It’s Over

“While you were lookin’ for your landslide
I was lookin’ out for you
I was lookin’ out for you
Someone’s lookin’ out for you”

Brandi Carlisle

That’s all it took to wreck me, because I’m like that with music again – I can’t listen to it because it touches deeply and anything that touches deeply hurts and twists into something to do with Philip. And I hear these words as an accusation. She knew what she was doing, but where was I? Was I looking out for Philip? Was does that even mean? Something was going on and I wasn’t paying attention. And maybe I never paid the right kind of attention. Sure I love, I adore, my children. But maybe love is not enough – sometimes saying “no” is required and I am not good at that. I was afraid to be in conflict with Philip because I might lose him. I have never understood that anger isn’t the end.

I thought that I never asked myself if I could have done something that would have kept Philip alive. I mean, I don’t go back to the days and weeks and months leading up to his death and wonder what I could have done differently. I don’t wonder why I didn’t take seriously all the times I saw Philip dead, that I never thought I was having a premonition. Even if I thought that, what could I have done? I can just see myself trying to convince Philip that he was going to die so he should…what? Be careful? Not go out for a while? Come live with me until the coast was clear? How bizarre would that have been? I used to wish I was psychic. But being psychic doesn’t mean you can preclude things. It doesn’t make you God, doesn’t mean you get to orchestrate your portion as if it’s separate from the whole. It’s a responsibility – maybe you can know or sense what’s coming, but I would not wish to know the crisis that was heading my way. If I’m grateful for anything, it’s that the way Philip, Death and I had a relationship since he was little is something I can piece together as I look back, not something I saw as foreboding when it was happening.

When Philip died I felt responsible – not for some particular thing I did or didn’t do, but because I am his mother and I didn’t protect him. It matters not how he died – this is what a parent feels. And when Phil showed Philip’s autopsy to a doctor and was told that it’s not likely that Philip died from the amount of drugs in his system, that he probably had something like an undetected  heart condition, well, that made me feel worse. He came from my body – could I not make a child that was whole and healthy?  I did everything right when I was pregnant – I ate well, exercised, gained the right amount of weight. I had home birth because I would not deliver myself into the hands of a hospital staff I didn’t know or trust and who might interfere with a process they were taught to see as a health hazard. I nursed Philip for a year and a half, made his food when he started eating. I didn’t feed him meat because I see it as cruel and unnecessary, never gave him milk because it’s a myth that that’s something children need. They’re not calves, for God’s sake. What did I do any of that for? So he would grow strong and healthy. So he wouldn’t die. Isn’t that why we do the things we do for our children – so they won’t die? And if, after all that, his body was inadequate, how could it not be my fault?

I really like to say I don’t bother myself about what I did or didn’t do for Philip, because it makes no sense to do that. I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to figure out how to live with his death because to argue about it is crazy. It’s a terrible struggle enough without torturing myself about the past. Except that’s where grief’s led me. Back to the bitter, hopeless tears, to the helpless horror, to the inability (real or imagined) to say what this is and the goddamn rage and loneliness that comes from that. If I can’t say it, then what is left?

I think I skipped a step. Yes, the work is living with Philip’s death. But I haven’t finished with the part about if I’d done something different. And not in any particular moment, but in the way that I was Philip’s mother. I’m full of self-loathing because of the ways I stood back, the ways I didn’t say no, the ways I wasn’t strict either because it’s not in my nature or because the older Philip got, the less right I felt I had to tell him what he couldn’t do. But did I give that right up too easily?

People die for all kinds of reasons. There isn’t one story for each “kind” of death. Getting shot doesn’t mean you’re a criminal, getting cancer doesn’t mean you didn’t take care of yourself, snorting too much heroin doesn’t mean your mother wasn’t good enough. But that’s my mythology: the mother who meant well but let it slip away because she felt helpless. And my touchstone was the family across the street from us with the mother who was strict, had rules, and was not going to let her children get away from her. Her son and daughter were smart, polite, respectful and always – even in their jeans – carefully dressed. No weird and menacing black t-shirts, no Converse so worn their soles were split. I am so sure that these children grew into responsible young adults with serious interests and quiet, envious careers. Because that’s what their mother insisted.

All this, about a woman I never even met. But she haunts me, this fairy-tale Mother. She lurks around the dark and slimy mess I think my life’s become. Which is crazy and irrational because my daughter adores me, there are people who love me, my job is a dream and I am finally writing and taking the risk of pushing the “publish” button when Im done.

It’s over. Philip’s childhood is over, and I had all of it. Whatever kind of “mom” I was, he died loving me and he is right here protecting me. That’s the reality of now, not the story I tell of the kind of mother I was. It’s time to end that one, for sure. I am a writer; why can’t I do this? Because endings are hard. It’s why this post has taken weeks to write. I don’t know how to end it any more than I know how to end that story.

Why can’t I just say, It’s over?

© 2014 Denise Smyth


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jmgoyder
    Sep 21, 2014 @ 08:08:10

    You are strong enough, Denise – you know you are! Ignore idiocy. Sending a massive cloud of love/ Julie xxx


  2. kmlagatree
    Sep 21, 2014 @ 08:21:40

    The beauty of your writing is in its intensity and clarity. I’m in awe, as usual.


  3. Rose
    Sep 22, 2014 @ 10:17:04

    Hi Denise,

    The subject you touched, is a deep one. It’s over….what is over?? To me, nothing is ever over, because it will always remains in our memories and until the day we die none of those memories, whishes, dreams, nightmares, anything is really over. Things do pass by us instead. But in my opinion they remain alive until we go.

    As for the fairy mother you talked about it, nothing, nothing guarantees that her kids will turn into successful people. Because it might happens that when they leave her house to go leave on their own, they will decide to go against everything they learned inside of their house, and perhaps in one wrongful step taken along their way their lives will also be at a lost.

    That is of course, the worst scenario we can imagine…but I just want to illustrate that we can give ALL the guidance, ALL the love, ALL the attention we can and must give to our children, but unfortunately at the end it’s their decision to do or not do something.

    We all make mistakes as we go along wether we were to restricted or to open minded. That is the beautiful of life.

    I’m sure, you are a wonderful mother in your own special way and your kids know that.

    As for something been over, nothing is really over until you are gone.




    • Denise
      Sep 25, 2014 @ 08:23:47

      What I meant by over is, can I stop telling myself the story about the fairy-tale mother and her marvelous children and how I’m the wicked-witch mother who couldn’t do anything right…no matter what I say to myself, I come back to that. The rest of it – you’re right, it doesn’t get “over,” it gets lived with. So good to hear from you Rose; your kindness always, always touches.


  4. Lucia Maya
    Sep 23, 2014 @ 00:21:08

    I loved this. I can relate, and have been having feelings of mother-guilt, as I’m visiting the city where we lived when my girls were young, with memories of all sorts coming up…. I choose not to spend time beating myself up for all the “mistakes” I made, believing that there are no mistakes, but the feelings are still there in places I haven’t forgiven myself yet.

    I can relate to so much of what you share here. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone.


    • Denise
      Sep 25, 2014 @ 09:53:31

      No, you’re not alone in the way you feel; when I hear you say something about mistakes you made, I think, “She couldn’t possibly have made mistakes.” But it’s as you said – there aren’t mistakes. Sometimes, in our helplessness, we turn what we feel against ourselves.

      Sending so much love your way…you are a treasure.


  5. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Sep 24, 2014 @ 23:50:08

    The difference between Philip and millions of other kids, is that Philip was unlucky on the wrong day. For whatever reason, Philip took a risk that did not work out. Lots of people take the same risks and live to tell the tale and go on with their lives. It sounds like you were a great mom to Philip. However, I feel the same way you do – that having my child die is the ultimate parental failure. So I understand and identify with all those feelings. How can we not look back and wonder what we could have done (or not done) differently?
    It will never make sense.


    • Denise
      Sep 25, 2014 @ 11:11:23

      It’s just hard not to blame ourselves – we’re devastated and angry, but no amount of anger will bring them back. We’re their moms – we’re wired to protect them. It’s not our fault. I guess we just have to remind each other of that.

      So good to hear from you. xoxoxo


  6. grahamforeverinmyheart
    Sep 25, 2014 @ 12:47:37

    By reassuring you that it’s not your fault, I’m also trying to reassure myself of the very same thing. But the reality is that I do feel indirectly responsible… and I do partly blame myself. You’re right that we are just wired to protect them no matter what.
    Hugs to you, Jennifer


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