Depth and Breadth

“Not everyone will understand your journey. That’s fine. It’s not their journey to make sense of. It’s yours.”

I don’t know who wrote that  – it’s the way Dee over at MourningAmyMarie started her last post. I commented on it, and when I started going on and on I cut it short because I realized I wasn’t commenting, I was posting. So thank you, Dee, because while I’ve got several posts started, this is the one I didn’t know I needed to write.

One of the things Dee wrote about was “The chirpy, self promoting, thoughtless stuff that gets posted” on Facebook. Facebook is a phenomenon I don’t pretend to understand. I have a Facebook page, and I’ve come to see its value. People from my past have gotten in touch with me through it, and they’re people I’ve been happy to hear from. And ironically enough, in the middle of writing this, someone from my JHS found me and wrote, “so many people have been looking for you.” I am too stunned by the thought that anyone remembers me – much less is looking for me – to say anything more at the moment.

Since my blog is connected to Facebook, it’s a way of letting people know when I’ve posted. I don’t use it to stay in touch otherwise – I’d rather email. But the way I am about Facebook is a reflection of the way I am in life, as it is for all of us. There are people who update others with pictures of where they’ve been or what they’ve been doing, and their friends do the same. If they weren’t doing it on Facebook, they’d be doing it some other way. It’s a broad and ongoing conversation, and it’s no mystery to me what’s bothered me about it. It’s another something everyone’s involved in that I don’t  much want to be a part of. Yet sometimes it feels like a rejection rather than a choice.

Of course, there’s a nasty, voyeuristic side to Facebook. People say awful things about each other and to each other and are glad to have an audience to play to. People will follow up on others who’ve hurt them and become outraged to see them doing well – in effect, allowing those people to hurt them more. A Facebook picture might paint a thousand words, but we are the artist. We decide what kind of lives the people in those pictures are living based on what itch we need to scratch, and we scratch and scratch and wonder why the damn scab won’t go away.

As I wrote to Dee, Facebook exposes the ugly underbelly of our collective condition. It’s not that we’re any worse than we ever were, it’s that now it’s in full view. I’ve heard about things posted on Facebook and wondered what made someone – in such a traumatic moment – even think to snap a picture? One of the worst I’d heard about was someone taking a picture of her dead child and posting it…and I’m sure that that’s not only true, but that it’s been done more than once. Is there anything we can imagine that’s not been photographed and made public? So maybe we are worse, because now we have a platform for all of it and we’re in a hurry to be the one who gets there first.

Blogging is another sort of conversation; more depth than breadth, and one I’m more comfortable with. I’m not going to understand the need to post pictures and updates any more than others might not understand my need to write a blog so intensely personal. We each have our way of wanting to be visible.

I write my blog because I’m still stunned and grasping for words to wrap around Philip’s death. It’s the only thing I know to do. There isn’t anything worse than losing a child. Take my arms, my legs, my sight, my life – not my child. But here I am. And whatever hurt before about “the world” only hurts more. I’ve said I can’t change the world, I can only change my mind about the world. I can think people cruel, stupid, vicious, angry, even evil – but what it comes down to is we’re unconscious. All of us – and either we’re trying to wake up or not. When we’re unconscious we’re driven by wanting and needing, without asking what it’s for. And it’s not either/or – waking up is a process. Jesus and Buddha were there. The rest of us have to do the work.

Which is what Philip’s asking me to do. It’s what his death is for – so I try to tune out “the world” and deal with what’s going on with me, in light of his death. I’ve talked many times about what I heard Philip say the moment I found out he was dead: “Mom, you gotta go deeper.”

When Philip first died, Phil said he wanted to carry his spirit into the world. What’s that even mean, I thought? That sounded like a plan. It was hard enough to breathe, never mind decide what my life was going to be. And I wanted no part of any plan because plans involved future, and I was determined there wouldn’t be one for me, not without Philip. But here I am, writing this blog. When I started it, I said part of the reason was to carry Philip’s spirit into the world. I don’t believe that. I don’t even like the phrase. When I wrote that I was trying to justify why I needed so badly to write all this. It was easier to say I wanted to carry Philip’s spirit into the world than to say I needed you to read what I’m writing.

And I’m not saying I’m not keeping Philip’s spirit alive, but it’s more of a by-product than a goal, which makes it no less valuable. I’m writing for me, and if you get a sense of who Philip is through what I say, it’s because he is my muse and he’s helping me get to the truth that I’m trying so hard to recognize.

I don’t consider this blog a legacy for Philip, or for me. Much as it hurts to know Philip will live on for no one else the way he lives on with me, that’s not going to matter to me when I die. It’s now that I need to make matter, because now is where my experience is. I’m not concerned about being remembered after my death, because the only thing that’s going to matter when I die is what’s essential. And I don’t know what that is, but I bet it’s not the boxes of photos in my attic or the binders full of my writing. I know Natalie will always remember me. People who love me will remember me the way people who love Philip will remember him. Then one day they won’t because we’ll have faded into time. That’s the truth of life going on. However long I am or am not remembered after I die changes nothing.

There was an evening last week where gray, saturated clouds crowded the sky and trees danced frantically in a whirring wind. I took my dogs for a walk because if a storm was coming, I wanted to be part of it. When I reached the corner, I stopped and looked up. Philip, where are you? I asked. I’m right here, mom, he answered, like he always does. Do the clouds have something to say to me? Just watch, he said. So I watched for a while, watched one tiny puff of white cloud holding its own among the gray, and there it was again – Light vs. Dark, the unending story. And he wanted me to think about that vast, unknowable space that we can’t live without. There would be nothing if there was no space because where could anything be? But what’s it mean, I asked him? What is this? Think about it mom, he said. Just keep thinking.

Next day I saw my neighbor, a woman I haven’t spoken to often, but who’s easy to approach and quick to ask how you are. Our dogs sniffed around while we talked about the garden apartments we live in, and I was surprised to hear her say she wanted to move, that there were things about the place that were troubling her. I’d like to move back to Montclair, I told her. But here I am for now, so I try to make my apartment what I want it to be, because that’s what matters most about this place. She looked at me a moment. “You know, I saw you the other day,” she said. “I was outside, and I was really cranky about all this. You were standing across the street, looking at the sky. You looked so peaceful, so full of serenity. I watched you a while, then I went inside. And I felt better.”

I’d say that’s one hell of a by-product.

© 2014 Denise Smyth


28 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemask
    Jul 17, 2014 @ 23:17:36

    It sure is and you just reminded me that I need to live in the moment. I more often than not live for the future because I don’t like where I live, where I am. Thank you.

    As far as FB my FB is only for blogging/bloggers. I have no real life friends or family on it. As you know I don’t show my face on it either or give my real name.


    • Denise
      Jul 18, 2014 @ 19:40:41

      No face, no name, but who needs it – what comes through is you, a lovely bright and shining spirit. I don’t know where you came from, but you sure are a blessing.

      Oh, wait. Philip. Of course that’s where you came from ;o)


  2. deeincollingo
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 00:06:16

    Denise, a week or so after my daughter died suddenly, my sister had a dream where Amy told all of us not to cry because she was still “right here”. If only I could feel that more often through this heavy grief? How comforting to know Philip says the same thing. Keep looking up … And for the record, you can write as much on my blog as you like because I am always honored if my ramblings prompt you to comment.


    • Denise
      Jul 18, 2014 @ 19:51:27

      Hey Dee. You write from your broken heart and it goes straight into mine. I know Philip’s here – if I posted every way he lets me know he’s here, I’d sound kinda kooky. I have a separate place where I write it all down to remind myself that he’s here and that he’s constant. Thing is, everything still hurts. The work is to accept that he’s not here the way that I want him, but he is here in the way that I need him. The more you talk to Amy, the more you’ll know she’s here. Dee – I was not someone who “believed” anything particular about what happens when you die. Philip’s taught me that it’s not the end. So it’s not that I know what death is, it’s that he wants me to know what it isn’t.

      Amy’s around because you love each other, because that’s what love is. It’s for always – it’s the greatest joy and the deepest grief.

      So glad to have met, and so sorry it had to be this way.


      • deeincollingo
        Jul 19, 2014 @ 11:18:31

        At another friend’s urging, I started a “signs” journal where I write down all of the beautiful signs and messages which Amy sends to me. Kooky? I am right with you and I would never survive if I didn’t “believe”. The grief fog is so darn thick at times, that I have to consciously be open. And Amy’s words — short but sweet — pop into my head when I am not paying attention with a “hey Mom”! This morning I was crying in the shower when I heard “today is not about my death.”

  3. kmlagatree
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 05:35:38

    Beautiful. Just beautiful.


  4. lensgirl53
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 08:42:07

    Very deep, Denise. You have me thinking this morning. We cannot have Light without the Dark…or Good without Evil… or we would not…could not appreciate the Light and the Good. As for FB…I am not on it anymore because I realized I was making it a memorial for Brandon and when others did not comment or acknowledge it, I felt rejection for my son…the very thing that was his enemy in this world. The enemy of us all. I prefer to memorialize and remember my son in the corner of cyberspace called my blog. It is where you can wander in and KNOW that is where my heart is crying. And Brandon gets the credit for being my muse, as well….I just wish you and I could be writing about …well, you know. Love and peace to you dear friend. xo


    • Denise
      Jul 18, 2014 @ 20:07:45

      It’s true, Dale – we can’t know a thing without its opposite, not in this world. Loving deeply means we risk profound grief – but what can we do? We’d rather have had our sons for the time we did than not have had them at all. It gets all twisted, though, doesn’t it? Sometimes feeling overwhelmed with loss, feeling like that’s all life is…but that’s not true. It’s true that everything comes to loss, but there’s all the stuff in between. I miss Philip, and lately I’ve been so angry at him for not being here. But Dale, I feel him, and he’s patient. I can be as pissed as I want and he’s here, waiting…and I just realized it’s like when he was a toddler, and he’d have these screaming fits where he’d lay on his back and cry and his toes would be pointed, his body stiff; I’d just sit with him and wait until he calmed down, wait until he was ready to let me hug him. Hmmmm. So who’s the parent now?


  5. nataliehemmerich
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 10:22:36

    I haven’t commented in a while… I’m sorry. But my main comment is always: keep writing.

    I love that his spirit doesn’t give you the answers but asks for you to look for them… I think it’s the best way to hear what you need. Maybe someday you’ll look at the same clouds and get an entirely different message but the exact message you need… His spirit is wise and gracious.

    Your sharing about your neighbor made my day. Peace and love.


    • Denise
      Jul 18, 2014 @ 20:12:15

      No apologies necessary. And what lovely things you wrote – you’re right about the clouds, I didn’t think of it that way. I’d written a post about the time I looked at a cloud and it turned into a hand that was giving me a diamond; put it in your heart, Philip told me – it’s time. So now it’s time to look a little harder – in other words, he gives me what I need as I need it. I have to learn to trust.

      So you showed up exactly when you were supposed to – thank you ;o)


  6. afichereader
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 18:55:12

    “Blogging is another sort of conversation; more depth than breadth” Holy cow, you nailed it. I can see from the other comments, too, that blogging is a space to share and be heard, and even just be acknowledged.

    Glad to hear that you had a witness to some serenity. And in real life! That’s another acknowledgment.


    • Denise
      Jul 18, 2014 @ 19:38:34

      Oh. My. God. I don’t know why I’m so surprised, but TODAY I was thinking about you, wondering how you are, you haven’t written in a while ;o(…and I wanted to thank you for Luther! Why the heck is a season only 4 shows? I started watching it a week ago and I’ve only two episodes left. BBC is worse than our cable, with its True-Detective-only-8-shows.

      Anyway – thank you. It’s good to hear from you and I hope when you’re ready, you’ll write.


  7. afichereader
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 20:14:24

    There ya go, it was meant to be! I don’t know what it is about those British and their limited offerings. I guess it’s how they maintain quality. But, oh my, Luther! I’m gald you enjoying him. He’s quite a guy.

    I’ve been tending to my son this summer. I don’t talk about it on the blog. Hence, the blog silence. But I just posted. And thanks for thinking of me today. We all need this support, and it comes in all sorts of ways.


  8. Denise Hisey
    Jul 18, 2014 @ 20:19:23

    That’s very powerful, Denise…thanks for sharing that story.


  9. normalisboringsoiheard
    Jul 19, 2014 @ 01:39:39

    I always love your blog, You choose to express your self by writing. I never know what to expect. There is always something meaningful I get from your post. Example, everyone’s journey is there own, subject to their own interpretations. Your neighbor viewed you as serene and peaceful while you were in your own “internal issues”. Everyone’s journey is exactly that a journey, sometimes it may not even make sense to you either. Just have to ride it out.

    Social media…..Instagram (no words, just pictures? I don’t get it either?, my 11 year old son, says it’s for people who can’t spell?, lol). Facebook, (yeah, no thanks), Twitter, (I don’t twit). I think maybe I am just too old, to have my life splattered all over like it’s the news. I don’t want “followers”. Maybe I am part of the generation where my mother told me not to sit by strangers at the movie theater, because they will stick you with needles filled with drugs and kidnap you? Lol!

    Have a great weekend, and by far, stars and clouds do always have the best answers!

    NIBSIH 😊!


    • Denise
      Jul 22, 2014 @ 08:48:26

      Well, sounds like your son’s wiser than most! ;o)

      And thank you – just like when I was staring at the clouds, I never know what I sound like to anyone who’s reading. Sometimes I think shit, people must think what a whiner I am, or here-she-goes again. But I also know I’m doing what I have to to live with this. And lately, it feels relentless. So thank you for reading, and taking the time to comment.


  10. Rebecca Carney - One Woman's Perspective
    Jul 20, 2014 @ 07:44:53

    It’s funny I would read your post about Facebook this morning. I usually get up and read any new postings on Facebook first thing in the morning. As I did the same this morning, I sat here wondering why I do it. At times (more often than not), it just feels so shallow. I’m growing weary of the postings promoting someone’s weight-loss group, healthy-living style, political or life-style viewpoints, the “look at me, look what I did/am doing” posts.

    As one who tends to self-analyze at times, I guess I have thought it a way to stay in contact with people I know. Having been involved in churches and on the board of two large homeschool groups for many years in Washington, I know a LOT of people. But, we have moved several times since Jason died and I have felt so disconnected and lonely that it was a thread of connection to familiar people. I have used it to post pictures of our lives for my family to see. I have posted things about Jason. I guess, to me, it’s a way of hoping not to be forgotten, that Jason won’t be forgotten.

    But, I sat here this morning thinking, “Friends?? Are they really, truly my friends? Do these people really care about me? Curious what I’m up to (and vice versa), maybe, but friends?” For most of them, not really. It’s mostly a connection to my previous life – the one before Jason died. After I had gone through this analysis, I ran across your post.

    I have never connected my blog posts to my Facebook page, and I really haven’t told a lot of people I know about my blog. That may seem strange, but I have wanted people to read my blog for different reasons than they would my Facebook post. You are right that it’s a different depth of conversation; hopefully, one with much more meaning than any Facebook post.


    • Denise
      Jul 22, 2014 @ 09:19:48

      Yes, I understand wanting to stay connected to the people in your life that were there before Jason died, wanting him to be remembered. It’s so painful to me that no one’s going to remember Philip the way I am, that people forget…but then I think, I’m his mother. No one else had the relationship I had with him, he didn’t love anyone the way he loved me – that’s the other side of that. Philip’s in my heart like no one else. And when I talk about hearing him, feeling him guide me – no one, not even his dad, has that access to him. I try to take comfort in that.

      And you’re right about Facebook. It’s more chit-chat than anything, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s what it’s for. So when I post, WordPress sends out a Facebook message to let people know – and either they click in to read it, or they don’t. I can’t know who’s reading my blog, but I do know that I want people to.

      Wishing you peace, my friend – you were one of the first people to contact me when I started this blog, and for that, I thank you.


  11. leedee888
    Jul 20, 2014 @ 12:03:40

    Hey Denise, just want you to know and I hope you already do, that you are always on my mind and in my heart. I hope you’re doing well and enjoying your job. When it’s something one likes doing it really doesn’t seem like a “job” but a place to go to five days a week to feel needed, productive, and most of all taken away from what is tearing through one’s heart and soul. It’s a place to escape to. It does that for me. I’m so thankful for my job and my boss. It keeps me on track and preoccupied. I hope you get a respite from your grief when you’re at work. How are you? Do you feel like traveling? If so, I’m here for you whenever you feel like the time is right. There’s lots of love here waiting for you. ❤ Well, I hope this will post. Everytime I comment, I always get error messages 😦 Call me when you feel like talking, I'm all ears. Miss you, love you, Lee


    • Denise
      Aug 01, 2014 @ 20:40:58

      Lee, I posted this comment like a week ago, but I didn’t reply to you (it’s a WordPress thing) so I don’t know if you saw it. This is what I’d written:

      Hey Lee – how are you?? Sorry I haven’t called – I don’t know why it’s so hard to pick up the phone. I’m sure I don’t help myself by withdrawing, but when I’m home, I keep to myself a lot. Everything feels harder again; I’d think it has a lot to do with Natalie moving out, but it doesn’t exactly feel that way. And yes – work helps SO much. It’s busy, and I work with such good people – and they’re funny, to boot ;o)

      What part of Florida are you in? I’m not sure about taking off yet, but maybe closer to the end of the year. And I love you so much, too.


  12. kind reader
    Jul 20, 2014 @ 21:32:23

    You were present, I imagine. It’s all we have while we’re in this body. I’m never present, really. I admire those who can be. Maybe that’s what Philip is saying sometimes. Who am I to say such a thing? When you dig deeper, you’re necessarily focused on something. Maybe that’s part of the mystery.


    • Denise
      Jul 22, 2014 @ 11:35:49

      If you think about it, “being present” has to be the great respite, because it means you’re paying attention to what’s going on, not getting lost in the past or the future. I don’t have to tell you how damn hard that is…


  13. deeincollingo
    Jul 25, 2014 @ 13:55:18

    Denise, quick question. Could you please send me an email when your time permits. I cannot figure out how to contact you other than posting on a comment box. No hurry.


  14. Lucia Maya
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 20:36:20

    I love this. Haven’t commented as I don’t have anything more profound to offer. But wanted you to know I’m here and reading and appreciating everything you write. Thank you! love, Lucia


    • Denise
      Aug 01, 2014 @ 20:38:30

      Thank YOU, Lucia – I know you’re there. I think of you often. You’re a guide, of sorts. It’s not with words; it’s a form of “what would Lucia do” but more subtle. Sometimes I just sense your spirit and it’s always one of strength.

      So, you see, I have much to thank you for. xoxoxoxo


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