When my dad died I got off the writing track briefly, wondered how I was going to get back to it, realized there wasn’t any “going back,” there was just continuing. But it can be a long time back from that break in the continuity. Losing focus becomes its own excuse. I regress to, “I have nothing to say, and who cares, anyway?” It’s seductive and it’s familiar. Time to pay attention.

It’s exciting to have a new job and a new apartment. I’m busy with sorting and dumping and organizing and buying. And rushing. Hurry up and put up the shelves, install the closet pole, get the new bureau for storage. Get rid of the boxes. One more box and I’ll breathe, I tell myself.  Just one more.

I’m rushing to stop. To the finish line and the space I think I’ll find there. I’ve still not learned that I have to breathe every breath and the space I want isn’t about having ten less boxes in the dining room. But I got caught up in movement, and in that movement there were times I thought I outran Philip. Stayed just a bit ahead of him. Don’t think, don’t feel. But I am sitting on my couch with portraits on my left and portraits on my right and I just found a black and white head shot taken when he was two-and-a-half, all dark curly hair and sweetly innocent face. A time he was under my fierce protection.  I hadn’t yet learned from Nicole that I couldn’t protect my kids from what I really feared.

If the past is gone and the future only ever comes as now, what do I do with the memories of my son?

The quality of the relationship you have with a loved one who dies is the quality of the relationship that you continue to have. And I’m not saying it can’t evolve into something else. It’s harder, if only because the cacophony of grief and doubt will leave you a mad and crazy thing. I know this. I also know I’m graced with having the relationship I had with Philip while he lived because it’s so easy to have the relationship I have with him now. You know, mom, he says; you certainly talk to me more now than when I was alive.

It’s true.

I don’t mean there was anything mystical about me and Philip. We didn’t finish each other’s sentences or pick up the phone at the same time to call each other. I mean our hearts were open and the context of our relationship was  one of deep love. For anyone who didn’t read the post about what happened on the landing, when Phil took me by the shoulders and said, “They found him” and I heard my son say, “Mom, you gotta go deeper” I wasn’t surprised or confused. It was Philip, I knew exactly what he meant, but I’d be goddamned if he thought there was anything left for me but the shocking madness I’d now have to call my Life.

Since Philip died another dimension of reality has become obvious, if not satisfying. Nothing’s going to satisfy me except him rising from the dead. But if I’m to find peace, I’ll have to trade satisfaction for interesting. “Interesting,” at least, when I can stop resisting the twin terrors of loss and grief and try to do that thing called living.

I’ve long been fascinated by the mystical and obscure. I believe there are things beyond what my own five senses are aware of and that there are people fortunate enough to have access to those things. In high school, my friends and I decided we wanted to be witches, and our local library had just the book to show us how to do that. The spell we chose to practice was the one that would get us the guy. We bought the triangle incense and correct color candles, waited for nightfall, sat in a circle in the dark. Forty-five minutes later we were trying to figure out how to hide the burn marks on the parquet floor in my bedroom because no one told us incense needed a holder. Maybe that’s why none of us ever got the guy.

Later on, this interest led to the New Age movement, affirmations and Louise Hay. Now, I know people love Louise Hay. And I’m sure people have had wonderful things happen because of Louise Hay. But no matter how many times I walked around mentally chanting the thing that I wanted for my reality (I love my new job! I love being thin! I love my new love!) nothing changed. Because nothing changes when you’re trying to grab something you think is outside so you can shove it inside, no matter what Madonna and her Kabbalah or Tom Cruise and his South-Park-Scientology-Episode-Killing lawyers say.

(By the way – it’s a hoot. You can watch on Youtube ;o)

Don’t get me wrong. We all need help along the way, and if Dianetics or Buddhism or seeing God in your doorknob do it for you, go for it.

What I’m getting at with all of this is that Philip died a short time after I finally understood that my power and sanity lie in me. Life is a force and we are its expression in time. So what do I choose to do with this force, how do I live the life I’ve been given? No one else could tell me how. And I didn’t have to walk around despairing. I was okay. I was responsible for my inner state, for the way I felt and the way I reacted. Nirvana it wasn’t, but I had a way to work with every waking moment. A way that made sense to me. For the first time I can remember, I relaxed.

So it made perfect sense to me that Philip would say, “Mom, you gotta go deeper.” Because that’s the role he has in my life now. I am blessed to have the connection with Philip that I do. He is my guide, my protector, my muse. Many people have stories like mine; others say they feel their loved one not at all. I’ve no idea why one and not another because all of this happens in the larger context of life. I already said that sometimes things feel like they happen because they’re supposed to; I also said we make choices that affect outcomes. I am still holding those conflicting thoughts. Just like I’m struggling with a sickness called grief because this child of mine is not here, yet getting clear and constant communication from him that he is very much here and will I please stop staying he’s gone, thank you very much.

I want to talk a bit about what exactly I mean by “signs.” Another time.  For now, I’ll just say that I feel like I left for a while and it’s so very good to be back.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


87 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tersiaburger
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 11:06:47

    I am looking forward to the signs post. Hugs


    • Denise
      Sep 05, 2013 @ 17:59:52

      Hugs back, Tersia; I am thinking of you and so grateful, grateful that you’re there. If this has to be – and it does – we are not alone.


  2. wepoetsshowit
    Sep 05, 2013 @ 17:30:48

    Welcome back friend (Zoe)


  3. messi200
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 13:03:32

    Reblogged this on sportcity150 and commented:
    Just a wee extra bit I found moving. I Am a softie really.


  4. hayleyslilworld
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 13:11:04

    What a truly heartfelt post.


  5. halftheocean
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 14:10:35

    Hi..I’m new here..just figuring this blog thing out. Something brought me here. I lost my father recently and, although he was 82 and not 21 which doesn’t make our situations comparable, I am also struggling with grief. I read the Didion book too and I think being creative will help us both along the way. peace and love to you.



    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 05:13:34

      We can’t compare what we feel, particularly when it comes to grief. My friend is a grief counselor, and when Philip died she came to sit with me. She told me to follow any creative impulse I had. So I started knitting. I didn’t want to go out, I didn’t want to do anything, so I sat on my couch for nearly a year and knitted.

      I’m sorry for your loss. We think we know about death, but it isn’t until it gets here that we see we know nothing. But better we don’t know it together. Maybe that’s how we’ll learn.


  6. busymindthinking
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 15:25:29

    We are new to one another so I’ve much catching up to do. In any event, I extend my heart, for that is all I know to do right now. Belinda


  7. jensine
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 16:41:08

    glad you’re back and can only say I was the same. My dad died two years ago and it was hard .. but live goes on and you have to find your voice beneath all the grief. SO welcome back into the fold and let us share in your pain and loss


    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 05:24:41

      Thank you, Jensine. We’ve all got to face it sooner or later, no? It’s still so shocking. Thanks for listening.


      • jensine
        Sep 13, 2013 @ 09:17:26

        as cliches as it sounds … time really does help and yes we all have to deal with loss, sooner or later. But i think it’s how we come out of it that makes us who we are, do we chose to remember the happy moments or just the pain

  8. architect of the jungle
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 17:20:50

    What you say makes so much sense. I’m grateful you shared it here.


    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 05:25:10

      And I’m grateful you’re there to listen. Thank you.


    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 11:23:20

      Yes, cliche or not, it’s true. Time. Right now I can’t think of him without feeling twisted; but when I TALK to him, as opposed to “thinking” about him, it’s different.


      • architect of the jungle
        Sep 13, 2013 @ 15:35:27

        My brother lost his youngest daughter a few years ago. Im aware His wife talks to grace , feels her presence in an immersive way. I think there’s a lot we have yet to learn about how people remain connected in this life and beyond.

    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 15:54:27

      That’s so true; I think part of it is you have be open (to use a cliche) to it. I’m not sure what you’ve read of my blog, but my brother also lost his daughter. She was his oldest – she died at four from brain cancer. Philip is my oldest, too. What are the odds? But I’ve no doubt they’re together. They were close when they were little, and at least they’re together now.


      • architect of the jungle
        Sep 13, 2013 @ 19:56:37

        You and your brother can understand each other in impossible ways others cannot. My brother’s daughter had a brain tumor and was 5 yo. This was only 3 yrs ago. I ached so badly for my brother as we have always been psychically very isolated because of our temperaments (emotional artist types) and found so much comfort in the other. I hated that he would be living with this pain. It tore at me. It was easier somehow to grieve for his heart ache…I can’t comprehend grace’s loss. Perhaps I never will.

    • Denise
      Sep 14, 2013 @ 05:51:51

      We suffered through Nicole’s brain tumor for 10 months; to watch a child die, unable to do anything? I can’t bear it; my grace is having no painful, wrenching memories of my time with Philip. I don’t know that you comprehend it, but you can learn how to live with it. We are all going to die – there isn’t any answer to, “why should a child die?” I think the more sane question is “How do I make meaning now; what does my life mean, what do I become because of the short time I’ve had with my beloved child? I’m so very sorry for your loss; so very, very sorry.


  9. TheMagicMug
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 17:31:25

    Hi Denise. I’m new here. I hope someday I can be as brave as you. I send you lots of love.


  10. sarahmayson
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 17:46:40

    You are such a strong woman and have beautiful, inspirational writing that has made me realise what is important, Thank you.


  11. 4evered
    Sep 12, 2013 @ 18:10:32

    I just ran across your blog today. We lost our daughter on March 10, this year. I am walking beside you in your grief. I am looking forward to your stories, for my daughter talks with me and I feel her with me too. I am sorry you are living this, but grateful I found your words to comfort me and help me know I am not crazy, yet. Please, please don’t stop writing. I can’t find the courage to put my words down yet. Did you journal during your absence?


    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 04:13:42

      When I wrote, “It’s good to be back,” I mostly meant in spirit; with moving and getting a job within a month of each other, my head’s been spinning. I am so terribly sorry for your loss; I always think about the brutal shock it was to find out Philip died, and it kills me that people go through this every day. Too much hurt and sorrow. All I can think to do is write my way through it. I’m glad you’re here; it’s a terrible way to find each other, but better than being alone.


  12. shetall
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 01:02:46

    I lost my Dog recently on 25th June . I took care of him like my baby he was 15 years one month old when he left. I was recouping from the grief that he left then all of sudden my grand father whom I loved the most left me on 14th Aug , 2013. Holding grief inside me somewhere I was pretending to be happy . Yes, sometimes it is necessary to be strong and happy for your family so that they can come out from the grief too.. not a single day had passed that I missed both of them and cried for them inside my heart. Yes, I do not show my tears to anyone 🙂 today I was just browsing and found your blog which actually made sense to me as I can see my replica in your personality. I am too a healer and I too play with my mystical god gifted abilities. May be it my grand father and Kooky (My Dog)’s way , to lead me to your blog to help me understand that they are not gone they are with me in spiritual form and are communicating with me each day :). Now this is what I call a sign. Hugs to you and thank you . you made my day today 🙂


  13. mattthomas444
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 01:04:58


  14. ezratafari
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 01:56:42

    “Nothing’s going to satisfy me except him rising from the dead”.

    Your words did that for me. Your words brought him to life as much as your loss. You final sentence was so hopeful. I believe in God so I’m going to say God bless you Denise and thank you for sharing this. x


  15. Lucia Maya
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 02:14:17

    I’ve been wanting to respond, but am at a loss for words.. just want you to know i love this one. Such beauty. And it’s inspiring me, as I’m feeling I have so much I want to share, about signs and messages and so much more, and just not getting it done! Yet. But soon!


    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 04:17:24

      You have to because the more Elizabeth in our lives, the better. And I’ll thank you again for all the photos. Sometimes I’ll look at them to spend some time with her.


  16. cabrogal
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 07:29:20

    Last year I finally came through almost a decade of unrelenting grief.

    It was mysticism that did it for me.

    I wonder if there is any other way. Really.


    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 08:10:19

      I don’t see any way through grief without a shift in thinking, without connecting the “seen” to the unseen. And it’s up to each of us to figure out how to do that. We’re not alone, either. If we seek, we’ll find.

      But what I wouldn’t give to have Philip here the way I want him here; I miss him, I miss him.


  17. peterjfoster
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 12:50:17

    You wrote: I regress to: “I have nothing to say, and who cares anyway?”
    This is a difficult obstacle to navigate. Glad to see you’ve done it admirably.


    • Denise
      Sep 21, 2013 @ 14:58:28

      Thank you – I guess you know what I’m talking about. Sorry it took so long for me to respond. I was looking through my spam folder, and somehow your comment was in there.


  18. ghostbusterbev
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 13:22:57

    Denise, it is comforting to know that our loved ones are still around in another form. Yet, nothing can replace the physical contact with a loved one. May the memories of Philip sustain you through the years until you are reunited. (You might be interested in reading ‘Messages from Drew: A Mother’s Story’ on my blog. A mother shares her story of her son’s death and the contact he continues to make from the spirit world).


    • Denise
      Sep 13, 2013 @ 15:48:26

      No, nothing can replace it; I mean, I’m touched and grateful to feel Philip, but devastated that he’s not here. And I’ll take a look at your blog; thank you.


  19. Linda-Marie McCormick
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 13:29:14

    I totally understand.
    Oh the depth of death!
    Thank you for sharing.


  20. emilymariechandler
    Sep 13, 2013 @ 14:17:22

    I am so very very sorry for your loss. Your blog and your writing are beautiful and have touched my heart.


  21. moodsnmoments
    Sep 14, 2013 @ 04:16:58

    speaks of such strong emotions and thoughts…thank you for sharing…wish you love and sending you more strength and hugs as your post gave me much more.


    • Denise
      Sep 14, 2013 @ 06:06:45

      I’m glad to hear you say that. I was thinking of your friend, who committed suicide; I tried to do that at 21, and it’s ironic that my son – who did NOT want to die – died at that age. I remember that everything was so dark and I didn’t believe anything would ever change; it’s a terrible, inaccessible pain. Reading what you wrote, I realize now what that would have done to the people around me. But when I was in that much pain, I was so disconnected from people that I didn’t consider the impact. I think that’s part of what happens when you’re that despairing; you’ve no ability to understand what you do to those you leave behind. It’s all about the pain. I’m so sorry you have to live with that; but the way through death is to make meaning. Contemplating death will make you live more deeply. We’re all going to get there, one way or another.

      By the way – gorgeous photos of Turkey. An opening into another world.


      • moodsnmoments
        Sep 14, 2013 @ 14:50:54

        thank you Denise. I know what you mean when you say by being overwhelmed with pain but she took away many soul fragments with her and left many of us in shatter and shambles…but perhaps it was her way of relieving herself from the pain and sorrow.
        am glad you liked the photographs.
        really sorry about your son but he is yours forever wherever he is and smiling because you are a source – of love, strength and courage – to many.
        thank you again 🙂

      • Denise
        Sep 14, 2013 @ 16:41:02

        Thank you for that; he is my heart and my love, and that doesn’t go away.

  22. Mr. CATSOE
    Sep 14, 2013 @ 11:36:33

    “Death ends a life… Not a relationship” ~~ Mitch Albom
    Very much felt the ‘nakedness’ of your honesty so openly shared. God Bless


    • Denise
      Sep 14, 2013 @ 12:14:26

      That’s where faith comes in – meaning, believing that you’re carrying the relationship on and not just talking to yourself. Which I’m saying because in my despair, that’s what I’d sometimes think. But no – it’s my relationship with my son, and it’s up to me to keep it going.

      Thanks for the kind words.


  23. ritakowats
    Sep 14, 2013 @ 12:34:23

    I’m so very glad you’re back too, Denise. Thank you for this post. I find myself in each layer you peel back, and I am once again astounded at the resilance of the human spirit. It reminds me of a morning ritual in a South American desert. When ocean mist rolls in, desert animals instinctively find the droplets on leaves, and drink deeply while they have it.


    • Denise
      Sep 14, 2013 @ 16:38:53

      I think animals are Buddhas. What do they know of death, of time? Thank you for your kind words. You say “resilience of spirit” which sounds so odd, given the way I feel. I don’t know what you see; maybe one day.


      • ritakowats
        Sep 14, 2013 @ 17:28:19

        You get up. You survive. You believe. That is remarkable.

      • ritakowats
        Sep 14, 2013 @ 17:54:00

        Put another way…the “water” of joy and happiness is scarce when we grieve. You seem to have found a few drops in your son’s continued communication.

        My thought, and my experience as I grieve. Of course it may not relate to your experience, Denise. Blessings.

  24. Denise
    Sep 14, 2013 @ 17:38:59

    Thank you, Rita. I’m deeply alone in a way I’ve still no words for; writing the blog and reading what people say helps. You’re paying attention and that means something.


  25. madoka itasha
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 12:13:14

    Losing loved ones can be tough. It’s nice to know that you found your way again. Keep it up!


  26. Ron Stempkowski
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 19:49:18

    Denise, congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! As such an eloquent writer, you are so deserving. I understand so much of what you say in ways I can’t even express. Thanks for expressing it for me. Good signs to come.


  27. Denise
    Sep 15, 2013 @ 19:59:06

    You know, I’ve been thinking of you because I follow you but haven’t gotten any posts in a while. I was wondering if something was wrong and thought I should email you. (Of course I didn’t think to check your blog, duh) Anyway, your last three posts went to the spam file, which I don’t check very often. That’s also my way of saying why I’ve been silent, ‘kay?

    Thank you for your kind words, and for understanding. I know you get it and it makes me feel less alone.


  28. Holly
    Sep 16, 2013 @ 13:24:19

    Seven years ago, I lost the man I loved. I’ve had 2 very distinct dreams about him in that time. I’d give anything to hear his voice, feel his touch. Your post mirrored some of my thoughts. Thanks for sharing.


    • Denise
      Sep 16, 2013 @ 19:13:32

      Time doesn’t mean much when it comes to grief. I function a whole hell of a lot better, but I’m still weak in the knees when I think of Philip, that I am just not going to see him again; that my daughter, his younger sister, is catching up in age. I try stop thinking like that because it only makes me more miserable; it’s hard. I’m so sorry for your loss, and I understand how seven years means nothing in terms of loss. You still love and you still hurt. My thoughts are with you, my heart is open.


  29. rconnectus45
    Sep 16, 2013 @ 14:59:38

    I lost my beloved husband in March. All the best in dealing with this terrible loss.


  30. rconnectus45
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 12:16:49

    I have been doing meditation for a long time. I guess my final way of dealing with this is to try to grow spiritually so I can help myself, and hopefully him too. I believe that there is an afterlife.


  31. Denise
    Sep 21, 2013 @ 15:21:43

    Thanks for reminding me – I should be meditating. I was for a while. There is something deeply soothing about stillness. And I don’t think this life is all there is, either.


  32. the_tovarysh_connection
    Sep 22, 2013 @ 11:01:10

    Denise, I am so sorry for the pain that you have gone through this past year. I think you have reached down deep and found the inner strength within and I am certain that your son is guiding you along the way. I don’t normally do this, but I am encouraging you to read my most recent post….only b/c I am hoping that it might help bring you more peace. If it doesn’t speak to you, that is fine. But please know that my intent is pure in sharing this with you. Namaste.



    • Denise
      Sep 22, 2013 @ 13:52:27

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I’ve made too many connections – many which I realized through writing my blog – with Philip, with our past, for me to think any of this is random. He’s made it clear to me not only that he’s teaching me, but that he needs me to learn for both of us. It’s my turn; I’m in this body, having this experience; maybe I can’t “see” him, but he’s here. And I’d love to tell you that’s enough – maybe that’s one of the things I’m to learn. Because right now I’m so damn grieved it’s hard to know all that. I don’t for a second doubt Philip’s presence, but I’m so hurt and grieved. Some days more than others. These last two have been difficult, for whatever reason.

      I so appreciate you getting in touch with me, and all you’ve written on your blog. And congratulations on the book.


  33. marbles121
    Sep 24, 2013 @ 17:28:36

    I’m also new here. Funny how we all tend to just stumble upon these blogs. I am no stranger to grief, to loss. I am so sorry for yours. I can’t imagine how it must feel. Keep writing, you are helping more people than you know.


    • Denise
      Sep 24, 2013 @ 21:42:34

      Thank you for your kind words. And if I am helping anyone, I’m grateful. I wish nothing more than to add a bit of peace to the world. There’s too much heartache, just too much.


  34. emmx2013
    Sep 26, 2013 @ 23:25:59

    Somehow I feel sadness as I read and see how much you love you son. I can’t imagine losing a child although I was asked to help a lady whose grown son died in a car accident and she was grateful. I suggested that she talk to him.


    • Denise
      Sep 27, 2013 @ 08:05:39

      I think people often feel like they’re talking to themselves when they think about talking to a loved one who’s died. I heard Philip “speak” to me the second I found out he died, so I was never uncomfortable talking to him or thinking he was there. But still – I’m devastated. I have to learn to live with what is so, and I’m graced to be able to hear him the way I do. But it’s like any other relationship – it has to be maintained. Sometimes when I feel far from him, I’ll hear him ask, “Who moved?” So true. He’s with me. Sometimes I’m too overwhelmed with grief to know that.


      • emmx2013
        Sep 27, 2013 @ 18:01:23

        The thought that comes to me is “God knows what that is like. God too lost a son. And the sun refused to shine, and an earthquake followed, and the veil in the temple that kept people from the most holy place was ripped and torn down.
        A week later, the son was back with his friends helping them with their grief and showing them his is alive.” zmy heart goes out to you.

  35. Denise
    Sep 27, 2013 @ 21:02:26

    So many time I cried to Mother Mary; you lost a son, I’d say – you know what this is; please help me. I see Mary as the great mother figure, the one who holds the world. And I thank you for reminding me, and for your kind words. Every one of them keeps me going.


  36. Nicki Cloonan
    Oct 03, 2013 @ 12:36:03

    I lost my mum last year, and although we had lost her through dementia many years earlier we had never mourned her until then. I now realise that I started writing my blog as


    • Denise
      Oct 03, 2013 @ 12:47:17

      I think you accidentally broke off mid-comment. I’m sorry for your loss; we can’t avoid mourning whether it’s now or later. Grief has a life of its own, for sure. How we keep living in the face of death is the work of a lifetime. I try to remember it’s just a moment at time because if I don’t, I think I’ll explode.

      Wishing you whatever peace you can find…


      • Nicki Cloonan
        Oct 03, 2013 @ 14:54:22

        Yes I did so sorry about that and thank you for your response. Anyway writing my blog has helped in a big way. It started out as a distraction but has ended up as a way of remembering things that she liked that I had completely forgotten about.

    • Denise
      Oct 03, 2013 @ 15:46:31

      Yes – it’s a way of making connections, which is now what’s left to us.


  37. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 19:58:08

    I love this post, glad you are back.


  38. Denise
    Dec 18, 2013 @ 22:06:32

    And I’m glad you’re here ;o)


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