It’s Time

I’m not so sure about choice. I don’t mean like what boots best go with my jeans or whether I want scrambled or over-easy. I mean choice about the way I feel or the way I think or even – which seems the most controllable – the way I act.

I don’t have much choice about what I think, but I can choose to look at it and distance myself from it, or dive into its darkly deep and believe it’s the truth of it all. And lately I’m bad as I’ve been, nursing my secrets as gently, carefully and constantly as I did my kids when they needed me.

I think I’m depressed, which is not the same as sad. Sad is being protective of my mournful heart. Depressed is anger I won’t feel; it’s me crying and hopeless and lying on the couch and not writing and doing all sorts of things with food that sooner or later I’ll have to talk about. “You have to take care of yourself,” my therapist tells me. “That’s why you feel like this. You’re angry; and you think you’re angry at yourself, but I think you’re angry at Philip.”

I’m not going to argue, but if I am angry at him, I don’t feel it. I’ve said before that Philip was involved with something bigger than he was and he didn’t get out of it before it got him. Look, I know addiction. I know the pull of alcohol, the craving for drugs, the sheer insistence that being Out of Mind and so Disconnected From Body has got to be better than this. So what I see is my child vulnerable, and how can I be angry at him for his weakness?

I know emotions don’t always make sense. Look at how angry I am at myself because Philip died – what the hell sense does that make? I’ve conflicting emotions all the time – what would be so strange about being grieved that Philip died, as well as angry at him because he did?

But what is it I value? I think I value suffering. I think I value being apart-from, living in a world I won’t let touch me. Which is what I mean about choice. Am I really choosing this? I’m not talking about Philip dying or how-of-course I’m grieved and somewhat unmoored. I’m talking about the particular way I’m suffering and the way it’s so easy to sacrifice myself to it. The way I can’t stay connected – to Philip, to Natalie, to Ed, to you all, to writing – which only means I can’t stay connected to my-self. And so I’m asking again; is this a choice I’m making??

Last week, I had another of my extraordinaries. A week ago Friday, actually. I’d been so down and withdrawn that maybe I scared myself, but whatever it was, something nudged me into getting in touch with Harriet, who I love very much and who’s seriously good for my soul.

We decided to have dinner at her apartment on Friday, which meant me picking up Greek food from the tiny Greek takeout in town. I went there to order, and while I waited, went next door to my dry cleaner to pick up some pants I’d had hemmed. My dry cleaner – whose name, after all these years, I still don’t know – is always happy to see me, but this time all her big smile did was make me burst into tears and when she came round the counter to hug me, it hit me how long it’d been since someone did.

Back outside, I sat at one of the small, curbside tables the Greeks put out when the weather allows, closed my eyes and tried to relax, listening, as always, for Philip. When I opened my eyes I looked up, and caught the sun lighting up some cotton-ball clouds into shades of golden red. Look at the clouds, Philip said. Watch.

So I stared, trying hard to make cloud shapes that looked like Philip. Am I going to see you, I asked? Am I going to see your fencing sword so I know for sure it’s you??

Just look and don’t try to see, he said; and what immediately popped up was a wolf’s head. Which I stared at and which appeared to be moving because clouds really are moving and because if you stare hard enough at anything it’ll seem to start moving. And this wolf had its mouth open, sometimes looking snarly and sometimes not. Then I saw a hand appear in front of its head, palm up. And then something swirling on this hand, something trying to take shape. Are you giving me something, I asked Philip? Are you giving me a gift?

And yes he was, because the thing swirled itself into a huge, red diamond shot through with light, perfectly balanced in the palm of this hand and I asked, are you giving me a diamond and he said yes, I am. You always say I’m the light. Now I’m giving you the light and I want you to take this diamond and put it in the dark spot where your heart is, because it’s time, mom. It’s time. And before I could fully grasp the thing he was telling me, a car pulled into the spot in front of me and had his initials on its license plate.

I swore I wasn’t going to tell this story. But I did. First to Harriet, and then to Ed. Ed’s the most realistic man I know but has yet to shrug off anything I tell him Philip says because Ed can hear its wisdom. Do you know what this story means, he asked and yes, I thought I did except for the part I missed. It’s that part that Ed said was the reason I wouldn’t tell this story, because if I did, I’d be committed to what it meant. Because what Ed heard was Philip asking me to be his mother because he is not my father and I cannot depend on him as if he was, and  the reason I refuse to live my life is that I insist the only way I can “keep” Philip is by going all helpless-little-girl-I-need-you on him and I’m afraid if I grow the fuck up my son will vanish and take his diamonds and license plates and 21s with him and then he will have left me twice.

It’s closing in on me; Philip saying, “it’s time,” and all the things he’s said before. Asking me what it means to be his mother, what it means to be responsible, what do I think it feels like to him to have to watch the way I suffer. Not that I suffer, but the way that I suffer. The way I bring it on and lose myself and refuse to take what’s offered me.

Like that diamond, the one that’s supposed to be in my heart.

© 2013 Denise Smyth


22 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lucia Maya
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 10:25:22

    Wow. I always have so much I want to say… What an amazing, beautiful and clear message. I understand the desire to stay in the grief, at times it feels like I opt in to that. I’m blessed to not get stuck there, though I also worry about losing that connection with Elizabeth, as well as memories of her being “real” fading….

    And there’s a way it feels like an “addiction”, to be in that intensity, that depth of otherworldness… And do we make choices at all? I’ve been thinking of a wonderful quote “we don’t control anything, but we influence everything”. That feels true to me.

    And, it’s ok to be “depressed”, you don’t need to judge yourself – your son died and your world turned upside down. It’s getting better, and it doesn’t go in a straight line forward! Love you, Lucia


    • Denise
      Nov 10, 2013 @ 22:53:34

      That’s a great line – in other words, what we do matters. Right now I’m in this sort of numbness (if that’s the word) about what I do mattering because nothing matters but the fact that Philip’s gone. I feel shocked again, Lucia; I feel like I’m losing him more because it’s this huge, extraordinary horrific thing in my life, but no one else’s. On one level that’s not true – Philip has a father and a sister. But I am his mother – there isn’t anyone that can that can join me in this, if I’m saying it right. Yet, here I am crying about “losing” him more, and I just got done telling you about the diamond in the sky! Am I nuts, or what??


  2. Denise Hisey
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 10:49:51

    Oh Denise, what an incredible breakthrough! And how brave of you to speak it out loud. Philip will be proud of you, and relieved, too. I hope you will allow this story to sustain you, in the ups and the downs sure to follow.


    • Denise
      Nov 10, 2013 @ 22:55:58

      And that’s the thing – so many times and in so many ways he pops up. What, exactly, do I “do” with this – everything disappears into the grief. It’s not right, not really. Okay, my heart is broken; but I’m graced with his constant presence, his “gift” of a diamond and I need work harder to remember that.


  3. Nancy Power
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 11:03:02

    Once again you write with such honesty Denise, thank you for that. I love the thought of your son presenting you with a diamond to place where your heart is, that is a truly beautiful image. Take hold of that diamond and treasure it. Love to you.


    • Denise
      Nov 10, 2013 @ 23:00:42

      I know that a little willingness goes a long way. And I know Philip told me to put that diamond where my heart is because when I think of my heart, I see nothing but deep darkness. I don’t believe anything’s going to help me; so I tell myself, I don’t have to believe. I just have to take that diamond and put it where he told me to That’s all. Let the rest work itself out; just put the diamond there and see what happens.

      I’m trying.

      Love right back to you. I don’t know where you came from, but I’m touched and glad that you’re here.


      • Nancy Power
        Nov 12, 2013 @ 10:12:40

        I can’t remember who I found your blog through but I just think that you tell it straight and from the heart, and as I said, so honestly. I lost my twin sister to suicide over 27 years ago and some of the things you have said have resonated so much for me. Your words have also made me realise that many of the feelings we experience through our grief are universal, that we are not alone, no matter how alone we do feel. I think you are doing a good thing (a great thing?), for yourself and for others by expressing what is going on in your head (and your heart). It can only help you to get to a better place and learn to live your new life. x

    • Denise
      Nov 14, 2013 @ 08:33:16

      Thank you Nancy; I appreciate your encouragement. In a perfect world, we’d connect under what we’d both consider “better” circumstances. But who are we to judge? I’m just glad you’re around.


  4. dragonpack
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 12:29:07

    What can I say… except that I get it, I understand. Keep writing. Keep writing.


    • Denise
      Nov 10, 2013 @ 18:11:10

      Thank you; I’ll keep writing, and you keep running.



      • dragonpack
        Nov 10, 2013 @ 18:17:11

        Oh I wish I could. Had surgery, can’t run right now. Grief is owning me my friend. Working on a blog entry now… hoping that helps.

    • Denise
      Nov 10, 2013 @ 23:03:03

      I hope it helps you, too; and will you be back on track soon? I hope so. You’ve such energy about running; it’s infectious. Makes me want to get up and join you. I won’t, couch potato that I am; but you are inspiring.


      • dragonpack
        Nov 11, 2013 @ 10:59:58

        Thank you Denise… very much. The surgeon said it will be a minimum of six weeks before I can run again… so I’m trying to have a good attitude and hope for the minimum down time. It really threw me hard to lose another person close to me last week who was so much like my Qory (and the same way that he died) but blogging yesterday definitely helped. Praying for all of us as we ride the waves of grief.

  5. tersiaburger
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 16:03:42

    Hugs and fond wishes. xxx


  6. WishWebber
    Nov 10, 2013 @ 17:59:26

    The way you are able to interact with Philip is such a gift. Many of us don’t have that…not the way you do. Thank you for telling your stories. Please, keep telling your stories ❤


    • Denise
      Nov 10, 2013 @ 23:06:25

      It’s a gift and a blessing; it’s like he’s knocking me on the head and saying, “Hello, wake up, I’M HERE.” Melissa, he’s asking me to have faith, he’s trying to teach me how to live. But I keep falling back to the shock of him dying. And I know you know what I mean.


  7. behindthemaskofabuse
    Nov 11, 2013 @ 00:10:18

    Wow Denise, you have such courage. Standing with you as you face this new transition. I hope you were okay after your blogged it. xo


  8. amourningmom
    Nov 14, 2013 @ 18:25:23

    Wishing that I had the right words of wisdom to ease your pain but since I do not I am continuing to send you hope and hugs. xo


  9. Denise
    Nov 15, 2013 @ 08:11:19

    You know what? It’s hope and I hugs that I need; so thank you, my friend…and right back to you.


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