No Way Out

I’m on a crying jag; I’ve a lot going on, and it keeps hitting me that Philip has died. I can’t even say, “is dead.” And people are kind, and that makes me cry even more. Yesterday I wrote to Lucia, Elizabeth Blue’s mom, “And I am overwhelmed at the moment; Lucia, I miss him so. Sometimes I feel like I’m being slowly strangled. I try to remind myself that the moment when I face death I’m going to think it all went so quickly, so let me love my son where he is and my daughter where she is. None of us are here forever. But when I miss him like this, that’s exactly what it feels like. “ And in the worst possible sense.

Which brings me back to Elizabeth Blue’s incredibly prescient and powerful, “Bird’s Nest.” In part:

“Five days ago I watched two birds mate.
Yesterday I watched as they began
in unison
to build their nest.

Today it occurs to me
that I will be gone
by the time they lay eggs
and the eggs make way
for the new life
within them.

Today it occurs to me that I will be gone
The lines between body and land have blurred
and the land will miss my body.
Perhaps it will be lonely
I think it will weep.
I think it will miss me
more than my mind or body
could miss it,”

Reading that poem is like watching Elizabeth discovering something, and what a something.  Nature has much to teach us, if we pay attention. How often we don’t because we’re so busy thinking, as if thinking is going to solve our problem when it mostly is our problem. The mind, it is said, is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master.

Elizabeth recognized that maybe the world needs us more than we need it. How different from raging at death because this goddamn world gets to go on while we or those we love do not.  But what is the world, if we are not there to witness is? A world of form requires our recognition. It’s such a big place, this world, such an overwhelming place. And the terror of death is that we’re leaving it behind, and it still gets to be, while we turn to dust. Or does it?

Life is relentless. Death isn’t enough to stop it, but it’s more than enough to wreck those of us who are here to witness it. This is what I mean: maybe death is forcing us to confront just what we think Life is. Forcing us, because we don’t like to think about death. And if we don’t think about death we will become shallow and brittle because nothing will matter except what we look like, what we have, whatever is external to us, whatever draws us farther from ourselves.

I am aching, aching for Philip. Try telling that part of me that, “Death isn’t enough to stop it.” But there’s another part of me that’s struggling with faith and acceptance and the certainty that there’s something else going on, stuggling to understand it and articulate it in a meaningful way.  And there is my constant communication with Philip, who is there for me in a very real way, and who’s been teaching me things always.

I was never afraid of childbirth. In high school I’d  tell my friends, “I’ll have the babies, but you have to raise them.” Back then, I didn’t much like kids, couldn’t imagine even liking my own. But labor seemed like an act of bravery, a jump into the void; confronting the uncontrollable, wondering if I’d come out the other side.

When I was pregnant, I felt the same (about labor – not kids). My kids were born at home with no doctors telling me what to do, no fetal monitors strapped around me, no someone I didn’t trust directing me. I was searching for authenticity through my femininity, and what could be more feminine than giving birth? I wanted to deliver my child with the help of a midwife who trusted that my body could do what it was supposed to, and who knew what to do if it didn’t. I wanted a woman to help me give birth, one who had borne  a child of her own. Barbara, my midwife, turned out to be that person.

Since attitude is supposed to affect experience, I thought my good one meant labor wouldn’t hurt too much. I might’ve gone in blind, but at least I went bravely. Labor was ferociously, savagely painful; I was scared. I let loose with moaning and yelling and pleading for Barbara not to leave me. Of course she didn’t leave me. Even when I bit her. I wasn’t in control of what my body was doing, how it was doing it, or the pain I felt. I couldn’t say, “Could we just take a break and rest for a few minutes please?” Labor is the relentless force of Life as it takes shape, and in those terrible moments I realized there was no way out but through.

That’s what Philip taught me during his birth, and what he’s trying to teach me through his death. Thing is, when labor ended my son was born, the pain was gone, and every second of it was worth it. What of Philip’s death, then? What kind of “end” could there be; what do I get to hold in my arms, what will ever make me say this pain was worth it? I’ve been told now it’s me that’s being born. It’s not enough. I feel less than I ever was without him here because he took a part of me with him when he went.

He brought me full circle, this child of mine. See, I understand why women choose not to feel that pain. But had I chosen differently, I would not have had his guidance then, and I wouldn’t have been able to see that he’s helping me now. Because I do see it, even if I don’t always accept it.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemaskofabuse
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 00:08:02

    I can’t imagine the grief you are feeling, but I’m sitting here with you and sending hugs xo


  2. Lucia Maya
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 02:30:20

    As always, I am moved by your grief, and also inspired by how you are being so present with this, so willing, and so beautifully articulate.

    You write: “I feel less than I ever was without him here because he took a part of me with him when he went.” I was talking with Elizabeth’s best friend Samantha yesterday, and she told me that she knows that Elizabeth took a part of her with her, but that she also left a part of her with Samantha. And I believe that Philip also left part of himself with you, and that in so many ways you are becoming even more than you were before, and that is part of how we continue on without them, by embodying and transmitting parts of them and sharing them with the world…


    • Denise
      Jul 14, 2013 @ 17:06:48

      I know Philip is with me; he is my muse. Do you know how many years I struggled with writing? He’s freed me. He guides me. It’s a contradiction of sorts that I physically feel an emptiness that he’s gone, yet I also feel more from what he’s given me. I’m overwhelmed with everything that’s going on (I have to move by August 23, I haven’t found an apartment that will take the dogs, I also need to find work…) and so my grief grows worse. I know I need to take a breath and let it all go – just do the work to find the apartment, find the job, and stop with the stories I’m telling myself about it all. I’m stamping my feet again. I want Philip to come home. His home is in my heart now and that’s just not feeling enough.


    • Denise
      Jul 14, 2013 @ 18:00:41

      By the way Lucia – I added more of Elizabeth’s poem (and it’s linked) because I thought it made more sense given what I said afterward, about nature. Just sayin’ ;o)

      You know what? I’ve not written about this yet, but Philip was writing poetry. He had it on his computer, the brand new one we’d given him for Christmas, and after he died his room was robbed. Computer, x-box, phone; gone. Stolen. I wanted to see what he was writing so badly; and I know that’s such an awful thing, he dies and they rob him but think, think of what kind of life those kids have (I’m sure it was kids he knew), people who do such things. Karma is inescapable.


      • Lucia Maya
        Jul 14, 2013 @ 21:49:00

        Oh Denise – I’m so sorry about the loss of his computer and his writing! Like rubbing salt into a wound, but that’s not even close to what that must feel like! I am grateful that you’ve shared more of Elizabeth’s poem, it still is moving to me, each time I read it…

        And, I know that strange contradiction, of gratitude and sorrow, of awareness and wanting to not know, at the same time. With so much else going on, the overwhelm must be intense, but trust it will all work, you know you are being held, loved, and guided…I have a feeling it’s about looking in places you never would have thought before, some new way of seeing perhaps? (re finding a new home).
        sending love, Lucia

    • Denise
      Jul 14, 2013 @ 23:57:51

      I think the new way of “seeing” is not just about where I live, but more about work. I can feel that I’m up against a block, and I’m not sure what my part is in it, or how to approach it. I’ve never had so many things go “wrong.” In the end, I might say – oh, this didn’t work out because this other, better thing did; but now? I’m living like a gypsy, I lost the apartment I thought I had, and the job I thought I had isn’t working out…I am certain Life is trying to tell me something, but I am just not hearing it.


      • Lucia Maya
        Jul 15, 2013 @ 20:00:06

        Denise, this feels like a longer conversation, and I’m happy to talk by phone if you ever want to – I’m really good at listening and often can “see” new directions and practical steps to take… it’s part of my work, and I’d love to offer that to you if you are interested. Email me anytime if you like! (

    • Denise
      Jul 15, 2013 @ 23:44:20

      Ok. I’ve put your number in my phone; now I have to actually dial it. ;o)


      • Lucia Maya
        Jul 16, 2013 @ 00:12:37

        I’m 3 hours earlier than east coast..,and will be traveling/flying all day Thursday, just so you know…I look forward to connecting whenever it happens!

  3. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Jul 13, 2013 @ 18:23:21

    “Thing is, when labor ended my son was born, the pain was gone, and every second of it was worth it. What of Philip’s death, then? What kind of “end” could there be; what do I get to hold in my arms, what will ever make me say this pain was worth it?” This is so true!!
    I’m so unhappy and uncomfortable with all of the focus on “me” and “my growth”. The whole point of having children was to support and nurture their growth. It was never about ME.
    And I had already learned a lot about death, having lost my Dad suddenly when I was 22, and my mom to cancer 4 years ago. I don’t think this has made me a better person and as you say and Lucia quotes “I feel less than I ever was without him here…”. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to figure out how to go on and live the best life that we can without our children.


    • Denise
      Jul 14, 2013 @ 17:09:56

      I also wrote that if I was facing death, I’d feel like my life went so fast. It’s hard to remember that because everything feels so hard. Sometimes I think, well, I’m here, I might as well enjoy myself. I know Philip wants me to. But you know how crazy I am? I don’t even know HOW to enjoy myself.

      Except the writing. The writing helps; it’s where I feel real, if that’s the way to say it.


  4. tersiaburger
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 18:51:10

    I am in such a horrible space right now. It is a mere 178 days and I still want to die. i cannot even cry. I just want my child back. Hugs Denise.


  5. Denise
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 19:19:46

    Oh Tersia; what can I say? Only that I’m suffering, too, and so my heart is with you, whatever’s left of it. We have lost the most unique relationship we’ve had in this life; and I know I am blessed with Natalie, I do. You have your grandchildren, who love and need you. I know that doesn’t stop the pain, I do. I am sending you so very much love, so very, very much love. And I am right here, thinking of you.


  6. Rose Vidotto
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 10:43:01

    To all the wonderful mothers, whom I’ve got to know in a very weird however deep way, I can not say, or better, I do not have any words, or word, that would express what I feel when I read your stories. Each one of you, in your own way have tought me and opened my eyes to sooo many things you can not even imagine. In some, again weird way, I feel connected to you all and I do thing about you and your stories a lot. Every time, I’m faced with a situation that it seems difficult, or frustating for me to resolve, I do think of you and how much you are all suffering from been apart from your children. The tought of losing one of my kids, combined with the little I know about you all, brings me right back to reality and gives me a new perspective on how to deal with whatever issue I have. Denise, I wish I was leaving closer to you so that I could maybe help you in some other way. I would like to help you, so please, write me on an email and let me know what kind of job you would be looking for. I know so many people that maybe through one of my connections we can come up with something. My email is


  7. Denise
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 11:59:17

    Rose, I so appreciate your kind words, as I’m sure any who read this do, also. And I’m going to email you now.


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