Those Next Days…

If you tell me that I have to move on from grief, that I have a life to live, that I can choose to stop feeling this as if grief has no value unless I kick its ass, I’ll stop listening because all you’re telling me is you don’t get it. You’re telling me you don’t know what else to say and if you say it nicely, I appreciate the gesture; if you say it impatiently I think that maybe you’re the one who can’t deal with it.  What’s it mean to think you can’t both grieve and live? No one moves on from grief. It’s part of you, like an arm or a leg. You don’t get cured, you get different. You’re forced to live more deeply – it’s either that, or go nutty. But as life is in constant motion and change, so is grief.

There was a time grief was loud and screeching; it chewed me up, then spit me out so it could chew me up all over again. Prometheus, bound. It made the world spin too fast for me to get my footing. So I sat on my couch, month after month, and let it do what it would. But sometime between then and now I stopped resisting it. That didn’t make it go away, but it did allow me to get to know it. Pain is terribly enhanced when we resist it – we might think we’re pushing it away, but since it’s immovable all we’re doing is letting it drain our attention and energy. I didn’t know that, then. Why talk of “not resisting?” I was that grief. Until time came when I felt more. Like love for Philip and love for Natalie. Take that love and add a bit of time, and what came to be was a grief that was more a partner than a bloodsucker.

I don’t learn the things I need to learn the easy way. That’s not how it works. I no longer hold on to grief, I commune with it. It’s hard. It hurts. It still grabs me when I’m not paying attention, still brings me to tears of a sudden. It still makes my gut raw and throbbing – and it keeps me vulnerable enough not only to hurt, but to feel the deep love in my life. For that, I am grateful. So I don’t run from it or pretend I can turn it off because I will cut off no part of myself that feels. Whatever it is.


Philip died snorting heroin. And what I found out later was he wasn’t alone. He was in his room with G, the kid who lived in the bedroom upstairs, the kid who left him there. I don’t know at what point, dead or alive. What I do know is that one year later G. himself died from an overdose.

Those days afterward – how did I survive them? How was I able to move around, to take care of things, to fall asleep? A couple days after the wake, Phil, Natalie and I had to go to Philip’s room to get his things. He lived in a house in New Brunswick near Rutgers with Max  and some other kids. And he spent a lot of time at his friend Austin’s house. Austin was urging Philip away from drugs and the tweakers he was hanging out with. And Philip was listening – he’d signed a lease and was supposed to move out at the end of the month. At the wake, Austin asked me if I wanted him to go straighten out Philip’s room. I knew the kind of mess Philip lived in. “Please,” I answered, “just don’t throw anything out.” I needed to get in and out of that bedroom quick as I could. No tears, no lingering – that was the room where he died. If I wanted to curl up with him around me I’d go to the bedroom he grew up in. The one with the rocket ship and stars that I painted on his closet door, with the plaid curtains and lampshade I made for him. The furniture I found at an estate sale, and the perfect hooked rug that was a steal at Marshall’s. I could crawl under his red denim comforter, stained with blood from the uncontrollable nose bleeds he had when he was growing up. And I’d hug his little dinosaur blanket, the one I made for him for his kindergarten nap time.

The night before I was supposed to go to Philip’s, I got a call from a furious Austin. “They robbed him. They actually went in his room and they robbed him. They took his stuff – his phone, his laptop, his Xbox. Everything was all over the place. I can’t believe they robbed him.”

A sponge can get so saturated that it can’t hold any more. The water washes right through while the sponge sits there, heavy and laden. I heard what Austin said. I understood what he meant. I knew I should be outraged. Instead I was numb, speechless. I told Austin we would be there next day and asked if he’d come meet us.

I didn’t know the kids Philip lived with. I knew Max, I knew of J., eventually came to know of G. I knew that right after Philip died, they cleared out of the house. At least for a while. J. had gone back to get something, saw a window had been broken, went into the house and saw Philip’s room had been robbed. No one else’s, just Philip’s. I spoke to J about it. “We all keep our rooms locked,” he said. “Philip’s was the only one that was open.”

Uh-huh. Like someone didn’t know Philip died, like someone didn’t use this as an opportunity. This sounds like I should be furious. I am not. At first I mourned the loss of his laptop. He’d been writing poetry and I wanted to read it. Philip was gone and they took another piece of him. Thing is, what kind of person does that? What kind of way is that to live? I hadn’t the capacity for anger, and so saw it differently than I might have. Nothing they took meant anything. So I didn’t have the poems – I still had my son. Who am I to condemn them? To live a life of preying on people is its own hell. You can’t get away with anything because life doesn’t work that way. Some people don’t get that until it’s too late. If I’m angry at these kids, I turn the situation into a drama and get sidetracked from what’s real about life  They are dreams, these dramas. And either I wake up now or death’ll come and do it for me.

Austin had straightened up Philip’s room again, but what I saw when I got there was a blur. I just wanted to hurry up and get rid of stuff before I started crazy screaming. I left his old bureau, got rid of a lot of his clothes (he had plenty more at home), grabbed any notebook he’d written in, took the Kindle Fire the thieves had missed. Took his sword and fencing helmets. His leather jacket and the parka I’d bought him for Christmas. But not his boots, his old, beat-up square-toed and very cool boots that were molded into the shape of his feet. Austin had been with him when he bought them, and he asked if he could have them. With love and gratitude I handed them over.

Funny how the thing that bothers me most is that I didn’t take his plaid flannel boxers. I could’ve worn them for pajamas, hung out at home in them. I could’ve cut them up and worked them into a quilt. The woman who taught me quilting had made a beautiful quilt from her boyfriend’s boxers. The odd and beautiful things that people make when inspired by love. I suppose you can make an an odd and beautiful life that way, too. Something to think about, for sure.

© 2015 Denise Smyth


14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. jmgoyder
    Mar 20, 2015 @ 20:37:55

    “Pain is terribly enhanced when we resist it” – that really got to me.


  2. New John
    Mar 21, 2015 @ 04:18:47

    Powerful, touching, and true, as always. Thank you for sharing this.


  3. lensgirl53
    Mar 21, 2015 @ 07:09:24

    “You don’t get cured, you get different.” Painfully true. So many things struck me…the personal …like Philip’s nose bleeds and dinosaurs…Brandon had nose bleeds, too and a love for dinosaurs. He knew all types and names of them.

    Yes, it was grief and the first wave of shock that made you too numb to care about the criminals who stole Philip’s things. Heartless, souless beings. I am sorry you had to deal with that on top of what the real thief, death, took. Love …and more love to you, Denise.


    • Denise
      Mar 21, 2015 @ 17:11:41

      Those things – nosebleeds, dinosaurs – remind us of how vulnerable they were and oh, how we mothered these boys! Dale, I am grateful we had their whole childhood. Each grief is different in its way – but to have had Philip’s childhood is something precious that will always be with me.

      Love and peace to you, my friend; you have a tender heart.


  4. deeincollingo
    Mar 21, 2015 @ 07:48:51

    Dear Denise, your words are relatable in so many ways. I cried tears of compassion, frustration and solidarity. Last year at this time, we discovered Amy’s social security number was stolen. It sickened me. I am with Brandon’s Mom on this. Wasn’t death enough?

    Is nothing sacred? What creatures slither among us? And the way you describe Phillip’s room where he grew up with all his things speaks to me as a mother who feels your pain. Mother to mother, I thank you for sharing more of your thoughts and heart. X


    • Denise
      Mar 21, 2015 @ 17:16:12

      I know what you mean – so often I cry when I read what you write because of horrific struggle and I know how much you love her. It jumps off the page. “What creatures slither among us.” You said it all. But we can’t focus on them – we have enough to deal with our losses. Stealing her social security number – for shame. What a world, eh? We have to make OUR world clean and peaceful that we may stay close to our children. Anger, rage directed outward takes me away from Philip and that’s not where I want him to be. I wrote that he said, “Let me be the voice in your head.” They’re here, Dee; we just have to pay attention.

      Wishing you whatever peace you can find, and sending so very much love.


      • deeincollingo
        Mar 21, 2015 @ 19:54:37

        Denise, your words always go straight to my heart. I agree. I write and release. There is no room in my heart to carry any evilness. Quite frankly, during most of my life I have felt immune to those who slither. I feel Amy’s continued love but as you know I want more. I want her in the way most mothers have their children in their life. But I settle for whatever connection I get. You shine a light that is always welcome as I struggle to find my way. Thank you so much!

    • Denise
      Mar 22, 2015 @ 22:16:32

      Dee, your anguish both wrecks me and makes me feel close to you. I wish I could reach out and give you a hug. God knows we’d be crying on each other’s shoulder. Know that I think of you often and am with you – in some way out here – in your struggle. We love them and miss them so…


  5. Dakota M Draconi, MSW
    Mar 21, 2015 @ 11:23:29

    I’m still here. We’re still connected. I still hear you loud and clear. But I miss you and I miss me. 3.5+ years out and I’m still so often crawling in a fog of the pain. Just a few weeks ago partner got hit on her bicycle by a minivan. Mangled her foot. Could have lost her in that moment, the moment that turned my world upside down again. Just like the moment Qory stuck that needle in his arm one last time. Grateful I didn’t lose her, but still. The hits just keep coming and so often I just want to disappear. So I disappear as much as I can. “Pain is terribly enhanced when we resist it – we might think we’re pushing it away, but since it’s immovable all we’re doing is letting it drain our attention and energy.” True story. I’m still trying to resist it. But I’m still here my friend, and we’re still connected. I love you.


    • Denise
      Mar 21, 2015 @ 17:27:59

      Your pain is jumping off the page – I wish I could give you a real hug. Yes, we are connected, and I love you, too. It’s a terrible thing that binds us, but the other side of that is the love and connection we have. I am so sorry about your partner – trauma brings up loss, and loss will always be terrible and exaggerated because of what we went through. Oh, I miss Philip – I still go through moments of WTF?? Really? Can this be?

      Please know how much I wish you peace – I’m sending you love and healing thoughts for your partner. I hope we stay in touch more – I miss you.


      • Dakota M Draconi, MSW
        Mar 22, 2015 @ 15:16:38

        Oh Denise, I hope we stay in touch more too. I feel so out of touch with everything and everyone… all of the comfort available to me feels so very far away. And I simply cannot blog because the darkness is so extreme that I fear someone would call the men in the white coats to come for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still functioning through the sludge. I just don’t feel safe to put my thoughts and feelings out there publicly until (if ever) this darkness lifts somewhat. Right now, you speak for both of us. Thank you for that gift, my friend.

    • Denise
      Mar 22, 2015 @ 22:12:58

      I couldn’t write for a long time after Philip died – just as you said, it was too dark, I could not touch it. If I speak for both of us, it is a gift to both of us – it is connection that gets me through. My love and thoughts are with you – you’ve helped in ways I don’t think you know.


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