“In Memory”

I watched “Outlander” recently. (SPOILER ALERT: if you’re planning on watching it, you might not want to read the next few paragraphs.) The protagonists are Claire and Jaime, who are deeply in love. At one point, the story jumps forward twenty years and we see Claire visiting Jamie’s grave. She’d just come from the wake of a reverend she’d known for many years. At the wake was a young man the reverend had taken in as a child and raised and who was grieving the reverend. He sat down to talk to Claire. “How do you say good-bye?” he asked. “I don’t know,” she answered.

Claire sat at the grave for a while. For twenty years she’d been missing Jaime. She talked to him, then told him she was going to say something she’s never said before. And what she said was,” Good-bye.”

Fuck that.

Philip once told me he was in the place of no good-byes. Why would anyone want to say good-bye to someone they love? It’s bad enough they’re dead. But you still love them and so can have a relationship with them. Not the one you want, but the one you have. To say “good-bye” is to cut off. I don’t believe one can really say “good-bye” to someone they love deeply. And a child? Can one really say that to their child? Because when someone you love dies, when your child dies, your life changes irrevocably. You can go back to your job and back to the gym and continue doing whatever you were doing before death paid a visit. But you’ve changed, you feel the loss hovering always in the background.

It is not your child you say good-bye to, it is not your child you let go of. What you stop resisting is the fact of what death has taken from you, all the pain that it makes you feel. Not at first, not all at once. But grief opens up spaces within us. Those spaces make us vulnerable not only to heartbreak, but to joy. Joy seems to have no place here. But the joy of the love between you and your child remains. Nothing, not even death, can take that away.

Would that I pay attention to my words.

“In Memory.” Words I want to run from. They, along with “Rest in Peace,” are some of the most devastatingly sad words I know. Last week, Thursday, February 23rd, was the fifth anniversary of Philip’s death. My brother and sister-in-law, who never forget, made a donation to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in memory of him. Those two words were on the front of the card that came to tell me. “In Memory.” No, I want to cry out. He’s not just a memory, he’s more than that. But is he? Philip is round me. He talks to me, comforts me, sends me signs every day. I try to stay there, in that grace. But then there’s the other side, the fact of sight and touch, the conversations, all the things I miss because he isn’t here the way I want him to be.

Fighting that is useless. I know this. I don’t blame anyone for Philip’s death, I don’t think “God” did this. God doesn’t meddle in people’s lives, but he sure makes a good scapegoat. I don’t fret that there’s something I could have done, if only I… There wasn’t anything I could have done. Philip’s death is something that happened to us and we are in this together. Wishing things were otherwise is a waste of time, time that could be spent in life, life that feels like forever without Philip here but will feel like a blip when I face my own death. Where did it all go, I will wonder. Am I ready? It won’t matter. Ready or not, when it’s time, it’s time. Death is the one certainty in life.

This anniversary was particularly difficult. I didn’t go to work. I spent the morning with Natalie and the rest of the day with Kirsten. But I could take no comfort, in spite of all the ways Kirsten took care of me, in spite of the fact that people reached out to say they cared. My boss, who I’ve known for two and a half weeks, reached out to me. Phil called me first thing in the morning. I could have cried. What would it be like, I wonder, if we were still together, if I had him to talk to about Philip because he is his father, because we were a family. I envy people who have each other when tragedy strikes. But we live with the choices we make, fantasies notwithstanding. Tragedies tear people apart probably as often as they bring them together.

Still, I’m lonely. I’m lonely for Philip, lonely in my grief for him. My mind goes to terrible places. It’s hard to talk about. I had a difficult childhood. For so long I wished I was dead – what other way was there to stop the pain? I tried drugs and alcohol but all that did was land me in AA. Somewhere along the line I lost any appreciation I might have had for being alive. I have not recovered. When I see my daughter, my heart springs open. She is my love. But when she’s not here, it’s almost like she doesn’t exist. When she leaves I’m back to my lonely world, the one I’ve created in my head. And Thursday, no matter who was around or who reached out, I couldn’t take it in. There was no place I wanted to be. And this is what I meant about it being hard to talk about – so often I just don’t want to be here, to be part of this. So often I feel living is hard and sorrowful more than anything else. There are people who are sick and dying and scared, and here I am, alive and well, often wishing I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. What regrets am I going to have when it’s my time to die?

Last Thursday I cried to be where Philip was, so great was my grief. I haven’t cried in a long time. I’ve felt myself going dead these last months rather than feel anything that hurts. But I can’t cut off one part of myself without affecting the whole. I can’t keep out pain without keeping out peace.

© 2017 Denise Smyth


10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Rosangela Vidotto
    Feb 27, 2017 @ 11:53:38


    I’m speechless. I have no words right now to say to you, because my heart is filled with all sorts of emotions, but one little thing I have to say is that you are so strong, and that is something that will remain with you until your last day here.

    I’m here, far but close, quiet but no absent.




  2. lensgirl53
    Feb 27, 2017 @ 14:43:56

    Because of my own circumstances, the word “trigger” upsets me along with all the words and phrases you have mentioned. I guess it’s all the sensitivity that comes with grief. You have written all of my own thoughts and feelings. I wish that neither one of us and those parents who can relate ever had to experience the sorrow of a child’s death….even th a word “death” I avoided in the earlier time of my loss. Too hard to write…or say.

    My heart is grieving with yours. God bless you and hold you up, Denise.


    • Denise
      Mar 01, 2017 @ 08:10:34

      God bless you too, Dale. Such quiet sorrow we live with. Sometimes it’s worse than others. I take no comfort in spring – much as February is the month Philip died in, it makes me feel close to him. March tears me away, brings spring, everything coming to life, but our boys are not. The months the weather warms up are the worst for me. But it will pass, like everything else. I take no comfort in that, either.

      So good to hear from you – I think of you often, and, as always, wish you whatever peace you can find.


  3. Pedro
    Feb 27, 2017 @ 20:37:50

    I was Here today, That’s all the wisdom I have at this point.


  4. vera elisabeth
    Feb 27, 2017 @ 22:58:01

    All the words and phrases bring back the fact that our children are not here. So rather than being comforting , the words bring pain. Our pain is real and will never go away and because acceptance is hard , that’s what makes reality all that much harder. I am with you in Spirit and sending you peace and strength now, and in all the moments of missing Philip.


    • Denise
      Mar 01, 2017 @ 08:13:53

      Yes, acceptance is hard, too hard. I think of it as no resistance; struggling against the pain only makes more suffering. The Buddha said something like, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. There’s much wisdom in that, difficult as it is to live that way.

      Sending peace and strength right back to you – this isn’t what we signed on for, but it’s what we have. May we help each other through.


  5. candidkay
    Mar 16, 2017 @ 17:58:40

    I wish there was something I could say or do. I know there is not. But I hold you in good thoughts & prayers, wishing you peace.


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