Three Years

Today is three years since Philip died. Since we found out he died, because he really died on 2/22 but since they found him on 2/23, that’s the day that’s on the birth certificate, the day it became real and true and official. These things matter, like I have to get it clear in my mind, I have to understand, and somehow I think these details will help me. Like I have to explain this to everyone because if I’m honest about all of it – the way it happened, the way I feel about it – then I have something to hold on to. All these thousands of words I write, these deeply personal words I publish, both bind me to my son and keep me grounded.

Three years, and I think I should have something wise and profound to say, something special to honor my son. But I’ve somewhat disconnected – I think a psyche can only take so much at a time. Grief, for now, is no fierce burning. It’s turned me into something aloof, distant. Lately, what I feel most, when I feel anything I can clarify, is anger. I noticed it because I’ve found myself saying ugly things at every day annoyances, and I am too easily annoyed. The dirty dishes, the unmade bed, the sick dog who needs his medicine and has to be carried up and down the stairs. It was the vulgarity I spewed that shook me up – it wasn’t anything I’m used to saying. Oh, I thought; I’m angry. And if there’s one thing I can’t take feeling, it’s anger. Because what do you do with such fury? How do you contain it? If I let my anger bleed out even a little I fear where it will take me. Philip isn’t coming home. I want him here. I can’t do anything about it and after three years I do know this is so. It seems more so than ever. I’m helpless to do anything about it. I am so angry that if I feel it I’m afraid it will suck me back to three years ago, to what it felt like to hear those three little words that chewed me up and spit out into some void that sometimes I think I’m still falling down into: “They found him.”

They found him. How the fuck am I supposed to live with that?

Well, I do live with that. I can live with that. Because in certain ways time has collapsed. What is time, anyway? It’s pain, for sure, because if there’s one thing pain needs, it’s time. If I think back to what happened or forward to a life where I grow old and Philip doesn’t, I will go crazy. But right now I can live with this. I don’t want to have to, but it is my reality. What does it mean to say three years? We’ve made up these things we call days and months and years. We give them names and think that gives us some control. We number hours and decide what should happen within those hours. We group them for convenience, we dole them out, we covet them. They feel longer when we’re anxious and shorter with our pleasures. So when I say time has collapsed what I mean is that in many ways I’m just paying attention. To Natalie, to work, to writing and knitting. To closely following whatever creative urge I have because creating lies outside of time.

Grief isn’t heartless. Grief is a teacher. Grief is the way into my heart. For that I am grateful. I am not someone who has loved life. I am not someone who has understood why anyone would want to be here. But never have I felt more alive than I do now. That’s Philip’s gift to me. What is the point of his death if I die, too? And how hard is this to grasp because if I choose to live I still don’t understand I’m not betraying him and I’m not losing him. But the pull to life is strong. The only betrayal would be to resist it, to make the fact that I’m grieving become a role. If I’m playing a role than I’m bound by fantasy. I don’t mean to say I’m not grieving – I’m saying that grieving is as fluid as everything else in life. I can’t say I experience his death the way I did three years ago, as if the intensity of it has to remain or I don’t truly love him. When someone asks how I am, part of me wants to say I’m broken because then they will care, then they won’t forget Philip. But those aren’t the right words. There is no brief conversation that’s going to let anyone know how I “am.” So I say, “I’m okay” and am content to leave it at that. Because after three years, the need to say how truly terrible this is is ebbing. When I need to talk about it, I come here and write it.

Three years, and still Philip is close. I’ve been told more than once that he can’t rest in peace until I, too, am at peace. That he can’t be free until he knows I’m okay. I disagree. He knows I’m okay – I’m the one who has to get it.  And I don’t think this is about “resting.” I think it’s about living, which is beyond the impermanence of a body. When it comes to these things, I’m willing to trust my own experience more than someone else’s, which is a triumph not only for me, but for Philip as well. I can’t make sweeping generalizations about the dead. I can only say what I know about Philip. That he’s kind and he’s patient, and he’s not worried that what he’s trying to show me is still, in many ways, eluding me. It’s his faith I rely on when I can’t find my own.

Many years ago I was told that this was going to be a very spiritual life for me. Wow, I thought; how cool is this? Visions of softly winding roads lit with a sun I’d finally enjoy passed before me. Who knew instead of a blessing it would feel like a curse? Still – it’s my life and my path and if it meant Philip would only be here for 21 years I’d still rather that, than not to have known him at all.

So mourn him I will – argue, I won’t.

© 2015 Denise Smyth


15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. tric
    Feb 23, 2015 @ 16:47:41

    Three years is such a short time in grief, only those who don’t grieve a child or a close loved one can think otherwise. I do not for a minute believe your state of grief has any effect on your son.
    There is no easy way through.
    Thinking of you and your son Philip.


    • Denise
      Feb 25, 2015 @ 20:36:02

      Thank you Tric – I agree. I don’t think my grief affects my son, not in the way of him grieving along. I feel him, I do. He’s watching out for me, he’s waiting for me to come to life, he’s trying to help me get there.

      I so appreciate your caring. xoxoxo


  2. rose
    Feb 23, 2015 @ 17:35:46


    My heart aches right now, for you, for Philip. All I can say is that for me when you say “Still – it’s my life and my path and if it meant Philip would only be here for 21 years I’d still rather that, than not to have known him at all.” summarizes everything.

    You broght him into this world, you raised him, you loved him. He lived here as long as he was supposed to and you were an essential part of everyday life.

    Wherever he is, he knows that he was loved and he knows that he is missed. That is also important. He left his mark in this world, even for the ones that never met him and that is thanks to you. Because it’s through you that we know him, and know about his life. So, once again it’s through you that he will leave.

    I’m thinking about you and him a lot. Wishing that your heart be in peace and calm, but if you feel like crying just do so…we are here to listen to you.




    • Denise
      Feb 25, 2015 @ 20:38:13

      Rose, what can I say? You are always so kind…I so wish you were closer so we could just chat when we wanted to…

      Let me just say thank you. xoxoxo


  3. jmgoyder
    Feb 23, 2015 @ 19:12:31

    Everything you say here makes such sense to me even though I have not experienced losing my child.


  4. lensgirl53
    Feb 24, 2015 @ 11:14:14

    I am remembering Philip today. I have you and Natalie in my heart today, as well. I pray that God blesses you in each step of revelation on your spiritual path. Grief most certainly is a teacher and your blog is part of that lesson, reaching so many who are reluctant students. Much love and understanding ~ Dale, Brandon’s mom


  5. New John
    Feb 25, 2015 @ 16:44:44

    “Grief, for now, is no fierce burning. It’s turned me into something aloof, distant. Lately, what I feel most, when I feel anything I can clarify, is anger. I noticed it because I’ve found myself saying ugly things at everyday annoyances, and I am too easily annoyed.”

    Wow did this resonate with me. Jack died two years ago on the 2/20 so I’ve done a LOT of fuming and lashing out in the past week.

    Thank you for sharing. I wish you peace.


  6. Denise
    Feb 25, 2015 @ 20:43:46

    I’m glad it resonated – that means I got to something real and there’s no higher compliment. I look for what resonates so i don’t feel alone. They died a year apart, so close. It’s exhausting sometimes, no?

    Thank you for sharing that. And I also wish you peace, wherever you can find it.


  7. Unconfirmed Bachelorette
    Feb 27, 2015 @ 00:02:48

    Dear Denise, big big hugs for you on this most painful anniversary.


  8. Denise
    Feb 27, 2015 @ 08:13:16

    Thank you – there is nothing like a hug, virtual or otherwise.


  9. melissahmead
    Mar 06, 2015 @ 07:28:28

    I have just come across your blog after finding solace in writing a blog myself. I lost my 1 year old son William just before Christmas so grief for me is new. It is comforting to see that 3 years on although as painful it is not as raw. For me I still feel that intensity, as you explained. I hope like you I am able to manage the grief in a way that I can cope with. Xx


    • Denise
      Mar 06, 2015 @ 10:41:08

      I just read your story and am crying right along with you. Every time I hear another parent lost a child, my heart breaks all over again. You’ll hear this over and over again – it’s not so much it gets better, it gets different. Truthfully – it is better, better in that I can function again, in that I’m more willing to be open to the gifts Philip continually gives to me. I miss him and I will never stop; I will never be the same, but in some ways that’s a good thing.

      This is so new for you – I’m here if you ever want to email me: You are in my thoughts and prayers.


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