If you are reading this and have lost a child, the first thing you should know is how truly sorry I am for you. The second thing you should know is that you are not alone. And the third thing you already know is that the first two things are probably of little comfort right now. I know, because I too have lost a child. It is my hope that something I’ve learned along the way can be of help, however small. The process of grieving is a long one, but I can offer you hope and healing one day. If you have been spared this loss and find yourself on this site because of a personal relationship with Mason, you may want to skip ahead to the next entry which begins at the end of his life, moves on to remember an ever-evolving, truly unique soul and eventually ends with the beginning of hope.
There are no shortcuts on the path to healing. I still walk that path, maybe slightly ahead of you or maybe slightly behind you. Even so, I can’t say that I know how you feel, because every experience is as unique as the life that was lost and the family left behind to mourn. Let your family, friends and faith accompany you on this journey, understanding that grief has to be experienced. It is not optional. We must be willing to walk through our grief, knowing one day we will walk beyond it. Our loss will accompany us the rest of our days, but at some point during the process of grieving, our perspective will evolve bringing with it the ability to integrate the memories of our child’s life less structured around grief and more structured around love.
We share something, you and I. We belong to an exclusive club we never asked to join. To qualify for membership, you have to have suffered the unimaginable loss of a child. At the beginning, surviving the rite of initiation into this club feels improbable, if not impossible. And indeed your own survival may not be something that concerns you one way or the other. You know only that your child is gone, you’ve lost your baby, no matter the age. But time passes, one hour at a time, one day at a time, till one day the veil of grief parts ever so slightly and reveals just a hint of desire to more fully inhabit the life you now own. This is a good time to put your thoughts and emotions into form. You may want to write the story of your child’s life or death. You may prefer to paint a picture, meditate, join a support group, compose a song, plant a garden, volunteer, become an advocate, run a marathon. It’s the process that’s important, not the medium. Whatever you choose should speak to your soul and give voice to your pain. Talk, cry, scream if so moved. Hold on and let time pass. Grief is not unlike a teacher you may have had who was especially hard on you, one who wouldn’t let up until you learned what it was you needed to know. You will learn from grief and eventually you may even be wiser, but the lessons learned and the wisdom gained are hard won and costly beyond words.
As a grieving parent, you may have the desire, even the compulsion, to hold all the memories of your child inside you, lest you forget. So many of these moments are swirling around in your mind and filling your heart that you may feel anxious that a detail of your child’s life, or even of their death, may be lost. So write the memories down. For the time being, put them in a safe place outside of your heart and mind.
If fortunate (and I realize thinking yourself fortunate is relative), you will have someone who shares your pain and feels your loss; your spouse, children, siblings or parents. Let them be your strength. Eventually, you will regain the desire and the ability to feel the love that still exists in your life, including the love you will always have for the child you have lost, alongside the love of the family and friends who stand next to you. If you’re a relative or friend of someone who has suffered the loss of a child, the greatest service you can do is to listen. Don’t judge, don’t edit and don’t try to fix things. You can’t. You can however, let them know they are being heard.
Writing has been my companion during the long days and nights since my son’s death. At times, it has been my lifeline. Writing allowed me to move some of the memories that I couldn’t bear to forget to a safe place, nearby. I hope you can find a safe place to put your memories. When we are stronger, more of them will find a permanent home in our hearts. But till then, we’ll keep the memories where we can always find them.
I will tell you my story because the telling is as important as the remembering. If you’d like to leave a comment, there’s a button following each entry. And if you’d like to share your story of loss and healing, regardless of where you are on the path, please visit the Share Your Story page. I’m certain we will feel a kinship.
But first, you should know how my son died.
My son, Mason, acquired what’s known as gram negative sepsis from having common dental work done: the simple reattachment of a crown that had become loose. However, when the dentist decided to do a full mouth debridement (a major teeth cleaning) during the same visit, bacteria that had been present under his crown was forcefully introduced into his bloodstream. This caused Lemierre’s Syndrome and a domino effect of devastating, life threatening conditions including liver and kidney failure, fusobacterium endocarditis, ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) and stroke. Mason spent three weeks in one of the best hospitals in the country, intubated, sedated, paralyzed and fighting for his life. We lost Mason on December 7th, 2009, less than three weeks before his 35th birthday. My son was a healthy, vibrant young man with his whole life ahead of him. Or so it had seemed. We held Mason’s Memorial Service at St. Philip Presbyterian Church on December 12th, 2009. The Service was performed by Mason’s uncle, William Poe. It was a fitting farewell to a remarkable man.
What follows are the letters I wrote to Mason in the months following his death. Though personal and specific to our loss, it is my hope you will feel a sense of recognition, acceptance and validation for what you are going through now, or in days past or in days yet to come. Some experiences are universal, even when the details are not. Unlike a typical blog, my entries begin at the beginning and move forward in time as does the grief and healing. Disregard the ‘Posted on’ dates. They only serve to put the entries in chronological order.
After each entry I have included the words of other more wise and articulate people who have walked with their own grief. These words have inspired, comforted and encouraged me. I hope they bring some peace to you now and some perspective to you in the future. (Click on photos to enlarge)
“…I put down these memorandums of my affections in honor of tenderness, in honor of all of those who have been conscripted into the brotherhood of loss…” – Edward Hirsch