What for?

I’ve been working on a post about gratitude, which is sounding more like a post on ingratitude. But I wanted to take a time out to say I found an apartment last week. The rent is less than the apartment I lost,  I can bring my dogs, the location is great. It’s unoccupied, so they gave me the keys on Friday and I’ve been moving some stuff in. Wednesday the movers come, and then it will officially be Home.

It all fell into place beautifully. People help me. Life helps me. I see it, and I work to accept it. I don’t know how to ask, and when I do, I am ashamed. I don’t know what that’s about, but I’ve been like this forever. I’m too tired to think about it.

And I don’t mean physically. I mean I am tired of what I feel because my son is dead. The move is exciting; I’ve been running around packing, organizing, making arrangements. Natalie and I are working together, talking colors and painting and how to put what where and what we need to fill the empty spaces. Then I go home, home to silences filled with my son’s death. My son. He is my son, and I can’t have you meet him. He is my son and he isn’t here. And I can talk to you all about this but when I am out in the world I feel shame. Is there something about me that made my son dead? I have never had anyone say anything stupid to me about Philip’s death. All people have done is care. But I can’t work this shame out, I can’t help but put my head down when I see families, when I see mothers and their sons. It’s not that I think there was something I could have done; it’s just a sense of, “well, of course, I mean – what did you think?”

Who the hell’s voice is that?

Philip’s answer to that is, “Mom, don’t make my death into something it isn’t.” His death is not about me. I am not to use it to justify old habits of despair and unwillingness, to return to thinking I want to die because what I want is not to feel. I have said I want to grieve honestly; there is nothing honest about mixing up Philip’s death with the the things I had to deal with while he was alive.

Still – the other day I wrote to Stephanie, “I just sort of sink and shrug because what for, if your child can die?”

I think maybe feeling his death so keenly has something to do with moving, starting this different life with Natalie and that makes Philip more gone.  August 1st, 2009, I left my home to move in with Nadiya. Philip was there to help me. We were both making changes:  me to a new home, he to his freshman year at college. Exactly four years later we should have again been moving on together: He as a Graduate of Rutgers, me to my new apartment with my daughter. But I’m moving on without him, away from the house where he came to visit, away from the room I grieved in and wept in and slept in and tucked myself away in to mourn the incomprehensible. My therapist asked if I feel guilty because I am happy and excited to move, and how could I allow anything like “happy” because Philip is gone? Maybe I am, but it doesn’t feel that way. It feels more like helplessness and despair because of what is. Life goes, I’m going with it, my son isn’t coming with me and my heart is hurting for loving him so much.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. afichereader
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 22:02:38

    Oh, Denise, you capture this wretched feeling so well. I remember the time I I’d accomplished some significant task and ended it by wailing. I was crying myself away from my husband. It was perfectly clear that I was moving on inexorably, the way you are moving here. I didn’t see it as guilt, but as distance. In retrospect, it may have been some stage in the grieving process, and I’m glad I allowed myself to feel it. It sounds like you’re worried, though, about letting old demons in when you open yourself up this way? From my limited perspective, I’m confident you can handle them.

    I am so gratified to hear about the new apartment. You handled the change in circumstances so admirably. I don’t think I commented on your post about losing the apartment, but it has sat with me since, and it is such a model for acceptance. I’m glad to hear that you’re landing well and the move is smooth. That’s a good thing.


  2. Denise
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 22:21:19

    I’d written a post called, “What I Do,” where I talked about how mean I am to myself; plus I start feeling hopeless and helpless and on and on…thing is, it’s hard to stop myself, it’s hard to make the choice to be kind. To me. And there’s my son, who talks to me all the time, telling me, “Mom, it’s okay. Just have a little faith.” I think the most sane I feel is when I’m writing.

    You know, I so appreciate you thinking of me. You say that, and it pulls me out of the crazy. I’m not so alone, I’m not unlovable. There’s a person in here, even though I don’t always feel I can find her. So thank you for that, for helping to take a breath.


  3. Denise
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 22:22:04

    *helping ME to take a breath.


  4. Judy
    Jul 28, 2013 @ 23:30:57

    Denise, there is no way to go through the horror of grief without feeling tortured. I remember it well. With every step, feel yourself moving forward – even if sometimes you are crawling. As you move forward, you will realize that more and more of the torture will be behind you. It is imperceptible, unless you look for it. But trust me, it will happen. I am so sorry for what you are feeling and look forward to hearing from you someday telling me how thankful you are to feel better. Keep writing because it is very healing.


    • Denise
      Jul 29, 2013 @ 06:08:05

      As I just said to someone else, I feel most sane when I’m writing. I still have the feeling that if I really stop resisting this grief that I will “lose” my son in yet another way. It’s not nearly like it was a year ago, and thank God it’s not a year ago because I don’t know I survived. My mind knows that’s not true, but my heart doesn’t. I’ve resigned myself to his death, which is not the same as accepting. It’s more like being defeated. It’s hard to imagine settling into some sort of peace.


      • Judy
        Jul 29, 2013 @ 08:40:33

        Everything you wrote were feelings that I experienced. I lived with the resignation and never imagined it could change. I was just grateful to have survived the exquisite torture of reliving my son’s death every moment of my day. Resignation is not defeat, Denise. It is all a journey and that is one of the stops. It is a true sign of progress and HUGE. I am so glad you have writing to help you on your journey. I didn’t have music or writing until 18 years after my son’s death. It saved me. I know you will continue to plod on this journey and see things ahead for you that you cannot imagine while you are suffering so. You will find more than peace – you will embrace joy again someday. Never give up hope.

  5. behindthemaskofabuse
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 00:56:16

    I’m both happy for you and feeling for you at the same time. It seems you are in another stage of grief. Be kind to you and take one moment at a time. I know this is not going to bring your son back, but taking care of you. Hugs xo


  6. tersiaburger
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 04:03:25

    Oh my friend Phillip will always be with you! You are not to blame. As sad as it is it was Phillip’S destiny. Please read Journey of Souls! Enjoy redecorating and the new apartment! Hugs and love!


  7. Denise
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 06:14:01

    Thanks, Tersia – I will. My heart and my head – not fully connected, but that’s a human dilemma. Things make sense to me on a different level, I see the connections, but there’s that bottomless pit in my stomach because Philip’s gone. I know you know what I mean.

    Are you okay? You’ve not been blogging – or else for some reason I’ve stopped getting notified.


  8. lenwilliamscarver
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 09:35:38

    Denise I along with the others have felt the despair you are suffering at this stage, and I offer you my prayers and my love. Each day our grief is like the ebb and flow an ocean rushing at us one minute and easing back another each grain of sand a tiny piece of our heart washing away. Know you are not alone God is with you.


  9. Denise
    Jul 29, 2013 @ 13:43:48

    It’s hard to feel like anyone’s with me, sometimes; I had an argument with my daughter yesterday and I thought the world ended yet again. Like, one argument and she’ll stop loving me. And I do mean “one,” because we really get along. I’m just feeling so very lonely for my son. Time is all, I guess.


  10. Lucia Maya
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 02:36:27

    As always, this is beautiful and you say so well what I feel too at times. Right now, as I have just finished facilitating a retreat, I am feeling so disconnected from Elizabeth, at least my memories of her… I think I had to in order to be present for this work, but it’s a bit scary now, feeling like I can’t fully remember her! I’ve been getting some amazing signs that she is with me in spirit, but feeling like the emotion has been buried, and in some ways that feels harder than having emotion spilling out…
    I am excited for you about your new apartment! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  11. Denise
    Aug 01, 2013 @ 14:34:51

    Sort of like standing on the shore, with the ocean between you…but not really. She’s close as ever, and she knew you needed some room for the retreat. I’m so overwhelmed with emotion that when I calm down, I feel like something’s missing. Like Philip’s missing. No, not true, but what? Time? ‘Guess so.


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