Philip at 6

Philip at 6

















I always sent Philip a text right after midnight to say Happy Birthday, so here I am. I don’t remember how it was last year, that first birthday. It was a Sunday, and Natalie took me horseback riding. It was a surprise; she knows I love to ride, and I hadn’t, not since the last vacation the four of us took together.

It wasn’t so much his birthday; it was the days following. I’ve found that’s when grief starts kicking my ass, in the aftermath. This year I’ve been walking in a white cloud of Philip. Walking along with pregnant-me, my belly full of him. Sitting with me on my bed, nursing him in wonder and stroking his soft, downy head. And seeing my 21-year-old son watching me, ever reminding me those moments are mine and not even his death can take that away from me.

I found this picture of Philip right after he died and I couldn’t bear it. You know why it’s so hard for you to look at this picture, he asked? Because you see the joy in me and you think you’ll never find it in you. I came from you, mom; if I have it, so do you. I do? Could I ever radiate, knowing what I know of death and loss and grief? I feel old in ways that are exhausting; I feel dirty next to his bright innocence. And guilty, that I now know what neither of us could, that he was only years away from the train wreck his life would end in.

I took today off because I think I would go crazy if I had to sit at work and pretend this is a day like any other. Birthday number two and I’ve not figured out how to mark it. What special thing there is to do. It seems it would be comforting to have a ritual, but I can’t think what that would be. Maybe I’m not to live a life of tradition; maybe I’m to learn to take it as it comes. Kirsten is making dinner for Natalie and me. Will you do this every year, I want to ask her? Can I count on you to always be here?

Let us enjoy our dinner tonight, let that be enough for now. Let me learn one by one that people love me, let me hold what I learn in my heart.

And let me, as Philip has asked, learn to find the joy.

© 2014 Denise Smyth


42 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemaskofabuse
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 00:12:41

    I’m here tomorrow if you need a listening ear via email or whatever you need xo


  2. dharmagoddess
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 00:22:41

    You are amazing.



  3. tersiaburger
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 00:42:35

    My dear Denise, I will light a candle for Phillip tomorrow. You are in my thoughts and heart. I hope that you will get a birthday message from your precious son. I love how you are celebrating his life in these preceding days. With much love.


  4. Lucia Maya
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 00:43:21

    Holding you close on this 2nd birthday-of-Philip’s-without-him-here.

    What I see in this beautiful photo of his sweet self is love. The look on his face is pure love, like he’s seeing the most beloved thing to him…and that is joy. I think this is how he looks now when he looks at you. And I believe you are capable of looking this full of love, and you will again.

    Blessings on this day. hoping Elizabeth and Philip are celebrating their Capricorn birthdays together up there…more and more I think they are hanging out together!
    love, Lucia


    • Denise
      Jan 20, 2014 @ 07:27:28

      Thank you Lucia. You walk with me in spirit. It is 7:25 in the morning and I’m already inconsolable. It’s different, this year; I meant what I said about feeling the past of it all around me; like I’ve been pregnant, but I’ve woken up this morning without him. Not really, I guess…he’s never far, but my God it’s feeling like that right about now.


  5. lensgirl53
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 01:09:31

    I hope you have that inexplicable peace that only God can give. I would not be able to “do this” without it. I pray that Philip is comforting you with smiles of glorious memories of being your son and hugging you tightly with birthday love. His spirit exists because you are his mother….no one can take that away, either. There is joy in that!

    What a handsome guy!! xoxo to Philip’s mom.


    • Denise
      Jan 20, 2014 @ 07:30:40

      No, Dale, no one can take that away. I guess I have to let it be whatever way it is today and for now, all the world is loss.

      I miss him.


  6. jmgoyder
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 02:53:38

    Beautiful beautiful beautiful boy.


  7. tric
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 03:00:37

    Best wishes to you for tomorrow. Hopefully his actual birthday wont be as difficult as the tension leading up to it. It was my friends little boys birthday last Friday. He only died in November. He would have been 14.
    She marked it by spending the morning with five of us, we went to Mass (even me!) and then to the grave where they sang happy birthday. I found that unbearable but they didn’t. Then my friend and one of us went to get their hair done and we met for lunch. In the aft she and her husband collected her other three children and they all went to the grave and out to bowling.
    She said it was an okay day and not as bad as the thought of it.
    I am sure Philip is beside you wishing you through all this.


  8. lenwilliamscarver
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 05:31:39

    Hugs my friend, I can offer nothing else just a warm hug


  9. daveallen
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 08:12:20

    I’m amazed at your strength. My son died in a traffic accident three weeks ago – I’ve been writing like mad, just to keep myself distracted and sane. But I haven’t had the courage to rip my heart out and share it, not yet. Thank you for finding me; it’s comforting to know that there’s someone else going through the same thing I am.


    • Denise
      Jan 20, 2014 @ 08:28:57

      Oh my god – I was just looking at your other blog, and thinking how funny you are…I had no idea; and oh I am sorry, so goddamn sorry. There is a special kind of hell for parents who lose their kids. When Philip died, I was 150 pages into a memoir. I couldn’t write another word. I wrote nothing until I started this blog, a little more than a year after he died. It’s part of what keeps me sane.

      And you’re not alone…there’s no one who can touch the place of your suffering, but you’re not, at all, alone.


      • daveallen
        Jan 20, 2014 @ 09:02:00

        Thank you for letting me bleed a little here, Denise. I was feeling guilty for laying this on your blog, that I was somehow trespassing. But it helps to connect with someone else going through this. Thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.

    • Denise
      Jan 20, 2014 @ 09:13:37

      Bleed away – how can you not? You know, I’m just stunned because before you posted here, I was reading your blog, and you’d written, on Christmas, that your son was pissed because you were making him read “The Old Man and the Sea” and I was thinking about Philip being 13, and how lucky you were to have your children…Jesus. I am so sorry; this might be “my” story, but it’s all of ours who suffer this. Write whatever you want to here. I’ll be listening.


      • daveallen
        Jan 20, 2014 @ 09:20:45

        My 13-year-old is still around and still pissed, fortunately. My older son (the one who gave me the book for Christmas) was the one who died; he was 26. The younger son – and my two daughters – are having a tough time with it; that’s part of what’s keeping me from losing myself, the responsibility to everyone else here.

    • Denise
      Jan 20, 2014 @ 09:55:26

      Agreed – much as I was in pieces, much as I couldn’t work and wouldn’t go out unless I had to – I knew I had to keep it together as much as I could for my daughter. We spent a lot of time together. She’d been away at college, but after Philip died she came to home to live, which was good for both of us. She’s still home, and goes to a college in town.

      You know, one of the things I’m grateful for is that I had Philip’s whole childhood. I wrote a post about how I almost lost him when he was around 5 or so (it’s here if you want to read it: https://forphilip.com/2013/05/08/the-story/), and after he died I realized how much worse it would’ve been if he’d died then, when I was supposed to have been protecting him. As a parent, I don’t think you ever lose that sense of having to “protect” them, but when Philip died, he was 21 and not living at home. There wasn’t anything I could’ve done; and when I look at pictures, like the one I posted, I know it’s not that child I lost, it’s the young man he would’ve grown into. There are so many ways this could’ve been worse, and I guess that’s the way you begin to look at things when you can start to hear yourself think again.

      But my God, I miss him.


  10. kmlagatree
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 08:25:43

    I am honored to be spending the time with you today, Denise. You are an incredibly gifted seer and writer and an extraordinary person. I wept all the way through your post, from the heartbreaking photo of Phillip to the end of your gut-wrenching prose. I love you. Kirsten


  11. Denise
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 08:33:10

    I love you, too, and I am thanking you in advance, for later. xoxoxoxoxo


  12. Susan
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 10:16:28

    My heart and thoughts are with you today. I hope not to sound selfish, but your beautiful words are for all of us that joined your journey. I am here for you as much as I need you. I don’t celebrate much anymore, and next month will be my first birthday without Adam. He always made sure he was present because he knew how much it meant to me to have my children present on that day. I have many firsts to come this year, it hurts even thinking about it. I am glad I have you my friend, just know I am thinking about you…. know that Philip is smiling and happy to have a mom as wonderful as you.


  13. Joyce McCartney
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 12:03:26

    Walking it, living it, incorporating it. You know it’s all we can do. My heart is with you. For me it’s the “angel” date that’s toughest.


    • Denise
      Jan 21, 2014 @ 08:20:21

      You’re right, Joyce. I just found out what an “angel day” is. Philip’s is next month. Such a dark time, right now. I’m glad I took yesterday off, but I’m sitting at work wanting to cry – don’t you know, I want to ask? Don’t you see? It’s snowing here, and I’m hoping it’ll get bad enough that I have to leave early.


  14. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 18:00:46

    That photo of Phillip is just enchanting.
    I’m with you, this Friday (the 24th) would be Graham’s 25th birthday, our 2nd without him. I’m staying home from work Like you, I can’t pretend that it’s a normal or happy day. One thing we started doing is using Graham’s birthday and the “angel” day as days to sponsor our local public radio station in Graham’s memory. That way we get to hear his name on the radio on those days.


  15. Denise
    Jan 20, 2014 @ 18:54:33

    I didn’t realize how close we are with this – what is an angel day??


  16. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 06:33:43

    I just use the term “angel day” because that’s what other people say. It’s the day Graham died. I actually call it his Yahrzeit, although technically even that isn’t correct because the Jewish calendar doesn’t correspond with our calendar. But I burn Yahrzeit candles for my parents and for Graham (the candles burn anywhere from 24 hours to a week, depending on which candle you buy).

    “A yahrzeit candle also spelled yahrtzeit candle or called a memorial candle (Hebrew: נר נשמה‎, ner neshama, meaning “soul candle”; Yiddish: יאָרצײַט ליכט yortsayt likht, meaning “anniversary candle”) is a type of candle that is lit in memory of the dead in Judaism.” (Wikipedia)

    Wish I believed in angels, but at this point, I don’t.


  17. Denise
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 08:18:05

    Thanks – you’re the second person that used the term “angel day” and I didn’t know what it meant. Be sure I’ll be thinking of you this Friday and reminding myself yet again that I’m not alone. So much suffering in life – we can’t fight it, but have to figure out how to live with it.

    Right now, well, not doing so well at it…I want to go home, I want to be quiet. But the snow’s starting already, so maybe I can leave work early.


  18. reinventionofmama
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 10:11:19

    Hello! Your posts are so special to me, they give me an insight into the way my mother feels but can’t talk about after we lost my brother. His was a car accident nearly seven years ago and I appreciate that you share what you do. Though painful, I really enjoy reading your blog and have nominated you for a Liebster Award. I’m not certain if you accept awards, if not, please enjoy the compliment. If you do enjoy them, please follow the link to my post. You’ll be asked to nominate your favorite blogs/bloggers, answer my ten questions and then pass along ten of your own. Here’s my page: http://reinventionofmama.com/2014/01/20/2136/


  19. Denise
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 14:56:55

    I’m glad for any insight – losing a child is a terrible, terrible thing; beyond words, though I’m trying my damnedest to find a way to write about it. I’m so sorry for both you and your mom; my love to both of you. Please tell her she’s not alone.

    And I’m honored to be nominated – it’s hard for me to accept because it’s so time-consuming; but I’m grateful that you’d even think of me.


  20. Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 19:23:34

    What a beautiful picture. It stopped me in my tracks. So much love of life.

    I recently posted a picture of our boy, Jason, that does the same thing. It just makes me miss him so much. A photo is just a glimpse into the reality of our children, a poor substitute for the real thing.


  21. Denise
    Jan 21, 2014 @ 19:55:32

    They bring up time and memories and longings; I couldn’t look at that picture for months – the rage, the sorrow, the helpless grief. I know better than to ask why, but I can’t stop asking how. How the hell am I supposed to live like this? I am not alone, for sure, but most of what I say is, “I don’t want to, I don’t want to, I don’t want to.” I feel sick from missing him and I know you understand.


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