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Monday, November 17, 2014

My son is dead

As I hiked in the hills near my house with the dog this morning, we came across two other dogs and their owners. One of the dogs was named Riley. I almost managed the courage to say, “I had a son named Riley and he died four weeks ago.” But the words failed to emerge from my mouth and I wondered if sharing that news with a complete stranger was worth it. I ultimately did not share. What would I get out of it?

Practice, I suppose.
Would you like to hear about my dead son?

The family who lives next door to us doesn’t know that my son has died. We don’t really know them. We wave when we see each other. We’ve invited them to various backyard parties, my kids wanted their grown-up son to babysit them, they had an old yellow lab who died recently. But we don’t know them. One of the worst things that can happen to a family has actually happened to the family who lives 15 feet west of them and they have no idea. None. It's not their fault. It's just reality. Our other neighbors that share our side fence don’t know either. Should I put notes in their mailboxes?

I’ve wondering if there some sort of grief flag I’m supposed to hang from a tree in the front yard. I’ve wondered if I’m supposed to put a sign in the front windows of the house. Or on my car. I’ve thought about creating some kind of grief band to wear around my arm. It would say something like, “My son just died.” Our society needs some kind of indicator to give the grieving a little way to acknowledge what has happened. A quiet way to acknowledge that walking through the Trader Joe’s or Walgreens is surreal when your child has died. So that others may tread lightly. So that perhaps we’ll see others with grief bands and know that we aren’t the only people to experience this silent and isolating misery. Maybe then we'll feel slightly less isolated, even if we don't feel any less miserable.

I imagine at some point in the future, the neighbors will ask at one of our kids’ lemonade stands: “Where’s your brother? The one with the glasses?” At that point, the kids will say: “Oh, Riley? He died…” A look of confusion will surely consume their faces followed by an awkward series of questions and the inevitable, “I can’t believe we didn’t know.”

It's strange that I cannot manage to speak this news to people--like the man walking his four-legged, rhodesian ridgeback Riley--given I want nothing more than the world to keep talking about him, thinking about him, and seeing his light radiate through everyone who knew and loved him. Shine it out. Yet, I am silent. I'm mainly hiding away, avoiding the conversations, the looks, the inevitable sobbing that comes with talking about my amazing son. Did you know that he could draw the 50 United States from memory? Including state capitals? How I wish I had taken a video of him at the chalkboard as he demonstrated this skill.

I know that me staying hidden away is different from not knowing how to tell the neighbors or avoiding eye contact at the store, but both are about acknowledging what has happened. Sharing the news of his death with the world has been something I haven’t figured out yet. I’m sure if I looked, I’d find some kind of etiquette pamphlet about this kind of thing. This unbelievable, horrible thing.


  1. Dearest, I wish I could guard you as we did November 1st, make you an arm band, draw a sign, walk ahead of you and explain to others what has happened. I would do anything to make any of this, even the tiniest bit easier xxoo. I love you.

  2. I took my son to his boy scout meeting tonight. They had a moment of silence in memory of Riley. There must have been 60 boys in that hall, and for those few minutes, the silence was so peaceful yet so overwhelming. My heart was incredibly heavy thinking about his mother. On the way home I asked my son if he had ever met Riley. He said "only once and he was really nice to me". I simply wanted to say I am so incredibly sorry for the loss of your beautiful son. Thank you for sharing your truth.

    1. Thank you for telling me Angela. I do find some comfort knowing that every now and again there are bits of the world thinking about him. That he had this whole community of friends and acquaintances who knew him or had only met him once, like your son. He was part of the world, his own unique part, out there being nice to others, impacting people in a small, but positive way.

  3. Anonymous10:12 AM

    I wish it would help, telling you what my Mom and Dad did nearly 40 years ago when my sister died. All I remember is that they just kept going. We all did. I remember wanting time to go backwards to her being alive or far forwards to a time where it wouldn't hurt so bad. Anything but that feeling like a coffee can full of nails in my stomach. When that feeling finally left I started wanting it back because it connected me to her. I remember being told how I could never be happy again or how it was really going to hit me someday or how I wasn't doing it right. Grief is different for each person. I felt like running and being in nature are what saved me. I've heard it worked for others.
    Love, Thom

  4. I'm new here and it looks like you're one year out. I'm one week in. My beautiful, vibrant, healthy 11 year old daughter had a small blood vessel burst in her brain on a regular Saturday morning. It was something we never would have known about, something that apparently was inevitable. Everybody knows. There are hundreds of purple ribbons tied on everything in our neighborhood, there are outpourings of love and support and way too many flowers and food. There are meetings happening at schools and Girl Scout groups planning on commemorative benches and ceremonies and I'm just trying to come to terms with how many bananas to buy for a family of three. It sucks.