The Leap

“Leap and the net will appear.”
John Burroughs

Philip’s phone line is still active. For $10 a month we get to call his phone and hear his voicemail voice. The automated  lady announces him, so all he says is his name, “Phil Smyth.” It doesn’t even sound like him. He’d started calling himself “Phil.” But he will ever be Philip to me.

His mailbox is full. I called Verizon once. “My son has died,” I cried. “I want to hear his messages.” The woman was kind. You need his phone, she told me. Call back when you have it and we’ll change the password so you can get into his phone and retrieve his messages.

I talked to Phil about it. He thought I was nuts, was reluctant to give me the phone, I didn’t push it. But now I want it. I want to do this. I want to read his texts, I want to hear what messages people left him. I don’t care if it tears me apart. These last months I’ve been so removed, so out of touch with what I feel about Philip that I’d like to be ripped open. I’d like to see if there’s something more to me than this surface life I feel I’m living.

I’ve talked about grief being a spiral, not a straight line where you start to get “better” and continue along. Grief expands and contracts, triggered by memory, triggered by love. And I’ve spiraled to the outer edges, to a place where I no longer try to make sense of Philip’s death or my life. I’m not stepping back, I make things too real, get too caught up. I am not steady. Tune into me and I’m comforted. Say something contrary and I make myself small as I can. Less of a moving target, less of me to feel pain.

I don’t write much because I have nothing to say. At least, that’s what I feel like. What am I to talk about? Can I keep telling you about Philip? I make no sense of his death now. I cry, I’m angry, I’m disconnected. Disconnected is the worst. I’d rather weep until my eyeballs fall out than be disconnected. Didn’t I say I wanted to make meaning, that what anything  meant was up to me? Didn’t I write reams about “Accept it, Leave it, Change it?” Wasn’t I in touch with the grace that is the other side of death? At least for a moment? Didn’t I believe?

I am a mother whose son has died. Every day I feel that. I don’t think about it in any useful way. I feel about it, feelings that shift with the wind. Diminished. Resigned. Angry. Bitter. Despair. Helpless. Disconnected. Then I look at his portrait for a while and know how deeply I love him and I weep.

I start a new job tomorrow. During the interview I told them Philip died. I don’t know why I said it – what did that have to do with the job? It didn’t. It had to do with me. That he died is an essential fact of my life and if I’m going to spend time with people, they have to know. That’s why I told them.

I decided months ago it was time for a new job. What angst over my resume, in spite of the fact that I had two friends willing to help. I can’t do it, I thought. Because I don’t know how to write about myself, because I don’t have a degree, because I think the world is my enemy and anyone interviewing me will shake their head and dismiss me. Because that’s the way my crazy brain works even though none of that’s true. And I have a resume – it just needed to be updated. Back in 2011 when I was looking for a job, I paid someone $500 to write my resume. She also wrote my LinkedIn profile, several cover letters, went over job-hunting strategies. I’ll put it in her hands again, I thought. Let her do what I can’t.

When I called her I found out she doesn’t update resumes. She takes you through the whole spiel for $1500. When I told her that was too expensive, she referred me to someone who charges less. For a mere $700 I could have a new resume.

I actually considered it. I wanted to pay to get this burden off me. She’ll make look good, I thought. I need someone to make me look good because I am not good at all.

God I’m sick of myself. At least, that side of myself. Not sick enough to be rid of it, though.

For several months I had anxiety about my resume. I’ll do it over Thanksgiving weekend, I said. I didn’t. I’ll do it over Christmas vacation, I said. The pressure was on. Work was getting difficult and with the new year coming I wanted to make a new start. I might  have been anxious about the resume, but the need to leave was stronger. Finally, I did it.

During my Christmas vacation I went to Kirsten’s house. Why don’t you google resumes, she suggested. Duh. So I googled exactly what I am – Construction Administrative Assistant. And there it was – a whole resume full of bullet points that said what I did more elegantly than I could have on my own. With Kirsten’s help I wrote my resume, wrote a cover letter and found a job ad on Craig’s List for an Administrative Assistant for a construction company.

After months of agonizing over all this, here’s what happened: Sunday I send the resume. Monday I get the call. Tuesday I get the interview. Wednesday I get the job.

Am I not blessed? How do I not get this?

Lately I’ve turned Philip’s death into a weapon against myself. I am damaged goods. I am angry I have to be this mom. I’m resentful because life goes on and it doesn’t care about Philip’s death. And that is not about grief as much as it’s about the way I have of talking to myself when I’m not vigilant. Let me be the voice in your head, Philip tells me. And if I did, none of this is what I’d be hearing.

I need to hold close the fact that everything passes. Life is in motion, ever changing. Every change is a little death. It’s also a chance to let go, to leap into the great unknown. One day I will pass, too, take the greatest leap of all. And when my time comes will I feel I wasted it in apathy, in anger? My life with Philip is forever changed – we will never be the way we were, but we are something different. His presence is as strong as ever – when I pay attention. You’d think I’d pay attention because that’s when I feel closest to him, this child that I need as much as I need air and food and water.

I no longer can live with his body, but I certainly can live in his love.

© 2017 Denise Smyth


20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Robin
    Jan 29, 2017 @ 18:43:04

    I feel the pain in your journey and I don’t have an answer, but I do have a few words that may help put things on perspective. You have a 100% average when it comes to getting through all the miserable, dark times in your life. If you think about that, maybe it will make it a bit better knowing that you always come through:) xoxo Robin


  2. jmgoyder
    Jan 29, 2017 @ 19:35:33

    I wish I could think of some words of comfort but I can’t. All I can say is that the way you write with such grace about the worst thing in the world, losing Philip, somehow honours him. The way you speak of him makes me think I know him too. You may not realise how much you are helping me deal with my own son’s depression, and my own – lately it has been very dark. Wishing you well in the new job and lots of love.


    • Denise
      Jan 30, 2017 @ 05:06:38

      Julie, it must be awful to watch Ming’s depression. You can’t make that go away for him and who wants to watch their child suffer? Especially when you suffer from the same thing yourself. I’m no stranger to depression and know how dark and ugly it makes the world. If I’m at all helpful, then I’m grateful. If you’re ever in need of another ear, you can always email me – I hope you know that. Thinking of you with much love.


      • jmgoyder
        Jan 30, 2017 @ 05:21:45

        Thanks Denise – he has this awful underbelly of darkness and today is one of those days. I am his punching bag (verbally) and feel helpless to help him any more than I already have!

  3. Karen Kent
    Jan 29, 2017 @ 20:23:14

    I’ve been feeling the same way you do. I hate being this type of mother.Wishing you the best with your new job.


    • Denise
      Jan 30, 2017 @ 05:10:46

      Thank you, Karen, and I’m sorry you’re going through this. We are part of a club we never, ever wanted to join. Wishing you peace wherever you can find it.


  4. godtisx
    Jan 30, 2017 @ 02:15:08

    I understand this:

    “That he died is an essential fact of my life and if I’m going to spend time with people, they have to know. That’s why I told them.” I feel the same about a loved one. Keep telling them Denise.

    I also understand this:

    “I’m resentful because life goes on and it doesn’t care about Philip’s death.” The whole world is the enemy for me too. Your son’s death and my mom’s – is. It deserves to be remembered. That is all I can offer.


    • Denise
      Jan 30, 2017 @ 05:08:46

      Death – does one ever get used to it? It is a fact of life, it happens every minute of every day, yet it shocks and devastates. I take small comfort that at least we’re in this together.


  5. jillberke88
    Jan 30, 2017 @ 09:40:12

    Denise, first I feel your pain and anguish. Then you write about the other side – your strength to consider a new job, redo your resume and shine in the interview. Somehow you transcend the depths of losing Phillip and all that means to letting your life force guide you to working in a place that hopefully is a better fit. Telling your new employer that you have a son who died was spontaneously honest. Perhaps it was also a plea for understanding the struggle their new employee undergoes each day. I wish you continued strength to stay engaged and involved in work and life. You have my respect and support and affection as you continue this journey of living with grief and life goals. Finding our way with dignity and balance is the human challenge when we are kicked in the gut and can barely breathe. We go on, ultimately finding that sweet spot that arouses our gratitude for what we do have. Nothing can negate or erase the death of Philip. But some things can ease our way, like friendship, love, supporting ourselves, helping others. Above all, keep writing! You help me to keep sane while my adult son continues to exile me from his life. It’s a death of a relationship, and the ending can change, I realize, but I am heartbroken each day that brings no contact. I try to practice what I preach: living at my best level to enjoy the quality of life I am blessed with and appreciate the love and support I do have, despite the pain of this loss.


    • Denise
      Jan 31, 2017 @ 19:55:19

      Jill, you are lovely. Reading what you wrote, I see how differently it looks from another point of view. I don’t feel like I’m “strong.” I feel like I do what I have to do. Like I have to work, so I do it. I don’t consider that it does take something to leave a job that I probably could’ve had the rest of my life for something more challenging, something that’s got me out of my comfort zone.

      You are so right – love and friendship can ease the pain. Like reading what you wrote and knowing you care, you’re paying attention So thank you. And I am so sorry about your son – what a burden to carry. Losing your child in any way is devastating. But there you are, with grace and dignity. You are an inspiration, you know – and I am grateful for your friendship.


  6. Rosangela Vidotto
    Jan 30, 2017 @ 11:51:04

    Denise, life is really something…every time I start to think about you, and want to send you a message you ended up writing something here. It’s been almost 4yrs, or a bit more perhaps, that I first came in contact with your blog. Your life story, has changed me, helped me, and made me see in a very deep and strong way, how a human being, can support and overcome what I believe is the worst pain of all. I can only relate to you as a mother, of also 2 children, also a boy and girl. I can’t relate to you when it comes to losing one of them. But, as a mother, I can’t even fathom the tought of losing one of my children. I feel for you as a mother, and as a woman. I remember telling you a while ago, that unfortunately I can’t walk your path for you, but I can certainly hold your hand, give you confort, and listen to you while you walk your path. And, this statement is still held true. I’m still here.

    After reading all the posts you released all these years, and understanding you a bit better, and in a certain way watch you and how you deal with your pain and life, I can say that I’m really proud of you. I’m proud that you have had the strenght to continue leaving your life, and did not succumb to depression, regrets and other sad feelings that would ended up pushing you deep down a dark whole. I’m proud of you for continue trying, and for all the posts, that have helped so many deal with their own issues, and has also made so many people aware of how life can change quickly as in a blink of an eye. I’m also proud that amongst all the feelings you cary inside of you, you found the one to push you forward and help you find a new path, a new job, a new beginning. That is fantastic!

    I”m proud of you, as I’m sure others close to you are too.

    When life presents us with a pool full of bad feelings, all we can do is to keep swimming through the bad current. Even though, our brain might tells us to stop swimming, our hearts I’m sure, won’t stop telling us to keep going forward. As we know, or at least we should know that everything in life will pass. Either good or bad, it will all go away. And, we just have to keep moving.

    I’m soooo very happy for you, and for your new job. A fresh start is always a good source of fuel for our hearts.

    Take care, and don’t forget to keep moving…..




    • Denise
      Jan 31, 2017 @ 20:06:38

      How wonderful to hear from you! What you write is always thoughtful and heartfelt, and I continue to be amazed and grateful that you say what I write helps you. I live so much in my head that I forget there are people paying attention.

      I know you sympathize with me as a mother, that you understand the depth of my loss. But there you are, telling me about yourself and encouraging me. You’ve no idea how much that helps. You’re the second person here telling me I have strength, much as it doesn’t feel that way to me. I just do what I have to do. I don’t see it as strength as much as necessity.

      I appreciate your encouragement. I spent the first two days of my new job feeling sick to my stomach, full of anxiety. I can’t do this, I can’t learn this, when the woman I’m replacing leaves everyone’s going to see I’m a failure, blah blah blah. And I couldn’t turn it off. I was in some drama in my head. I wasn’t breathing. But tonight I’m feeling better about it. I expect too much of myself. I expect that I’m supposed to know everything the woman who’s been there for 17 years knows after two days. I need to learn to give myself a break.

      So much love to you Rose – you are loving and kind and we may not be in touch
      that often, but what a comfort to know you’re there. xoxoxoxo


  7. Pedro
    Jan 30, 2017 @ 20:37:10

    I’m so glad you posted! Its clear by all the comments that readers have been keeping an eye out for you. They look for your comforting thoughts and I’m sure they have been concerned for you do to your absence in writing. For those who share in your or know your loss, you offer the gift of Human solidarity. For those of us who haven’t suffered the same, you bring us closer to understanding.



    • Denise
      Jan 31, 2017 @ 20:09:11

      Your friendship means much to me and I love that you look for me to post. It makes me smile. ;o) I’ve told you it’s been difficult for me to write. Maybe I just opened the door a little.

      Hey – do you miss me?? ;o)


  8. Pedro
    Feb 01, 2017 @ 07:07:23

    I miss you very much!


  9. Denise
    Feb 05, 2017 @ 07:39:37



  10. Kathy Krickett
    Feb 06, 2017 @ 15:08:58

    I appreciated your post and the courage it gave me to face my own challenges. One of which is getting a new job. I desperately need to get out of the place I am currently working at and have been slow to update my resume. Your post gave me hope. Thank you for your honesty and for continuing to move on, everyday, with this incredible loss in your life. Please keep writing . . . . you’re helping someone else . . . especially me today.


    • Denise
      Feb 06, 2017 @ 18:39:35

      If I help at all, I’m grateful. You know, I think I was more anxious about getting my resume done than actually job hunting (not that I was looking forward to that – bleh). When I have to do something I really don’t want to do, I break it down into smaller bits. So I told myself all I had to do was write my resume – that’s it. Not worry about getting a job, not even worry about a cover. Just write my resume. After that, the cover letter. Then I was ready to go.

      Maybe you could try that – just update your resume. Of course, we can’t do anything until we’re up against the wall, right? I was at the point where the pain of staying in my job was worse than the anxiety about writing my resume. – that’s what got me moving.

      So go ahead – take the leap! ;o)


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