Is it Better?

I miss my son.

I am still shocked, and part of me feels like a dying tree, oozing sap and rotting away. When work is over and no friends are around, it’s just me and my grief. How am I supposed to do this? Is there some sort of answer to that? I can’t look to the world for it – the world is insane. Grasping , needing and killing to get what it wants. And what it wants is Power. What’s done in the name of power is psychotic. It’s never enough, there’s always more power to want. More ways to be right, to prove that you exist. But there’s no real satisfaction in being right. It’s like an addiction – because being satisfied with being right just once is no more possible than an addict’s first snort being his last.

Except when it kills him.

In “True Detective,” Marty asks Rust if he’s Christian. “No,” he says. “Well what are ya?” Rust doesn’t want to have this conversation, but he answers, “I’m a Realist. But in philosophical terms, I’m a Pessimist.”

I’ve never heard of Pessimism as a philosophy. So I did a little research, read Thomas Ligotti’s, “The Conspiracy Against the Human Race.” And one of the things he wrote about was the question of why it’s assumed that it’s better to be here than to not. I imagine you can’t get much traction with that because most people take it for granted that it’s better to be. Of course it is, right? But why, exactly? Forget my suffering. What about those women – those girls – that were rounded up by some terrorist organization in Iraq to be given to men so they can marry them or rape them or subject them to any degradation they choose?  Or people whose families became collateral damage in a war they neither wanted nor started? Or all the hungry kids, the abused kids – all over the world there is suffering I cannot even imagine. So is it better – is it always better – to be? We can’t answer that since we don’t know what it is to “not be.” We don’t if it’s better. Or worse. Or just the same. We just know we’re terrified of it.

And Pessimism isn’t Hamlet’s, “To be or not to be.” Hamlet was contemplating suicide. Pessimism is about coming into being at all. I thought about it for a while, until I circled back to the fact that while I found Pessimism fascinating, it wasn’t some kind of answer. No matter how much I debate it, I’m here. Whether’s it’s better to be here or not is irrelevant. I’m here and Philip’s dead, so now what?

Living. I’m as hung up on what that means as I am about death. And I’m not feeling good about either of them. “Mom, you have to work it out where you are,” Philip said. Which sucked the juice out of the fantasy of wanting to die – whatever I’ve been angry, depressed and twisted about for most of my life is my life. When I’m sitting here writing, this is my life. When I get up to pee then that will be my life. Life is not some separate path or some thing Out There that I’ll get to one of these days. Out There is the fantasy of the future, which only ever comes as now. Life is what it is. Every breath is life lived and it is one of these same, ordinary breaths that are going to be our last.

When Natalie was a  freshman at Rutgers, she was miserable. It was more than being homesick. It was misery. I was trying to help her get through that first year, at the end of which she could transfer. Accept it, leave it or change it, I told her. So she stayed. She applied to other colleges. But it wasn’t enough. She was torn and I wanted to help. We talked a lot. She’d often go visit her boyfriend in New York on weekends, then come home to Montclair on Sunday evening so I could drive her back to Rutgers. I loved my Sunday nights in the car with her. For 45 minutes we’d talk and talk and once we talked so much I missed the exit.

Two weeks before Philip died, we were talking about death. “You know everything won’t be here one day. Everything. One day this car won’t be here. This highway – it won’t be here, either.” I hesitated before I added, “I won’t be here,” because I didn’t want to scare her. But I’m going to die like everyone else and not talking about it won’t change that.

I told her that I didn’t think death was the end. “I don’t know what happens, but something’s left. Whatever you want to call it. Call it soul, call it energy. But something is animating my body – and when my body dies, that something remains.” I also told her that I had no idea what happened with that soul, that energy. I wasn’t talking reincarnation, I wasn’t talking heaven. I believe there is more than we see, but what that is I can’t say.

“Of course,” I added, “If anything happened to you or Philip, all bets are off.”

And this was around the time Natalie said to her boyfriend, “I am afraid my brother’s going to die.”

Philip’s death forces me to think about what life and death are. And this is what he said to me a while ago: “Mom, I’m trying to teach you what death isn’t. But you have to look to Natalie for life. If you don’t, nothing I say will mean anything.”

And all along I thought what he meant was all the signs, the messages, and the guidance were proof that death isn’t the end, that he’s around and always will be. But that’s only part of it. He’s also trying to get it through my head that death isn’t an answer to the way I feel. Because in spite of what I know and what I’ve experienced, when I’m grieved and terrified I think that death has got to be the answer. I am back to crying every day for Philip. I’m trapped because there are too many moments when I think that I just can’t do this – but I’m here and I have to and that’s when I get to thinking death must be a way out. And I’m reminded of when I was in labor, when I had that same terror because the pain was too much and there was nothing I could do – and a voice in my head said, “There’s no way out but through.”

People thought I was crazy for having my babies at home when I could go to the hospital and have the pain of it all relieved in some  chemical way. Had I done that, I would have missed that voice. And that’s the voice that’s brought me full circle and made every scream and exhausting push worth all of it.

So to all of you who have lost a child, to you who’ve lost a deeply loved one, what is life for you? And for you who have other children to look to, what do you see? What I see when I look at Natalie is complicated. She is not the girl who came home from Rutgers. Two-and-a-half years later she is a light and a joy. Her life is full of what she wants. She vibrates – when Natalie is in a room, you know it. I have loved watching her come alive. But watching her also puts distance between us. She is happy, I am not. She is full of life, I am dispirited. It seems so easy for her, this thing called life. I think I’m angry, I think I’m envious. I think I’m dejected because I tamp my anger down so hard it’s exhausting. I can’t deal with it; I’m angry that Philip’s dead, that Natalie’s moving out, that people think it’s okay to be here and I don’t.

And I’m angry that I don’t even know if that’s true.

© 2014 Denise Smyth


16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Aimee
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 06:28:22

    ❤ Sending you strength, my dear friend.


  2. Rose
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 08:56:15


    I’m always here if you need to talk.




  3. DragonPack
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:26:26

    I have no words, only deep understanding. The only way out is through. The only way out is through. The only way out is through. It is my mantra… well, that and “When you’re walking through hell: KEEP WALKING.” I don’t know why. I don’t. I don’t know why people think it’s ok to be where we are. I don’t know why I am surrounded by mothers who get to walk the road of recovery with their children. I don’t know why their children got to make it, and mine did not. It’s like some exclusive club to which I’ll never belong, because I’m over here in the “My son died and most of the time I don’t want to survive that” club. Ah, what the hell. Love you my friend.


    • Denise
      Aug 17, 2014 @ 16:24:08

      “Why?” is torturous, isn’t it? There’s no answer, there’s just “walking through hell.” This loss – it colors everything. And my daughter moved out this week. Losing a child leaves you with kind of loneliness like no other. And the words – where are the words for it?

      Love to you, my friend; I know you’re suffering. I wish I could help. All I can say is we’re in this together.


  4. anna whiston-donaldson
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 10:30:58

    And we must keep moving, keep on living even if/when we don’t want to. Hard but true. Love and hugs today.


  5. miragreen
    Aug 14, 2014 @ 12:12:42

    Denise, your words so resonate with me. My oldest daughter is a light. She has chosen to live for her sister while I can’t seem to choose what to wear each day. She laughs and remembers Melinda while I cry and remember what I’ve lost. I agree there is no other way than “through.” I only wish I could find a clearer way through for all of us. Life for me is just breathing right now because that seems to take all of my energy and concentration. I have to believe there is something more than this earthly life. I need to believe I will have the chance to be with Melinda again and that you will be with Philip. All I can do now is send you wishes for peaceful days when they are available. Take care


    • Denise
      Aug 17, 2014 @ 16:30:06

      And peace to you, wherever you can find it. I am so lonely for Philip, and I am so sorry you know exactly what I’m talking about. I know he’s around. He talks to me all the time – he says things that I’ve never thought about and so all the more I know it’s him. But the horror of him dying still overwhelms.

      I am grateful for work, for my friends, for you. But how to make that into a life with this terrible void? A breath at a time. xoxoxo


  6. lensgirl53
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 13:49:00

    I hope you truly find the hope you need to “get through” because there is definitely something waiting on the other end. This life is hard and most exceptionally hard in this grief. We won’t be finished until ‘the end’…if that makes sense, because nothing else does. Eternal life is the answer to the life we live now. To me there is a satisfaction that my faith completes. Hugs and blessings xoxo


    • Denise
      Aug 17, 2014 @ 16:33:36

      Dale, I know Philip’s around – I feel him protecting me. It’s uncanny. Still, grief overwhelms. I keep seeing him in that coffin, and pushing the though out of my head. Maybe it’s because my daughter moved out this week. I am lonely for Philip, for his voice and attention. I know he loves me – I wish I could let that soothe me.

      Thank you for your care and attention. It helps – it really does.


  7. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Aug 15, 2014 @ 22:16:48

    Still here, reading, and thinking about you and Philip. I have no answers to anything at all…but you’re not alone. (Okay, we are all alone….but we do have each other to share some of the burden.) Wish I could help, but I’m also still in shock and crying every day. But there are other parents out there who are surviving well and who have learned to cope with their losses. Eventually, we’ll somehow learn to do that as well.


    • Denise
      Aug 17, 2014 @ 16:38:44

      Yes, we do have each other and it does help. This blog is where I grieve, where I remember, where I feel cared for. You do help – that we have a connection comforts. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a bubble, separate and different. Well, we are. A child dying is like nothing anyone can imagine; and to try to say what it feels like seems impossible. So I say what I can – and thank you, for listening.


  8. Gary
    Oct 14, 2014 @ 18:30:54

    My heart felt sorrow for your loss Denise and to your daughter and husband as well….it’s like no other pain endured and to live through. To find ways to cope, to self doubt life and it’s meaning. But to also press forward for your loved ones who are still here with you. Still trying to find who you once were prior to that loss seems so hard, so fleeting, tirelessly getting closer only to backslide in grief…..Denise you say, “thank you, for listening”, but also thank you for speaking, as we all speak on our losses in so many different ways. To ourselves, to our loved ones, to other people who have the same needs and pain and to god I speak alone…Thank you Denise for your many words of your loss, your pain, your ways of healing…for its a journey like no other….


  9. Denise
    Oct 17, 2014 @ 21:30:36

    You’re so right – a journey like no other. And loneliness like no other…and love like no other. What wildness there is in this grief; what unpredictable craziness. Thank you for your kind words, for paying attention. That’s what keeps me going.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: