Next Time

I don’t exactly know what happened next. I remember bits and pieces.  Maybe I can talk to Phil about it one day.  Maybe he can fill in the gaps, give me his version. When he’s ready. It seems important, much as it can’t really matter. I mean, what of it? If we disagree, we get a do-over? I get to figure out how I could’ve stopped this, changed this, given us the happily-ever-after that required nothing other than our two children living longer than we would?

But I want details. All I have of my son is my story; sorrowful as it might be, I want it all. I want to know what time Phil came over, how long we sat on the landing, if I started to cry right away. I want to know how he knew the New Brunswick police were driving Natalie home, if he spoke to her before he came to me.  I want to know exactly what the police said when he answered the door, what he said back, how he felt. Shock, disbelief, grief – of course I know this. But I want to know where he felt it in his body, how he experienced it. Because if he tells me how he felt, maybe I won’t be so alone. Maybe he can help me find the words I need to find my way home. I don’t know any other way; I have faith in words. I believe that if I can say it the way I need to, I will be well. I believe that what haunts me are the stories I don’t yet know how to tell.

The loss of a child is not so easily shared. Phil and I went to a parents’ bereavement group a few months after Philip died. I am not unused to support groups – years of AA taught me that when a problem seems bigger than you are, finding people who’ve dealt with it can help. Not so this. At least with alcoholism, the path to healing has some sort of shape – if you’re a drunk and you want to start living, you have to stop drinking.

But how am I to find my way on this path? In AA we talked about drinking vodka and drinking wine and the stupid things we did and the dangerous things we did and how we almost died from embarrassment and how we almost died. We talked about what we felt like. We identified. And in our sameness lay our hope and our help.

What was I supposed to identify with here? Maybe I am a mother and you are a mother and I lost a son and you lost a son, but you didn’t lose Philip; you didn’t lose my son. Your “identification” was not what I wanted. It changed nothing. Besides, you couldn’t possibly understand. For you to understand, I’d have to be able to explain what I felt like and I couldn’t. I could not say it to anyone because I didn’t have the words. I could say “grief” and “despair” and “desperation” but that wasn’t what I really meant. Those were ordinary words, words I’d used before. Losing Philip was nothing like anything before. I’d have to invent a language to tell you. And this loss of language unmoored me; I was slipping, slipping away, gone to a place where I could see you and hear you, but you didn’t make any sense.

Ground Control, there’s something wrong. Something terribly fucking wrong.

I started this post intending to continue my narrative. Next time. I’m still skittish from the last piece of it; I’m touchy and sore and I’ve spent the last few days wondering if I’m crazy for doing this. If you’ve found your way here through Facebook, you know I wrote that I’m in a new version of surreal. I’ve stopped telling everyone, including the cashiers where I shop and the telemarketers who somehow breach the do-not-call barrier, what happened. I shower regularly, change my clothes daily. I even put makeup on again. But my heart is broken, a chunk of me is gone, I wake up every day wondering, what now? and I feel kind of crazy to be functioning like a normal person when I’m anything but. I’m small and too scared and I want my son. Sometimes I wonder who is the parent and who is the child, because I cry to Philip, help me, please help me; please come home, please don’t be gone, I miss you and love you and what am I going to do without you, Philip? What am I going to do?

© 2013 Denise Smyth


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kirsten Lagatree
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 08:11:06

    This is ripping, gripping, stunning writing, Denise. I’m privileged to be able look into your heart for a moment every time I read another posting. You have an unbelievably powerful way of capturing a moment.


  2. Christina
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 11:15:50

    Oh my god, I am completely torn up. This is so wrenching and so brave. I am in awe of you.


    • Denise
      Apr 11, 2013 @ 14:20:10

      You’re a writer, Christina; I know you understand my need. And I appreciate your kindness. Every touch helps.


  3. jlkb
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 18:22:03

    Hi Denise, I’m not sure if hitting return will get this email to you (I’m a bit shy about posting in public). Two friends from MEWS sent me the link to your blog and I am connecting to your thoughts, feelings and frame of mind. My beautiful 23 year old daughter died 2 months ago after being hit by a NYC bus in Brooklyn. She was the light of my life, my best friend and my every heartbeat. The pain I feel is indescribable. I am so so sorry for the loss of your Philip and I relate to your despair. Let me know if you ever want to meet.

    I will look forward to following your words and hearing how you continue living.

    Take care, Judy


  4. Denise
    Apr 11, 2013 @ 20:48:12

    Judy, I sent you my email. We should talk.


  5. Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 08:21:27

    After our son died, I went to a support group for mothers who had children die. I can relate to what you said about the bereavement groups. I’m sure they help some…and perhaps I should have tried harder to find one that fit me better…but I found it a difficult thing to “fit” or feel comfortable enough to open up about my grief in the group I attended. I’m not much of a “group” person, anyway, but I was a little put-off by some of the comments. After introducing myself and briefly sharing what happened, one gal said to me, “Oh, you’re just a baby (in the grief process).” That made me feel like my grief was somehow “less than” that of those who were further along in their grief. Other gals started talking about the girl who had died in the accident and her family and how hard it must have been to lose a second child in a car accident (their son had earlier died in a car accident). Hey…I had lost a baby at 19 weeks in utero and this was my second child to die. Why was it more important to focus on Jason’s friend and her family? I was sitting right there, needing someone to understand that I just wanted to die, too, and needing someone to encourage me that I would eventually find reasons to live and carry on. I felt unimportant. It felt like losing the greatest kid and biggest piece of my heart didn’t matter to them. They didn’t know me. They didn’t know Jason. They didn’t know what it was like to lose JASON! Needless to say, I didn’t go back.

    As I said, I know there are many people who have been helped by bereavement support groups and perhaps I should have tried to find another group, but I just didn’t have the energy to do it. And, because I was so raw with grief, I felt stung by what I perceived as lack of understanding of my loss. I was dealing with enough additionally that I didn’t need to feel lack of understanding from “grief peers.”

    I’m so sorry for your loss. I wouldn’t wish this journey on anyone. Keep writing. You are an excellent writer. We can’t stay silent. For too long, bereaved parents have been made to feel like they need to deal with grief away from the public eye.


  6. Denise
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 09:31:33

    Yes, because it’s too awful to contemplate. But once you start talking, the number of parents who suffer this becomes heartbreakingly clear.


  7. tersiaburger
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 12:41:51

    I started blogging – it is my coping mechanism. My beautiful child was ill for many years, and I watched her die over a period of many years. I isolated myself from my friends, and they gladly accepted my withdrawal. I want to die. I do not want to join a support group. I have however started seeing the Hospice psychiatrist but only because I promised Vic that I would.


  8. Denise
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 12:51:00

    I once read, ‘There’s a risk in thinking death is peace.” I am speaking in terms of suicide; to say, “I want to die” is to mean, “I don’t want to feel any more.” It wasn’t until Philip died (and believe me, I wanted go right after him) that I realized my life is about more than myself. My daughter, for one, needs me; so I started there. And I’ll have more to say about all this as I continue…


  9. behindthemaskofabuse
    Apr 19, 2013 @ 16:50:12

    Just here to support .


  10. Benita
    Apr 26, 2013 @ 11:47:44



  11. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 19:50:22

    I understand there are no words. You write amazing, I feel like I am right there with you..


  12. Denise
    Dec 16, 2013 @ 20:27:29

    What better compliment could there be? Thank you Becki; really – thank you.


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