The Risk I Took

Here’s how I know I’m getting better:

A couple weeks ago, I was at Cindy’s house when her decorator-friend came to put up some curtains. DF and I were alone, so I asked her about her life instead of talking about mine (that’s number one). I asked her how she got into the decorating business, not about how many kids she had (numbers two and three). And then – number four, the really big one – when she (through no prompting on my part) said, “I miss my son,” and I asked, “Why?” and she said, “He went overseas for a term to study Arabic and now that he’ll be home in a week, I realize just how much I miss him,” I did not say, “Lady, you don’t know how fucking lucky you are.”

And on a maybe more minor note (maybe), when Cindy’s, em, “friend,” found out the wrist she thought was sprained was actually broken and required six weeks in a cast followed by physical therapy and characterized the whole freakin’ thing as “A Nightmare,” I did not ask her how many of her three children were still alive since, well – oh wait; they all are.

Of course, then there’s days like Friday, when I spent four morning hours watching the final season of “The Big C – Hereafter” and then cried to  Rene, the construction guy who was  in my TV room fixing some water damage on the ceiling. It wasn’t Laura Linney’s fault. If I’m watching morning TV I’m already gone. Turns out Rene had a daughter with his first wife and she died the day after she was born. He’s remarried and has no kids and I’m sure he had hours worth of story to tell me, but how do I ask when I don’t know if he’d want to tell? “Not everyone’s like you, mom,” Natalie likes to say when she thinks I’m too quick to share what she considers private.

It’s just that I’m as interested in other people’s stories as I am in my own. I want to be in your world for a while, to see it the way you do because even if it’s in some small way, I will recognize me and that means we are connected. Once I asked someone I cared very much for if I was still there if he didn’t see me. I knew I was pleading for something he couldn’t give me. Now I know I need to see as much as I need to be seen. I need to tell you about Philip as much as I need you to tell me what’s true and authentic in your life because if I cannot live in what’s true and authentic, even if the true and authentic is grief, then I will become one of the walking dead and that is not what Philip wants.

What Philip “wants?” After Philip died, Phil said to me that he wanted to carry Philip’s kind and generous spirit into the world and that I should too; that Philip would not want me to be in the grief I was in.

“How do you know what he wants?” I shot back. “Maybe he’s lonely. Maybe he wants company. Maybe he wants me with him.”

Phil didn’t answer, but months later he told me that after I said that, he thought, she is fucked up.

But here’s the thing. Some point during The Wilderness of the two days between when Philip lay dead in his room and then dead in a coffin, I was out driving somewhere for something.  Stopped for a red light at the corner of Park and Chestnut in front of  Montclair High School, I thought, I am done. I have had it. I am going to do it. I don’t know how, but I will do it. I have had it; I have had enough. And for the second time I heard my son and he said, “Mom, you have to find the joy. It doesn’t work that way.”

I knew what he meant. I knew that whatever it was I had to work out, I had to work it out where I was and that killing myself wouldn’t matter. I had to work this out. And Philip asked me if I wanted to take the way I was feeling, pick it up and give it to Natalie. Because that’s what killing myself would do. And I had this weird vision, like I’d crossed over and was standing next to Philip, unable to get to Natalie, and the grief I carried was now for her.

See, I took a risk. I took the risk of having children and what I had was one that was dead and one that was alive and needed me. I chose that responsibility –  I chose it. But all that made me feel was trapped. It was my love for Natalie that would give me the strength to lay my burden down, but I couldn’t feel it. The heart that loved was gone; without it, where could I find what I was supposed to give her?

“For I am just a troubled soul
Who’s weighted…
Weighted to the ground
Give me the strength to carry on
Till I can lay my burden down
Give me the strength to lay this burden down down down
Give me the strength to lay it down.”

From “Little Bird” by Annie Lennox

© 2013 Denise Smyth


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemaskofabuse
    Jun 17, 2013 @ 23:20:39

    Sitting with you as you hurt. xo


  2. Denise
    Jun 17, 2013 @ 23:22:07

    I have come to count on you; I think you’re pretty amazing.


  3. Lucia Maya
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 01:22:10

    oh, your words are a balm for me. Even these recent days when I’m feeling quite peaceful and not in pain, you make me laugh and make me feel connected with you, a stranger far away, and that’s a gift!


    • Denise
      Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:57:57

      Thank you for that and God I’m glad if I’ve made you laugh. You have a knowing; I see it in your picture and I feel it in your words. I’m glad we connected – and those aren’t just words. I mean it; my heart lifts when I see your name.


  4. tersiaburger
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 17:55:21

    Nobody but another grieving mother can understand your pain. I know Danie does not understand why I am so grief stricken. He thinks I should be grateful that Vic’s suffering is over…after all I prayed for her suffering to end. I hold you close to my heart dear Denise.


  5. Denise
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 18:04:23

    You’ve been here since the day I started this blog. It scares me to think of you so hurt, of all of us who are suffering this kind of loss; are we going to be okay, I want to ask? You are so out in the world, you do so much. I’m not there. The most “out” I am is when I write. But I think about what you do, and then I think maybe I can “do,” too. And of course you’re glad her suffering is over, but look at what it cost. Mothers grieve differently. We carried them; we had a relationship with them from the second we knew they were there. It is a most unique relationship; and I am sorry you had to watch her suffer. You’ve a bond with her that can’t be broken. Know that I think of you and I take strength from you.


  6. Michelle
    Jun 18, 2013 @ 19:05:02

    You are amazing xoxo


  7. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 17, 2013 @ 23:05:49

    Your strength is incredible, there is a bond between a mother and son that is very different than with a daughter. I don’t have rhyme or reason why , it just is.


  8. Denise
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 08:30:56

    There’s something about male/female energy; we are close to our sons and daughters in different ways.


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