Yesterday a window opened. Just for a moment. And there he was – Philip, in his biker jacket, standing there. Palpable. Tangible. In living color. As in I could touch him? No. Do I mean I had a vision? No. I just mean I remembered him like it was yesterday and I am aching for what I can’t have.

Sometimes…well, it’s like this – and not as in a complaint, but as a result of choices I’ve made. I haven’t anyone to hold me; I mean, to just sink into. And right about now, that’s feeling like it would be a good thing. I’d rather be sitting on my couch balled up under someone’s arm with a reassuring head resting on mine than sitting on my couch trying to explain it to you. There’s a release that happens when it’s the right person. Like lancing the wound and the pus runs out and the hot pain chills out and from the simple act of touching, there’s nowhere one of you ends and the other begins. Just breathing in a place where you think you’re safe from something it’s not possible to be safe from, but it’s okay to make believe you are, just for a while.

It’s a break in the tension. It’s what I drank for; that click, the one that came right around the third drink, when I started nodding to the music all warm and dreamy because really, everything was going to be all right.

Philip used to let me sink into him. Just for a moment, here and there. He knew me. He saw my unhappiness, he wrote about it, he tried to love it out of me. Funny thing is, I was finally letting him, then he went and died.

Yeah, well. Maybe not so funny.

I guess I’m saying that it just hit me weak-in-the-knees hard that my son is gone and I am crying crying crying again and for what? I well know that people are suffering this and I can’t do anything about mine like they can’t do anything about theirs. And it matters; it matters that people suffer all sorts of things because I don’t think I’ve been given more or less than anyone else. It matters that people are trying to cope with what’s in front of them. It has to matter because if I can’t make some sense – even some vague, primitive sense – of this, I think my spirit will lie broken and useless and my body will follow right along.

For months and months and months I asked Philip to come to me in my dreams. I had two dreams about him after he died, but no more. Phil told me he dreams of Philip. He sees him standing with his friends, and he wants to tell him something but he can’t. How do you feel when you wake, I asked? Terrible, he answered.

Then I thanked Philip for not dreaming of him because I got it. To feel like I experienced him would only make me feel worse. There’s a cushion that’s developed, between and around me and my son. It doesn’t keep me from him, it doesn’t make the grief go away. But it’s the difference between how I grieved when he first died and how I grieve now. It has to do with the physical fact of him; 14 months of not seeing him or touching him has lost its sharp edge.

Then that window that opened. It was visceral. Again; the brutality of loss. Philip popped up and was gone, and I’m haunted by the line I wrote, weeks ago:  “I see him, beautiful boy…”

My beautiful boy; oh God, where is he? When Natalie went to pre-school, and then again in kindergarten, she screamed for me. Mrs. M had to carry her in while I watched, Natalie reaching her arms out to me over Mrs. M’s shoulder, Mommy…Mommy…Mommmmmmmyy!! And kindergarten, Mrs. R holding her hand, Natalie screaming, Mommy! My stomach hurts! Mommy! Mommy! Please!

I can’t stop thinking about this because I am Natalie, screaming for help, reaching out for someone who cannot or will not help, and it’s killing me that I let her go and I know exactly how she felt, her big eyes streaming tears, terrified, not understanding how mommy could let this happen and of course it took one day for it to be all right, but she didn’t know that, not in those moments. I am stuck in that tableau where I am Natalie more than I am me. Terrified and bewildered at what’s happened, guilty and ashamed for letting it.

I know Philip’s death wasn’t my fault. But I am his mother; protecting him is what I’m supposed to do. It’s beyond sense or reason. It’s biological, it’s psychic. I didn’t do it, couldn’t do it, and that’s what I have to live with. I did nothing wrong; if you think I’m saying I feel guilty because I could have done something to prevent this, I’m not explaining it right. See, what I know and what I feel have nothing to do with each other. The fact is that Philip is dead, the fact is I couldn’t have stopped it, the fact is I am wired to protect him and I didn’t.

Next, I want to tell you a story.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemaskofabuse
    May 06, 2013 @ 23:49:42

    Hugs and sitting here with you xo


  2. Aimee
    May 07, 2013 @ 00:16:33

    One minute at a time, Denise. That’s the best we can do. Hugs to you 🙂


    • Denise
      May 07, 2013 @ 13:08:23

      It’s just that sometimes the minutes seem so long…but then, in a second, you can be gone. What a world. Lovin’ your hugs ;o)


  3. Myra Binstock Legal Search
    May 07, 2013 @ 09:23:56

    Your writing is so powerful because you are finally able to take off the mask and be the real you. I’m so sad for your pain, but at least you are able to turn it into something that will touch others … and you.


    • Denise
      May 07, 2013 @ 13:06:12

      Thanks Myra; I have found my muse, and it’s Philip. And what a world of things to say about that…


  4. tersiaburger
    May 09, 2013 @ 15:26:23

    Your posts fill me with sadness. Hugs


  5. Nancy Miller
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 16:55:28

    Denise, this title could have been written by me. My daughter Rachel died 9 days before her 21st birthday. She is always going to be forever 21. But now, 4 years later, I’m seeing her friends graduate from college, grad school, get jobs, get married, two have had babies. Would I be a grandmother now? Will this gigantic hole in my heart ever shrink in size? I’m holding you in my heart today. We have to put one foot in front of the other, don’t we?


    • Denise
      Jul 28, 2013 @ 21:31:26

      Yes we do, and now I know where “one day at a time” comes from. There’s a special kind of hell for parents who lose their children. My child; my God what now? Look – I say this all the time, and I’ll talk about it more as I keep blogging. Philip is always in touch with me – always. I feel him, I talk to him, he constantly gives me signs. He’s encouraging me, he’s trying to teach me something. But he’s gone; back and forth I go, trying to stay with him, yet feeling sick to my stomach all the time. Nancy, we walk in a different world now; I don’t like it, I don’t want it. But this is our life now; how do we make meaning? All I know is I have a daughter and I’d be lost without her. I am so sorry you’re suffering this, I’m sorry for all of us. I am so sad, so utterly, wrenchingly sad. But you’re holding me in your heart, and I’ll try to rest there for a while.


      • nancym1955
        Jul 29, 2013 @ 09:32:08

        Lay your head on my shoulder. Don’t be afraid. You have your daughter, and I have a son, Josh, who is a godsend to me. But what this does to family is also horrible. I have an older daughter, Jessica, who closed off to the entire family after Rachel’s death. No one has heard from her in about three years. That is a whole other layer of grief that sears me, Denise. What seems to save my sanity is hearing from other parents such as you, dear lady, and it takes courage to put this ugly stuff out there in print for everyone to see. We live in a culture that valorizes beauty, thinness, youth. We don’t value or want to look at ugly. And grief is ugly. It’s mascara running down your cheeks in the grocery store. It’s pulling over to the side of the road because you saw a kid who looks just like Philip and it knocked all the air out of your lungs. It’s ugly, and understandably people turn away, as though we’re lepers and contagious. I’m holding you close to me, keeping a chair open at the Griefland Cafe, and maybe we’ll just sit there today till we’re both good and ready to leave for the mainland. — Love, Nancy

  6. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 19:20:42

    He’s always with you, the first thing that came to my mind reading this post was the movie Ghost which is my all time favorite movie.


  7. Denise
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 08:28:34

    Maybe I should give it a watch…


  8. John
    Apr 29, 2020 @ 22:49:07

    I had a dream the other night about my dead son. Or as I should say, I had a dream I remembered about my dead son. And the only reason I remembered it was because the damn dog woke me up in the middle of it. My takeaway: I very likely dream about my son all the time. Like the vast majority of my dreams, I don’t remember them.

    Like you, I would lie down to sleep and my last conscious thought was a request to whatever/whoever to have a dream about him. I realize now that my requests may have been granted over and over again. But I don’t remember them. I do wake up from sleeping feeling better. I do wish the world would simply stop and I could sleep forever.

    As far as the particulars go it was a completely unremarkable dream in that I was just a witness, not really in control. My son was in grade school, having trouble going to sleep, wanting to show me something he brought home from school. And my reaction was a normal one: to listen, to read him a book, to console him in some normal, unremarkable way that was the daily unremarkable expression of the love we had for him. I was living totally within the precious, artificial moment provided by the dream. Context was everything, just as it was when he actually was in grade school.

    When the dog woke me I realized that it was the first time in the 6 months since my son’s suicide that a memory about him did not paralyze me with grief. And that somewhere, somehow I would learn to have happy memories of him again. I can’t turn that on like a spigot – I wish – but take what consolation I can from the realization that it will be possible. Someday. And that I SHOULD have happy memories of him because we WERE happy.


    • Denise
      May 02, 2020 @ 18:13:47

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, and you must know how very sorry I am that you’re suffering this. Losing a child is truly the worst thing in the world and my heart breaks for all who join horrible club. I still, sometimes, ask to dream about Philip before I go to sleep, I still, never, have any recollection of dreaming about him. My ex-husband used to dream about him when he first died and he hated it. It made Philip more vivid and upon waking the loss was even more painful. But I want to see him so much, I still miss him like hell, and I feel like you, I wish I could sleep forever. But I have a daughter who needs me and people who care, so on I go. As do you.

      I wish you whatever peace you may find.


      • John
        May 03, 2020 @ 18:23:52

        Thanks for extending your sympathies both toward me and to the many others who have commented after finding their way here. I have some peace through our participation in a LOSS group (the Wolfelt version) and my work with a therapist to overcome my PTSD. Six months out, things are better. Our loss and the sadness doesn’t seem quite as overwhelmingly staggering.

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