01/20/91 – #4

Today is Philip’s birthday. He would have been 25. Time has ceased for him in that way, and it has changed for me, too. I’m much more conscious that the only time it ever is, is now. That’s become a kind of meditation for me, this focusing on the present. Trying to stay focused on now does not leave Philip behind. He died nearly four years ago. I don’t think a lot about that time. He is here, now, and that has to be enough, like it or not.

But last night I was full of the night I gave birth to him. He was born at home on a cold January night. At one point – probably after I bit her shoulder – my midwife took me outside, arm around me, holding me up when I’d get a contraction. The frosty air, the dark, the quiet – she knew I needed a change from my bright apartment with its hospital pads spread on my bed and placenta bowl empty and waiting.

I thought my good attitude and fearlessness about giving birth would ease the pain. It did not. I yelled. I wailed. Part of me then rose up somewhere, was watching this, and I knew it was going to be okay. But I gave myself permission to scream. Those contractions were long and dark and hard and brought me unwillingly to a place I call terror. At the height of one of them I heard the words that would eventually bring Philip and me full circle – “There’s no way out but through.”

Those are not words of comfort. Reality rarely is. I was being asked – no, told – to bear a pain I thought impossible to bear. I was at its mercy, and merciful it was not. But after it was over I had Philip, sweet baby boy, this child I loved when he was just a thought. How graced was I?

Those words came to me after he died, too. And if there was no other reason to have experienced his birth for exactly what it was, hearing those words would have been enough. They brought me full circle. I think of them often. I am more willing to get through. I have to – I’m still in relationship with Philip, and like any relationship, it needs to be tended to. Like any relationship, the more I am present to it the more I see it for what it is. A couple years ago Philip asked me if I knew what responsibility was. I didn’t want to know what he was getting at. I was a wreck then, and if he expected me to take responsibility for our relationship, I couldn’t. I did what I could, and if I could sum it up in one word, it would be “cried.” I didn’t know how many tears I had. In my mind I was hanging on to him for dear life. His presence was palpable, but I was too caught up in grief and terror to even utter the word “responsibility.”

“You know, you are his mother,” Ed reminded me once. That was too much. I was his mother, but I couldn’t act like one. Of course I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready, didn’t think I ever would be.

My sense of Philip has shifted. I am learning how to breathe with him. He’s come into play in the choices I make. I want him to see me do well. It’s my gift to him. And this can only happen because his death did not stop our relationship. When he first died, I took a drive, trying to figure out how to kill myself. Then I heard him: “Mom, it doesn’t work that way. You have to find the joy.”

I believe him. Death is not the answer. And as for joy, maybe it will come, but for now, it’s peace that I’m after. I want Philip to know that. I want him to know that I am doing well exactly the way I want Natalie to know I’m doing well. That’s what my children need – a mother who is present. Philip will get no less from me because he’s died. And I know not what death is except for the fact that it means a particular body will no longer be present. I don’t believe that just because you die you get to go to a better place. Or if you’re a “bad” person, a worse place. I just have this idea that whatever you’re working out you will keep on working out.

Early on I talked about being in a grief group, and being asked to write a letter from our loved to us. I sat and listened to Philip, and he ended the letter with a most lovely line: “Mom, I love you. I’m in the place of no good-byes so we can talk whenever we want.”

The place of no good-byes – if I have to think of him in a place, then let that be the one.

© 2016 Denise Smyth


25 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lucia Maya
    Jan 20, 2016 @ 19:17:13

    Dear Denise, this is so beautifully written, and my heart is with you today, on Philip’s birthday. And as I write that I feel him smiling warmly at me, such a sweet presence he has…

    I love that line as well – no way out but through. So much timeless wisdom there. Being present is the best way I know to find peace, so I also practice it as much as possible, other than the times I choose to go into memories because I want to…

    Happy birthday to Philip, in the land of no goodbyes, and happy birth day to you.
    love, Lucia


    • Denise
      Jan 21, 2016 @ 13:59:39

      Yes, sometimes it seems impossible not to think – staying present is the work. But how can we not think about what it was like when they were here, when we could touch them, see them, hear them. I just try not to go down the rabbit hole. I hear him, when I’m on the edge: Mom, I’m here, you don’t have to do that.

      I’m glad you feel him smiling at you; I feel Elizabeth’s intensity. I’m so grateful to have “met” both of you. xoxo


  2. jmgoyder
    Jan 20, 2016 @ 20:42:05

    You have such a beautiful way of writing . I am thinking of you today.


  3. anna whiston-donaldson
    Jan 20, 2016 @ 21:12:20

    Thinking of you today.


  4. jillberke88
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 09:55:04

    This was so touching and meaningful to me. Today my daughter has another PET scan after breast cancer returned after 9 years. What will the scan see? What will the results tell? Yes, stay in the present, walk through the experience no matter what, and be a responsible parent and person. Thank you for sharing your painful lessons on Philip’s birth and death and your ongoing relationship.


    • Denise
      Jan 21, 2016 @ 14:10:12

      Oh, Jill, I am so sorry. Staying in the present makes nothing go away, but it makes what you’re going through more manageable. But how hard is that when our loved ones – especially our children – are threatened? You’re in my thoughts and prayers; if you can, remember to breathe. It’s about the one thing we can always do.


  5. Rose
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 11:29:49

    Sweet Denise,

    Thank you for sharing all those moments and thoughts with us. Going back to certain memories and feeling the feelings all over again it’s not easy. I don’t have much to say, because there isn’t much that can be said. I just want you to know that I’m thinking of you and your beautiful son.




    • Denise
      Jan 21, 2016 @ 14:12:30

      I’m more able to think about how wonderful it was when Philip was here and not just about the fact that he’s died. His presence is so real – I am blessed with that.

      Much love to you, Rose xoxoxo


  6. deeincollingo
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 11:48:55

    Thinking of you, Denise.


  7. lensgirl53
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 12:16:19

    I pray for God’s blessings to give you peace and strength to face today. Love and hugs ~ Dale


  8. Robin
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 12:56:57

    Your words are very thought provoking. When I got to work today, I learned of the passing of a colleague’s family member. Several people offered their condolences and my colleague replied with one email to all and quoted the late Jean-Paul Sartre who said, “I think of death only with tranquility, as an end. I refuse to let death hamper life. Death must enter life only to define it.” For me, it gave me closure after reading your post. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the quote, but it spoke to me as a different manner of living in the land of no good-byes. xo


    • Denise
      Jan 21, 2016 @ 14:04:11

      “Death must enter life only to define it.” For sure – I can’t imagine being here forever, don’t know why anyone would want to.


  9. New John
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 13:19:46

    Happy birthday, Philip.

    “The place of no good-byes – if I have to think of him in a place, then let that be the one.”

    Beautiful thought.


  10. pedro
    Jan 21, 2016 @ 21:10:25

    Pedro was here to say, well done! You Touched a lot of people. Good for us there was you.

    Love You


  11. Denise
    Jan 22, 2016 @ 08:25:11

    What a lovely thing to say – love you back!


  12. Tori
    Jan 22, 2016 @ 19:13:39

    Made me cry.


  13. Aimee
    Jan 23, 2016 @ 21:38:08

    Thinking of you on this day.


  14. Denise
    Jan 24, 2016 @ 10:32:11

    Thank you, Aimee – and I hope all is well with you and your son.


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