Hey, buddy

I’m taking a detour, again; swerving past the post I’m in the middle of writing because something half-formed is on my mind and I need to give some sort of shape to it. Because I’m trying to grasp some wisp of something that’s eluding me, something that’s solid about me and Philip because he’s not solid and the physical is easy, the physical we take for granted. Because I don’t talk much about him to the people whose lives he was part of, and they’re going about their business and I don’t know if they’re forgetting. And right now, it’s words that keep him real.

The couple I work for, Jack and Maggie, have two kids, a boy and a girl, in college. Yesterday, their son stopped in the office. A few minutes later, Jack walked in and said, “Hey, buddy.” And there was a seismic shift in my reality that took hours to recover from. See, “hey buddy” is a guy-thing. It’s a dad-and-son thing. It’s a thing I’ve heard before from fathers and sons on the softball field and the soccer field and at fencing tournaments and wherever I happened to be when I caught that moment of most generous affection some dad shot his son. And most of all, it’s a thing I heard between Phil and Philip.

Grief is insidious and unpredictable. It makes use of anything – an unintended glance at a picture I’ve looked a thousand times, the sleeve of a certain leather jacket sticking out in the closet, two little words from a time that doesn’t exist anymore. For hours I was closed and stung and pissy and weepy. Then, in an odd and directed way, there it was  – 201. And the pieces shifted into place, but yet another different place. Because what hit me was that for those few hours I’d forgotten that I have a relationship with my son, the way Jack and Maggie have a relationship with theirs. That I don’t have to accept that Philip’s dead, but I do have to accept my grief because he’s dead. It’s not what I want, but it’s what I have. And as I said to Lucia, I’m not in the world in the same way, and when I forget that, I get myself into trouble.

I was commenting on a post by afichereader at somenewnormal (who is a lovely, elegant and serious writer) and I’d said that there is only, ever, Now. Which got me to remembering that I can’t solve an imaginary problem in some neurotic future I’ve invented. I can only solve a problem where I am. The future, when it “comes,” only ever comes as Now. Which doesn’t mean I don’t plan – but planning and projecting are two different things. If I save money every month because I might need it down the road, that’s planning. If I sit here and chew my nails because I’m alone and I don’t think I’ll have money when I get too old to work and what’s going to happen because Natalie’s not going to want me to live with her and what happens when you can’t afford to pay your rent or buy food or pay your car insurance and you have nowhere to put your clothes and your computer breaks and you can’t get another one and…

Whew. I don’t know about you, but I need a breath.

Worrying, suffering, sorrow, require Time. I’m not talking about clock time – that’s for showing up where you’re supposed to show up when you’re supposed to be there. Or for sitting your ass in front of the TV because Breaking Bad’s about to premiere. I’m talking about past-and-future. Which I’ve also heard called, “psychological time.” I’m talking about the mental trips we take to places we’ve been or places we imagine and by “places” I mean situations, I mean scripts we write and stories we tell ourselves and all the misery we create while we’re at it. Think about it. When do you worry about what you’re doing when you’re doing it? If you say, well, here I am baking this cake and I’m worrying about it right now because it’s for my friend’s party and I want it to be like, the best cake ever, or at least better than anyone else’s cake but what if it’s not so good and nobody likes it and they all know I’m the one who made it, what then?

So you’re not worrying about the present, not at all. You’re worried because you’re already at that party with a crummy-no-pun-intended cake and you’re all embarrassed and such. You’re not really there while you’re whipping that butter and sugar into airy goodness and adding eggs and flour and vanilla and what-all-else to make a creamy, luscious batter that yeah, you stick your finger into even though you said you wouldn’t and when the cake is in the oven you get to lick all that creamy goodness off the beater because there aren’t any more kids at home you have to give it to first.

I know this. I know this because paying to attention to Now was my work when Philip died. It’s not something I did once, it’s not something I just got the hang of. It’s practice, and far as I can tell it’s the practice of making peace. Having peace. Because if I sit here paying attention to this hot cup of tea I’m sipping, I’m not thinking past/future and all the heartache and misery I bring along with it.

Right after Philip died, I told my sister-in-law Joan that I was terrified to live. That years and years and years were going to go by and I cannot do this without Philip because I will turn into a sick, wretched old woman who’s lost her mind because she lost her son. What is there for me, what the fuck is there?

You won’t, she said; I know you won’t. And she told me about an elderly woman, a patient in the dental office she works in, who carries around her son’s obituary. Every time she comes in, Joan said, she talks about her son and pulls out the obituary. And all I could think was, Obituary?? Philip has an obituary?? Where is it, who put it there, who wrote it? He can’t have an obituary, that’s for people who are really dead; for ghosts, people who have names and families but don’t exist except as names on the paper they’re printed on. Philip can’t have an obituary because he had flesh and blood that came from my flesh and blood and what does it mean to be ink on a page that someone will glance at and not even notice?

I am that old woman, I cried to Joan; she is me.

See, I recognize her, and she scares me. She went down the hole I stand on the brink of, which is not the same as the void that Philip left me. One’s where you go when you give up, the other where you go when you find the courage to do so. And I’m not going to say I don’t know which way I’m going because I know the choice I made. Thing is, I can’t go without bringing that old woman with me.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


23 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tric
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 05:07:46

    I think your blog in general is helping you keep Philip close to you. That is a good thing. It is also allowing you talk about him, and in a sense keep him alive, without forgetting that he is not. Your grief is still so raw and new. You are still living in a nightmare. Who knows what you will become in many years time, but for now all you say and do seems understandable and “normal” if you ask me.
    We can all cope with the anniversaries and the days we expect to miss our loved ones but it is the “hey buddy” days which break us.


  2. Denise
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 17:03:26

    The hey-buddy days. That’s precious; that’s what I’ll call them. So if you see me write that, you’ll know what I mean.

    Thank you.


  3. gracielynne62013
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 17:14:36

    It is ok if you bring that old woman with you.
    Don’t try to be anyone else than who you are. You are who you were meant to be. The way you grieve may be unique to you but it is not wrong.
    There is no wrong, unless in this process you betray who you are, to please someone else.
    That is in itself the ultimate betrayal. I know because I have done it way too many times for way too many people.
    It is a great freedom to be comfortable in your own skin, no matter whether or not you are soaking that skin with tears or sunning in the warmth of happiness. It is your skin, it is your grief, do not be scared of being you in this moment.


    • Denise
      Oct 20, 2013 @ 22:23:03

      Philip’s death cracked me open – I couldn’t “be” anything other than I am if I tried. It’s a gift; but what I mean about that elderly woman is that she is part of me. The grief that stays and is so damn frightening even as the rest of it moves along. Wanting to tell everyone I happen to pass in the street, but of course I don’t. I orbit around his death. It’s intense and personal but I need him and I have to feel him near.


  4. behindthemaskofabuse
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 20:37:34

    Does carrying him with you, mean you’ve become that old women? I just think it means you have him with you. xo


  5. Joyce McCartney
    Oct 19, 2013 @ 23:46:57

    Denise your writing is so powerful and amazing. I read it and think of how it relates to my own loss and I become reflective. This grief thing, it’s powerful. Your words are also powerful


  6. tersiaburger
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 17:56:35

    Oh my precious friend. How sad our lives are. I am at my lowest low. I don’t know if I can live without Vic. Much love.


    • Denise
      Oct 20, 2013 @ 22:31:07

      Tersia, try to remember you only have to live with out her for THIS moment. Just this one. And those boys need you; I don’t have to tell you that. You have to be there for them.

      Our lives have changed. It’s like not being on the same planet anymore. If there’s a fifth dimension, we’re in it.

      I wish I could help you. Please know I’m here, I’m thinking about you. xoxoxoxo


  7. Lucia Maya
    Oct 21, 2013 @ 20:03:48

    So I read your posts as soon as they arrive in my inbox, and then I savor them, allowing your words and feelings to sink in and filter through… I intend to comment right away, but feel I need time to really reflect and then… time has its way with me.

    All of which is to say, I love this post. I especially love this: “paying to attention to Now was my work when Philip died. It’s not something I did once, it’s not something I just got the hang of. It’s practice, and far as I can tell it’s the practice of making peace. Having peace. Because if I sit here paying attention to this hot cup of tea I’m sipping, I’m not thinking past/future and all the heartache and misery I bring along with it.” Yes! I so relate and again am grateful and honestly a bit envious, that you are able to articulate this experience of mine so wonderfully. Thank you!


    • Denise
      Oct 23, 2013 @ 11:02:43

      Hey Lucia – I always look to see what you say; you’ve been doing this work way longer than I have. It’s where you ground your world. If I’ve said what you’ve experienced, then I’m going in the direction I want to be heading. Thank you, my friend; just, thank you.


  8. leedee888
    Oct 21, 2013 @ 22:49:40

    Oh My Dear Denise, I hope you are finding solace in your writing, some sort of relief as you type and share your heart & soul with the world. Your grief is palpable and I wish there was something I could do for you. You’re so brave to be doing what you’re doing. I am in awe of you. You are stronger than you think. It shows in your words. My one wish, well actually I have several wishes but…..the wish I find myself thinking alot about is the one where you and I didn’t live so far away from each other. I just want to give you a big hug!! I love you, Lee


    • Denise
      Oct 23, 2013 @ 11:07:18

      Lee, I do wish you were around the corner. If Philip’s death taught me nothing else, it’s that physicality is not a necessary requirement for a relationship. But we’re human, and it’s such work to hash that out as far as his death, that boy, wouldn’t I like to give you a call and tell you I’m coming over for dinner tonight. (As in, YOU get to feed ME ;o). I miss you every time I think of you, for all the decades it’s been. Sooner or later we’ll get together, and in the meantime, no losing touch, okay? Love you, my cousin; I do.


  9. Rose
    Oct 22, 2013 @ 13:09:23

    Denise, how powerful your words are. They are heavy, they carry all of your weight, and Phillips weight. And the weight of both of your lifes. They are meant to touch us deep, realy deep inside. Your feelings and perceptions right now are totally understandable. You may ask yourself how in the world can I understand what you are really feeling if I’m not in your place, if I did not walk your path? And the answer to that is, one the fact that we all carry withing ourselfs the fear of losing, or of having lost someone at some point that we loved dearly, and two the fact that your words, your raw feelings have the ability to touch us deep in our souls. Love your writing, love the way you are able to show to us how your broken heart is still pumping and how you are allowing us to in some weird way hold your hand while you walk your path.

    Love Rose


  10. Denise
    Oct 23, 2013 @ 11:13:21

    Hi Rose; no, I don’t think you can’t “understand” because your loss isn’t mine. We all suffer loss, and when we get to the heart of it, it becomes generalized. You get it because you love. And not only do you love, but you have children who you love. If I’m speaking from my heart, you get what I’m talking about. And I’m glad to be able to communicate it that way because I don’t know what else to “do” with all this grief. There’s isn’t anything to “do” with it, really; what I’m trying to say is that I live in its confines, and sharing it in language you can hear gives me a little room to breathe, leaves me – at least sometimes – a bit less alone.

    Thank you for still being around, for reading, for reaching out. It matters, it really does.


  11. Rose
    Oct 23, 2013 @ 12:53:27

    Sweet Denise,

    I can tell you that after I read your blog the first time, there has not been one day a go by without thinking of you and Phillip. I don’t know how to explain that. But, if something happens, or if I’m doing something that I think it could be related to you and the relationship you had with your son, your name and his name comes to my mind. Then, I stop and think about both you. And I send a prayer (in my own way) to you both. I don’t know how to also explain why I became connected to you and Phillip’s story so deep inside. Unfortunately, his path in life did not only belong to him. Other kids, other people that I’ve also known walked down that same path. But, like I’ve said before, I don’t know why you and him became these 2 important people in my life. I worry about you, I care about you and I would love to meet you in person. From the day I read your blog for the first time and decided to send you a note, I knew without any reasoning behind, I would be around you for a long time. Love, Rose


  12. Denise
    Oct 23, 2013 @ 22:54:18

    Rose, if Philip had to go, at least he sent me people like you. You wouldn’t be in my life otherwise, and I hate that he’s gone but I love that I have you. Your kindness is especially touching because we’ve never met – but see, it’s part of the mystery. I think life is lived most deeply in the mystery. We lose ourselves when we think we’ve got it figured out. And more and more I learn that I haven’t got it figured out. May I stay that way, and may you and I meet one day. It’s not impossible.


  13. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 01:50:48

    I understand about what is going to happen we are older. I am cracked wide open because my children hate me, no I am not exaggerating, they truly hate me because of my blog. They started the war that led to the blog. I sat at the beach Christmas day, on the beautiful Pacific ocean that generally makes me feel peaceful and nourishes me. This time , nothing , emptiness and wondering, what the fuck am I going to do? What is my purpose, why the fuck am I here and in 8 years I will be 60 years old. I am leaving everything that is comfortable to the unknown. I am escaping my children and my heart still breaks for them. Arizona is unknown and we are leaving with only a few thousand dollars…… What is our purpose?


  14. Denise
    Dec 27, 2013 @ 03:55:17

    No one can know that for anyone. I pray you will figure it out, one step at a time, until one day you’re in the midst of living and find you’re not even thinking about it any more!


  15. Bryson Mills
    Nov 17, 2022 @ 16:13:07

    Nice blogg thanks for posting


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