Death is Peace?

“There’s a risk in thinking death is peace.”
A Course in Miracles

Another solution shot to shit. Because it’s an illusion; whatever I “look” to to take away what I’m suffering is an illusion. There isn’t a “future” answer. Whatever happens is created by what I do now. So what do I want? What kind of life do I want to live?

To lose my son; how can I ask what kind of life I want to live when I am not always sure I want to live it?

But then Thanksgiving comes. When it’s time to go home, I sit in my brother’s TV room with my coat on, waiting for Natalie to get ready. Someone is flicking the channels, someone stops at the football game. I see Jerseys full of numbers; I want a number, I say to Philip. I see a 20 on a player’s back. Not good enough, I say. I want 21. I look at the top of the screen. The score:  21-14.

Driving home, I am stunned to see myself surrounded by four cars with 20, 21, 22, and 201 all around me, and in that order. My God, I thought; he’s carrying me. I bob and weave through the traffic, and when I get off at my exit, the same car with 201 is in front of me.  201 turns left like I do. But when 201 gets to the light, he turns left again and goes back on the parkway, heading in the opposite direction.

Natalie works at the Short Hills Mall. On Saturday, I go to meet her. It’s mobbed, of course. Philip, I say, help me find a spot. I got it, he says. I head toward where I always park, and he says to go further. I’m creeping along trying to look down the aisles, when a young man steps out in front of me and I brake. So sorry, I say. He nods. I look to my left and there’s a car pulling out. I take the spot, and the car that I’m facing has 201 on its license plate.

If Philip could knock me over the head and say, “Cut it out,” he would. And he is, but in his own way. And I am fighting like a crazed caged tiger because I WANT HIM HERE. I want him here. Today my knees almost buckled when grief whacked me from behind. That horrendous moment when it all crystallized and I knew he was dead, 201s and all.

I am losing everything I thought I could escape to. Starving myself, withdrawing, flogging myself, wishing for death, as if I know what I’m even asking for when I say that. If I can’t handle the changes in my own life, how do I think I’m going to meet Death when He holds his hand out? Philip said to me that I will die the way I live. If I live in fear, that’s how I die. It’s not a punishment, just a statement of fact. That’s what I mean about what I do right now is creating my life. I think each change that comes is practice for death. Each change requires a leap of faith because even if I want that change, there’s always some fear and holding back, some reason why I think I shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

But what about something like this. What about the day Natalie says, “Mom, I got my own place.” It’s true I would be bursting with pride because she’s growing and taking steps to take care of herself, to become just that more independent. But I’ve still got that black space that Philip’s asked me to put that diamond in, and it’s full of bile it’s ready to spew all over me. When Natalie leaves, I can go on about how alone and miserable I am and now both of my kids are gone and what the hell is the point of being here and on and on. That comes from fear; and if I go through that kind of change with that kind of misery, if I’m thinking death is the only way out, I’m going to be shocked and terrified when it really does come because it’s the last and biggest change I will ever make. So will I meet it with grace and faith, or will fly out of here in a tornado of terror and fury?

I don’t know what the hell death is, but I am sure it isn’t the way I imagine it. When I say, “I want to die,” what I mean is I don’t want to feel. I wrote a while ago about the night I was driving, right after Philip died, thinking, “That’s it. I’m done. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to do it.” And I heard Philip say, “Mom you have to find the joy, it doesn’t work that way.” I understood him to mean that death changes nothing. Whatever I’ve got to work out, I’ve got to work it out where I am.

Thing is, I don’t have the other way. If I’m to give up all the self-destructive ways I handle Philip’s death, the things I do over and over, expecting different results, what do I replace them with? How do I talk to myself differently, and then actually believe what I say?

It’s been rough; it’s the holidays. A mood comes on. There’s nowhere to go. Philip’s birthday’s in January, he died in February. His absence grows stronger, much as I feel his presence. He’s always on my mind, but I don’t talk about any of this except here. And lately I understand the meaning of, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”

© 2013 Denise Smyth


35 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Susan
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 23:22:10

    I have been thinking about for few days now. Your words always hit home with and mostly the end of this blog: “He’s always on my mind, but I don’t talk about any of this except here. And lately I understand the meaning of, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.””
    The only difference is I don’t talk about any of it period. Your presence in my life is like finding a lost friend. It’s the holidays and it sucks!




    • Denise
      Dec 05, 2013 @ 08:54:58

      Susan, it’s so very hard to go through this “family” time-of-year, and for you, it’s so close to Adam’s death. I’ve been thinking about you, too, so raw and bruised with grief as you are. If you find kinship with me, know how grateful I am. Because what I offer to you, you give back to me as well.

      And, as always – I’m here, and I’m listening. xoxoxoxoxo


  2. Becki Duckworth
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 00:50:37

    Grief is just overwhelming and I am lost for words. I can’t imagine this pain.


    • Denise
      Dec 05, 2013 @ 09:00:37

      Becki, for you to say that to me after what you’ve been through…there are no words. I’m in awe of your spirit, and may it guide me through my darker moments.

      I wish you love and peace, my friend; God knows you’ve worked hard enough for it.


      • Becki Duckworth
        Dec 05, 2013 @ 12:31:23

        Thank you Denise, the pain though from losing a child is something I have never been through. Reading your story just broke my heart. You express your loss in such a touching way. I feel when reading I am right there with you, in that moment. My brother was killed by a drunk driver when he was almost 21 years old and he was the single closest family member to me. The pain from losing him almost 30 years ago still feels fresh and raw. I am generally not lost for words, however reading your blog I am. I wish I could trade places with Phillip and bring him back to you. I never experienced the love from a parent… I am so sorry Denise. I can tell you the other side is ok. I flat lined on the table twice after I was stabbed and was brought back. Most days I wish that I had left this earth. You will see him again take comfort in that. In the meantime he is with you daily. Love , Becki…

    • Denise
      Dec 05, 2013 @ 17:32:16

      Becki, you’ve left me kind of speechless; I don’t know how to express my gratitude for what you wrote. And I’m stunned at the turns your life took. You flatlined? My God – you’ve been to a place few return from. I think you’re amazing. Look at what you’ve accomplished with all you carry. Amazing. I hope you know that. And we’ll be in touch because I’m following you.

      It’s an honor to have met you. xoxoxoxoxoxo


      • Becki Duckworth
        Dec 06, 2013 @ 11:55:28

        Oh you are to kind Denise. It’s an honor to meet you as well. Yes I flatlined twice. My intention is to write about that incredible experience in the next few weeks. The experience is just very difficult to put into words. Not because it was painful, but just difficult to explain where it makes sense. I was able to meet with the trauma surgeon that saved my life several times. He is now in his late 60’s. He was overwhelmed that I remembered about 20 minutes of the chaos in the ER that night. My surgeon said I should of never been able to recant that experience because I was completely out! I described in detail to him what was being said and done to save me in the ER, along with description of his trauma staff that assisted him. The funny part was he was swearing and very demanding, which was probably a good thing for me 🙂 So we laughed , and chuckled and really connected spiritually. Anyway sorry to ramble. I want you to take comfort that Phillip is in a wonderful place. I am getting chills just writing this. Thank you for your brutal honesty about your pain and heartache. You are such an eloquent writer. I have such a difficult time writing, and am currently seeking an editor to help me. Soon I will be sharing a wonderful opportunity that has fell in my lap for a pilot TV show on survival. The casting director is skyping me today from NY. Have a beautiful rest of your day. Becki

    • Denise
      Dec 07, 2013 @ 23:45:08

      I’m following you, and looking forward to reading the rest of your story. I read about the stabbing and I am in awe that you survived that – it’s shocking; and in front of your child? What kind of animal does that?

      You are a tower of strength. You have to be, or you’d have folded up long ago. Keep writing, Becki; you have so damn much to say.


      • Becki Duckworth
        Dec 08, 2013 @ 18:03:38

        Thanks Denise. The stabbing was horrible. I am working with Sharp Entertainment currently, they are out of New York. They are going to cast actors and re create that event for their upcoming TV show on A&E. My story will air on their pilot. My email is If you are comfortable sharing your email could you send it to me at my address. I have a private question for you. Have a beautiful rest of your Sunday

  3. tric
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 03:07:18

    Grief is such a long process and as time goes on a lonely one. I got a piece of advice I’m not sure if I shared it with you before. I got it in a comment one day when my young buddy was having such a hard time. It was “try to deal with today, not tomorrow, we can usually get through the day”. The other thing someone said which resonated with me was “I hope someday the cold empty spot that is your heart now, will gradually warm as the lifetime of his memories fill it”. They are only words but they help me cope and hope. My friends mum is of course in a different place of early grief, but she has the very small comfort of knowing death for him was a kindness compared to the suffering he was going through.
    Thinking of you and hope you continue to feel Philip beside you.


    • Denise
      Dec 05, 2013 @ 09:03:19

      Thank you, Tric. It’s a moment at a time, sometimes. And I, too, wonder if someday when I think about Philip, there won’t be that stab of grief and terror that he’s died overwhelming me. Because after all, I’d rather have had a short 21 years with him, than not to have known and loved him at all.


  4. jmgoyder
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 03:57:05

    Keep writing Denise. You have a raw grief courage that astounds me and fills me with admiration and overwhelming sympathy for you and your family and your loss. I try to imagine what it would feel like to lose my son and I just can’t but please know that I send you much much love. J


    • Denise
      Dec 05, 2013 @ 09:08:47

      Julie, I’m always so touched by what you say; and if I’ve not said this already, I swear you’re another gift from Philip. You’re not only kind, you’re funny ;o) I read your blog even though I’m a bit slow to comment – you’re so present on the page, and your humor is also poignant. “Dementia is not contagious”? I don’t whether to laugh or cry.

      Thank you.


  5. ~meredith
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 08:17:35

    Today is my daughter’s birth date. She shares your daughter’s name… and when she was born with Down’s Syndrome… she looked like a pixie, freshly woken from sleeping in a peach blossom. Her hair was soft peach, her bright, blue eyes tipped… I thought she was so beautiful… and I felt lost at the same time. Death of a dream, death of a marriage, dying to the person I was so I could open my soul and live with sorrow, but not in ways of blame.

    Then, I lost her. Our time together ended in such a shocking way, I still wonder if it was my fault. I wonder so many things I don’t remember the delight of her, some years. I just remember I promised her I’d always be here for her. But I wasn’t. I couldn’t be there.

    A friend said, “you can live with regret, but live you must.” Ultimately, it is the way we transmute tragedy that gives value to the hole we are challenged to face. Reading your post this morning was transforming.

    I am so sorry you lost your son. Grief over losing a child is numbing… for so long, it seems. Every post you write about your journey, though, is a gift of such value I am glad you live… and keep you in my heart, as well.

    I hope you feel the transforming power of your posts, and know that there are many readers who walk with you, in gentle solidarity, knowing the pain in our own way… wherever you go, the living also see you, love you, and get it.

    “My peace I give you.”



    • Denise
      Dec 05, 2013 @ 10:52:21

      Meredith, how kind and lovely and insightful you are. “…it is the way we transmute tragedy that gives value to the hole we are challenged to face.” From the inside, I think I’m doing this terribly, sad and crying so often; I’ve no idea what it looks like to anyone else. And I struggle with feeling invisible (even in spite of the blog, and the people who read and respond), and you wrote, “the living also see you, love you, and get it.” To read what you wrote made me cry, but for gratitude.

      Peace and love to back to you; and thank you for your gentle touch.


  6. New John
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 09:14:35

    “When I say, ‘I want to die,’ what I mean is I don’t want to feel.”

    Very well put. Thank you.

    Peace be unto you,



  7. lenwilliamscarver
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 10:27:08

    Denise your journey right now is long and hard, like being in a deep vat with it’s slick sides and your at the bottom trying to crawl out, for every step up you slide back ten or twenty, I know this feeling of grief. It is a horrible loss when we lose our parents, brothers, sisters but to lose a child is the greatest despair, gut wrenching everyday. In Feb 2014 it will be three years since my daughter was murdered and Thanksgiving was the last holiday spent with her, we no longer “do” Thanksgiving, I just can’t “do” that day itis almost as hard for me as walking in to identify her, not fair t the rest of the family but I really don’t care that one day. Another blogging friend sent me a link to a Joe Biden video, I hope that you will take the time to listen to him, it is fifteen minutes and at first I thought what could the Vice-President have to say that I would want to hear, but out of courtesy I listened and it has helped me, I hope that it helps you too in someway. Hugs


    • Denise
      Dec 05, 2013 @ 23:29:55

      Thank you; I will listen to it and report back ;o)

      I am so sorry to think of you finding out about your daughter, then having to identify her; what kind of nightmare was that for you; and it’s one you don’t wake up from. And to live knowing someone did such violence to her; I want to scream, “What is WRONG with people??” To wreck so many lives, and for what?

      Losing Philip has just made it so terribly difficult to separate myself from other people’s anguish. I don’t even want to, because I know how desperately lonely I feel and if I could ease that feeling for anyone suffering, I would want to. I know I can’t make this go away for either of us; but for whatever it’s worth, I’m thinking very much about you, and wishing I could help.



      • lenwilliamscarver
        Dec 06, 2013 @ 10:03:01

        Oh Denise thank you so much for your kind words, I too wish I could rid us of the anguish that we Mothers of The Exclusive Grieving Club must endure. I don’t know why we have been chosen by God to suffer in such a way but we were maybe because we are stronger than anyone else, I don’t know. I recognize all the feelings you write of so eloquently and want you to know that it is healthy to write of your depth of feelings and whether you realize it or not b you also help the rest of us. I pray for you daily for God to give you comfort and strength. HUgs{{{}}}

    • Denise
      Dec 06, 2013 @ 11:36:20

      And hugs to you, my friend.


  8. lenwilliamscarver
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 10:28:34

    oops forgot to give you the link, funny how since my daughters death I tend o forget minute details.


  9. anna whiston-donaldson
    Dec 05, 2013 @ 19:14:15

    I am thankful for you and your writing, and my writing, where we are able to say the things we can’t say anywhere else. And I am so sorry for all of the losses shared in these comments today. Sending much love.


    • Denise
      Dec 05, 2013 @ 23:31:50

      Thank you, Anna. I must say this to you a lot, but you’re just such a bright spirit. I don’t know how you do it, but it’s clear the hand of God has touched you.


  10. rconnectus45
    Dec 06, 2013 @ 12:02:28

    This reminds me of something I read about widowhood. It’s a lonely and exhausting journey; and sometimes you wonder if it is even worth it.
    You must have loved your son very much. He was lucky to have such a devoted mom. Holidays are the worst. I was a little worried about the level of depression you seem to feel at times. If this refuses to go away after you think it should, you might want to look into counseling etc. I never recovered from a divorce some years back and had to go on medication. Just saying, I always worry about that in other people.


  11. Denise
    Dec 06, 2013 @ 20:32:37

    Thank you so much for your concern. I’m in therapy twice a week, and I see a grief counselor periodically. “Exhausting” is the perfect word. It’s not about energy. I’ve got more energy than most people I know. But what we carry – every day, this knowing, this shock, this understanding that they’re not coming back and how much longer can I feel like this before I collapse? But then there’s Natalie; there’s always Natalie and when it feels too much I remember she needs me and I have to take care of her. I try, too, to remind myself it’s just for now; don’t think about the rest of my life; I just have to deal with it now – But I’ll tell you, it feels like an eternal now, and not a happy one.


    • rconnectus45
      Dec 09, 2013 @ 15:41:55

      Denise, you are so smart, doing all the right things to heal! The investment you are putting into dealing with this sorrow is bound to bear results in the long run. Good to hear from you.


  12. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 12:19:14

    Do you find that grief counseling helps? My husband and I tried for a while, but didn’t feel that it made a difference. Nothing will bring back our son and I suppose we were secretly trying to find a way to get him back (magical thinking?).

    The best thing we’ve done for ourselves is to adopt a dog that was abandoned and in need of love, shelter, and lots of medical care. He loves to be loved and really needed a good home. He makes us take walks and provides moments of silliness (though I often cry even as he nuzzles and “talks” to us). Unfortunately, though only 5 years old, he is suffering from congestive heart failure, so he may not live long. We are just trying to give him a good life and dreading the thought of yet another loss (it’s ironic that the dog who we adopted to provide moments of peace to our broken hearts is himself suffering from a broken heart).

    Anyway, we get more solace from hugging the dog than from talking to the counselor. I feel like the only people who truly understand are those who have experienced this loss. And I’m from a family of therapists (my mother was a psychiatric social worker, my brother is a psychiatrist, and my daughter is a licensed mental health counselor), so I do believe in getting therapy for mental health issues. However, grieving the death of a child is not a sign of mental illness, it is a normal response to the worst tragedy.


  13. Denise
    Dec 08, 2013 @ 13:54:43

    I went to a grief group for parents a couple months after Philip died. What I most felt was, “You don’t get it. You may have lost your kid, but you didn’t lose Philip.” Because that’s how intensely personal losing a child is. I also went to a different group last year, for anyone suffering a loved one’s death. But that left me with awful memories because I’d go there and cry and cry and they had a Remembrance Wall and I refused to put Philip’s picture on it. I couldn’t bear it; I still wouldn’t be able to.

    The grief counselor I see once in a while is a spiritual guy. His name is John Welshons – if you google him, you’ll find his books. The tag line of my blog came from him. The reason I feel “better” when I see him is because he’s so matter-of-fact about the way I communicate with Philip, and about life not ending at death. Oher than writing about these things on the blog, I don’t talk about them; I don’t even much talk about Philip. I see John as I need to, every couple months or so. And I’m fortunate to have already been in therapy before Philip died. She knows me well, and my relationship with her absolutely helps.

    The thing about grief counseling is you can approach like, please make this help me; but it won’t take your grief away (but would you really want it to??). I know whatever “answer” I want is not going to come from without, but from within. A good counselor, or advisor, or even therapist, will help point the way.

    Yes, ironic about the dog. I already have two dogs, and now I’m wanting a kitten. Of course I do. I want another baby to love; it’s never going to be enough, but our pets give us something to love which we’re so desperate to do.



  14. tersiaburger
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 00:15:30

    My friend – I am at a loss. I don’t have words. Some of the bloggers have written so beautifully acknowledging your pain. I can only say “I feel your pain”. I know that the Hospice project that Vic gave me has saved me….It has given “meaning” to her suffering. There are times that I get so angry. A building and a “dignity room” cannot and will not ever replace my child. I want to love and hold her. I want to drink coffee with her. I want to have our 2am chats.

    You are in my heart dear friend. I hope that one day soon the pain will become a little more bearable.

    Much love and lots of hugs..


  15. Denise
    Dec 14, 2013 @ 22:12:17

    I know you feel my pain, dear Tersia. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of you. It was such long, hard battle for you to keep her alive. What must you go through? But look what you’ve done – I tell you, I honor you for your love, strength and dedication. Vic is guiding you every step of the way.

    Sending you peace, love and some soothing.


  16. Taking its Toll
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 21:58:47

    Hey Denise,
    I’ve nominated your blog for a Liebster Award. You can check out the details on my blog at this link:


  17. Denise
    Dec 15, 2013 @ 22:14:19

    Thank you for that – I am touched and honored. And I read some of your story – I was the one that had to be told, that didn’t have to make the phone calls to the people who cared most. Even my parents; my cousin and my uncle went to the house to tell them.

    It’s a nightmare.

    I’m in the middle of so many things right now – I’m not sure I have time to go through the process to accept the award. But the fact that you even thought of me is a gift.


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