to part with. And then my husband sorted through the discards and pulled out a map of Austria, Malcolm spent a summer there, and a pair of nail clippers, Malcolm cut his nails with those. I know, that might seem morbid – nail clippers. But after those first horrific hours passed and it began to sink in that we would never see him again, I collected his hair from the drain in his shower; if I had found nail clippings I would have kept those too.

It has been four years, as of yesterday. Four springs when we have asked ourselves, are we ready yet? Is it time to clean out his room? Timing is very delicate here. When my husband washed my son’s sheets a few weeks after he died, it nearly put me back in the hospital. How could he decide to get rid of any of Malcolm’s smell. How could he? I was hysterical, hardly able to breathe through my sobs. Now only traces of his musky odor linger … a camping jacket, a knitted cap. And our younger son’s friends have slept in Malcolm’s bed during Mardi Gras visits, and I have replaced the sheets.

Going forward there will be hundreds of decisions to make. Every article of clothing, every note, every memento. His desk contains fragments of the life of the boy and the man, from grammar school to graduate school. Every one of them precious, every one of them a tenuous connection, every one of them holding out the elusive hope of an answer. What if there’s a letter hidden between pages of a book, a note in a pocket? Some revelation of a broken heart or a paralyzing fear. But did he really know why, on that day in March, 2007, just three hours after handing in a paper to his professor, he took a gun and shot himself through the heart?  I’m not sure any more.

I think this spring what we need to let go of is our need for an answer. Maybe then we will be able, finally, to let go of Malcolm’s things. But not this year. Not yet.

Grieving a Loss — again!

As I sat through the Synagogue service last night (when I wasn’t running to the bathroom to blot my face and rehydrate) I realised that this was more than about Billy leaving.  And I realized that grieving a loss is something that you revisit when another loss occurs.  Billy isn’t my son, but my grief over his leaving has become exacerbated by my ongoing grief about losing Malcolm.  So this is about Billy, but it is also about my other loss. Truth is, when my bunny rabbit “Pretty Girl” dies (she’s already 9 year sold) I will probably grieve excessively then, too.

Maybe it is the heart’s way of surviving a profound loss. It isn’t possible to feel all the grief associated with the loss of a child at one time, or in one season of grief, and so, when your life moves into a new season of grief because of a new loss of some kind, your heart gets in touch with some of your original pain and helps you release and process a little bit more.

Once I understood this I was less judgemental about my tears and more compassionate towards myself. I actually let myself cry and it was ok. I didn’t die and no one laughed at me, or got angry, or over-reacted as if I needed emotional triage: they just let me be and later just checked in with me and asked if I was ok. And… I was.  Sad, damp, but basically ok.

A New Way of the Cross

This year on Good Friday my husband and I made our own way of the cross: we walked to the site where Malcolm shot himself three years ago. We walked to the corner where he parked his car. We walked across the open lot that he crossed to get to the lakefront.  But up on the levee there has been construction, so we can no longer place our hands on the soil that absorbed his blood and add out tears to the ground that held him as he died. Perhaps that’s a good thing.

I am not prone to quoting scripture, but I am reminded of the Book of Revelation, ” And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.  And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new.”

It gives me comfort to think that God has taken my son and made all things new for him. It’s a good thought today, and I am in need of good thoughts. A new levee represents strength and safety and protection. Malcolm would approve.

Three years

We’re coming up to three years and I’m facing the anniversary with trepidation again, but less so than before. I remember how in those first horrific days I wanted only to be with Malcolm; I agonised over the thought that he was alone and afraid.  As weeks and months passed I felt guilty for abandoning him, for not dying too. As months passed into a year I fantasized about creating a near death experience so I could see him and hug him once more and make sure he was alright; but I didn’t want to die, I would make sure to be resuscitated so that I wouldn’t cause my family any more pain. Now, at three years, even that fantasy seems empty, ridiculous even. Now I wear his jacket to Mardi Gras parades, I read his Facebook page where friends and family still post messages, I look at photos, and sometimes, like today, I help his dad tend to his grave. A parent’s nightmare — having to tend their child’s grave. But that is the last thing we can do for him now, one last act of love.

Is it time to clean out his room?

With Mardi Gras around the corner and our youngest coming in with a car load of friends, is it time to clean out some of Malcolm’s things and make his room more accessible? I thought so, maybe. But then I opened his closet and stood and looked. I pulled out his belts and lay them on his bed. Then I put them all back. What was I ready to part with? Absolutely nothing!

It’s been nearly three years. It sounds like a long time, but it isn’t. It was just yesterday. I might try again in a few days. But then again I might not.