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Sunday, January 04, 2015

Grief and light

As I sat on the sofa in my friend’s mountain house, a ball of light burst onto the painting of trees opposite me. The condensed glow was the tired afternoon sun splashing its last rays before drowning, and I was entranced because in it, I saw you, sweet boy. That splash of light was you in the room with me in the mountains, a place we didn’t go together when you were alive because elevation was not a place you were allowed to visit. The altitude could not provide you with enough oxygen. But there you were for a few minutes. And just like your short life, the glow inched to the edge and disappeared. Then the trees on the painting, just like my life, were dark. You were gone.

As the light glided across the picture, my husband sat and watched it with me for several minutes. He
Moonlight and death
Moonlight and death
saw a bright spot on the wall, the simplicity of the setting sun. I found the profundity of your soul or your energy or whatever you want to call that thing I need to believe still swirls among the atoms in my universe now that your physicality from it is gone. Nothing has face value anymore. It was you. I know it was. It has to be because seeing you in the inanimate things around me is the only option from now on.

Green was your favorite color. Your favorite shorts were green; your school binder was green; the comforter you chose for your bed was green. You wanted to paint the walls of your bedroom green. So what do I do? I see you in the greens of nature. I see you in the shade of green that we painted our front door. And just as I saw you in the vertical beam of light on the wall after your heart stopped in October 2014, I see you in every lighted spot the sun manages to push through window shades and door jams. But the fleeting beams of sunlight and the green paint and sprigs of grass and spindly pine needles are pointless because they bring you no closer.

Yet finding you all around is what people want me to do. “We do these things to remember him and to nurture this new relationship we have with him,” someone told me. I don’t want a new relationship with my eleven-and-a-half-year-old son. Yet, what choice do I have other than to adapt? The relationship we had is never coming back.

Even with the green and the glowing reminders, I don’t need visual cues to think of you. I breathe you; I exhale you; you are always sitting on my lap and holding my hand, in my mind. You are humming as you etch the math answers onto the paper, in my mind. You are peeling garlic next to me, popping raw cloves into your mouth, in my mind. You are organizing your bottles of Tabasco so that all of the bottles are neatly facing forward, in my mind. You are petting the dog, shouting: “Pepper’s tail just hit me in the penis” just so you could say “penis” loudly in the living room, your smile counteracting your attempt at indignation, in my mind. All of it, only in my mind.

Let’s be honest, shall we? Moving through grief is all about me accepting the world as it is, with exactly the people who tread upon it—no one more, no one less—is it not? One day I will go to buy groceries without feeling panicked when my husband is not in my line of vision. One day I will go to the café and order a latte with a friend. One day—I am told—that your memory will make me smile instead of burn with the need for your forgiveness. Only then will I stop pleading: “ Please forgive me, Riley,” my nightly mantra as I will you into my dreams.


  1. Sad and beautiful post once again. Reminds me of the Gilbran verse: When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

    When you are ready, I think you would like my friend Julia Hallisy who lives in SF. Like you, she is whip smart, honest and a survivor. Here's her bio:

  2. Suzanne, thank you for sharing your private communication with Riley. Remember you were there for him for all those years and you remain linked with him. Proof is right before your eyes. You were poised to find him, within the light, at that exact moment. What a beautiful happening. I am so touched by your love for each other. Always Jackson, Sammy and QuInn's Grammy Patty