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Monday, May 11, 2015

Grief and lies

When my kids were small, we would walk hand in hand to school. I’d be sandwiched between two blond boys with a pair of velcroed shoes on my left and laced ones to my right. Riley would try to roll the skin between my thumb and first finger. We’d sing catchy tunes from the radio and skip and talk about what playdates we’d have and when and what we’d have for dinner that night and whether grandma was going to be watching them because I had class.

grief bereaved mom
Notes from classmates
I’d walk them through their elementary school’s corridors right up to their classrooms and watch as they unpacked their lunch boxes and hung their backpacks on their hooks on the walls decorated with butterflies and ladybugs. They’d send me off with tight hugs and professions of love. Sweet, sweet boys. “You’re meeting me at the flagpole after school, right?” The answer was always yes. Then they’d scurry into their rooms and find their assigned seats.

I was often at school. Over the years, I’ve been a volunteer art teacher and a volunteer gardening teacher. Every Wednesday for two years, I read in C’s classroom. I talked to 4th graders about the books they’d been reading, helped with classroom parties, made grand trays of caprese salad for the end-of-year picnics and attended music concerts and plays and dined in the Scat Cat Cafe hosted in Riley’s 2nd grade classroom.

Since October, I’ve been to the elementary school three times--once on the morning when C resumed 3rd grade after Riley died, once for his parent-teacher conference, and once for his glee concert last Friday. For the concert, I stood in the rear corner and sobbed. Between songs, I stepped through the open door to get fresh tissues and breathe the outside air deeply, trying to settle myself. I avoided other parents and bolted for home after the applause faded and C said goodbye to his buddies.

C takes himself to and from school on his scooter these days. But per his request, I’ve recently started meeting him halfway down our street. At 2:30, I wander toward school and he races toward home and we meet somewhere in the middle, usually just around the bend from the house with the metal dragon sculpture in the front garden. C is usually the only person I talk to on those journeys, just the way I like it.

But last week, my neighbor was tending some shrub or other as we passed. I flinched as he looked toward us. “How’s it going?” he asked. “Hanging in there,” I lied, after a slight pause. I stole that line from my other neighbor who recently lost her husband. It’s a non-answer, really, and it's probably the first time I've answered that question without using the words terrible, heartbroken, or not so good. Those responses seem to stump people, and I didn't have the energy to engage with him about my reality. The one where I want to do nothing but sleep because when I'm sleeping, I don't know that Riley is dead. And let's be honest, most people don't actually want to know how I'm doing.

How I long to go back in time and walk those boys to school again. The uncertainty of Riley's health was always the undercurrent in my daily life, but that uncertainty was far more palatable than this reality.


  1. one breath at a time.

  2. Eliza Welch Sears10:04 AM

    Hi Suzanne, I am so sorry about Riley and your loss. . .I am writing to tell you that I am with you on this most difficult of journeys. At times, i feel as though you have stolen the words from my lips or plucked the thoughts right out of my head (although you write them so much more eloquently than I ever could). I lost my 6 1/2 year old son, Caleb, on March 15th of this year and life as we knew it changed forever. The loneliness, the isolation, even when surrounded by the closest of friends and family, is staggering. I am just across the bay if you ever want to connect or I can just be a mother who is so grateful for the blog you write and the feeling you share.

  3. “My heart is broken,” I cried,
    my tears indistinguishable from the sea,
    as if I had cried the whole ocean.

    Whale rolled her great body,
    so that I sank into one large eye, and she sang:

    “Love is a way of living.
    Love is an empty box.

    Love is a web of diamonds,
    that will catch you, and cut you if you struggle,
    and then, dissolve, like the sparkles of light
    on the waves of the ocean.

    Love is a fountain of light in the darkness.
    Love is the darkness, beyond the blinding light.”

    As she and I sank, into the blackness below,
    I knew the darkness was not for me -- not yet.

    I knew that I must, somehow, return to the light,
    without being blinded,
    and wrap myself in that net again,
    without being cut.

    I shall fill that empty box,
    with forgiveness, with memories, and with joy.
    I shall imagine your hand in mine,
    but only sometimes,
    and I shall walk again in beauty,
    and I shall live each day,
    following the way of love.