the bottom of grief

Below is a guest post by Jodi:

remember me,

the one whose tears

will create another tsunami

                                -excerpt from Marcia Starck 2011

The sorrow and emptiness of Caemon’s absence has a crushing effect that gets heavier throughout the day, despite how well the day is going. Our last full day in Sedona we spent the day wandering around ancient ruins surrounded by the soaring red rocks, marveling at pictographs, petroglyphs, and crumbling cliff dwellings. It was magical. We went back to town dusty and tired, but so far maintaining our equilibrium as we sat down for Happy Hour at a local Mexican restaurant.  Soon, however, we were seated for dinner and staring at our menus in silence. The hours between 4-7pm seem to be the heaviest. This is normally the time of day that both of us would be off work and ready to play as a family and get ready for our nighttime routine of dinner, bath, stories, and bedtime. It feels wrong to be out having drinks, just the two of us, lost in our own empty spaces.

This same feeling had hit me earlier in the day when we passed several senior citizens on the trail; in fact, most of our fellow hikers and travelers were retirees. Surely their own children were off to college and beyond, leaving them free to roam and explore. What horrible lie was I living? I have a job, a family, and responsibilities! I shouldn’t be here; I should be hurrying home after a morning of teaching to have tuna sandwiches with my family before Caemon’s nap. But I wasn’t.  It was just the two of us again as it had been for 11 years.

The silence between us reached back to those years trying to find something to talk about, but of course talk of having a baby, wanting a family had dominated our conversations for years leading up to Caemon’s birth, so it’s natural for us to go to that familiar place. It’s a short-lived distraction to contemplate creating another family, though, and we drop the subject, knowing it is just too soon.

After dinner, we drove back to the ranch, and by the time we were parked, I was overcome with the need to escape the grief—two margaritas and a shot of tequila had not ameliorated the agony—if anything, it accentuated it. I walked in to the cottage and put down my pack, but the confines of the room set me into a panic. I turned and ran out the door, zigzagging up the trail behind the property.  By this time, I was sobbing, panting, blinded by tears, kicking up dust and rocks. I collapsed on all fours and wept, gulping for air, hands in the dirt, tears dripping on the red earth. My heart, my life, my whole self-image of who I am in the world was shattered; my life’s purpose vanished.

I was aware of Timaree standing behind me, but I was lost in the vacuum of my grief, and I heard my soul call out “Caemon!” I tried to articulate the entreaty using my voice, but it got stuck in the hiccups and moans. This feeling has no language; it’s primal and scary and fills up every crevice of my being. I tried again to release it to the red rocks: “Caaaaemon!” Nothing came out but a moan. Timaree scooped me off the ground and dragged me a little ways further up the trail. I looked out at the setting sun. The whole valley glowed orange but even its beauty could not console me. Slowly, slowly I caught my breath and fell into my wife’s arms. She steadied me as we both cried, and we eventually made our way back down to the ranch. I lay on the bed and stared at his picture on the mantle until finally giving in to exhaustion. I was at the bottom. My psyche could take no more, so I shut down and went to sleep. Sometimes that’s how the day ends. Sometimes it’s how it begins.

Two days later I was on a train staring out the window watching the sunrise with silent tears flowing down my cheeks, once again unable to stave off the memory of my son. With nowhere to run, I sat with it, breathed through it, closed my eyes and let memories of his beautiful smile fill my heart. In my mind, I kissed every inch of his sweet face, remembering the slope of his nose, the softness of his ear lobe. I took my time, rubbing my cheek against his, caressing his neck with my forefinger. I do this many times a day, and it provides a bit of respite from the grinding pain.

Is there a bottom to grief when one has lost a child? I don’t know. I know that my soul is beginning to seek a way forward, and while Timaree and I brainstorm ways to carry on Caemon’s legacy, I know I must also search for my own path. Who am I without him? Am I still a mamma? What is my life’s purpose? How can I pick up the shards of my shattered life and piece them back together? Is it possible to fashion a beautiful mosaic—a new, but different, fulfilled life—out of the ruins of the old?

I don’t know. I don’t know.


26 thoughts on “the bottom of grief

  1. Branndon James Frail You write viscerally. I have a son fighting S4 NB now. I have no words of advice except to continue to write. You are gifted both in writing and in your own cognizant primordial human emotion. I have his crocodile tatoos but felt I needed time to memorialize them. Mourn, mourn with the same intensity of love. Just know Love is enduring and pain is fleeting…both emotions that need each other to prove value yet different “shelf lifes”.I pray for the flicker of light that is in your periless darkness to grow to a raging fire of hope,comfort,and sustainable peace.May God be with you and comfort you as He has Caemon. I love you

  2. My heart aches for you & tears shed along with you. I pray somehow God’s peace that surpasses all understanding will help you soon. God bless you both.

  3. Timaree previewed this post as brave, and it is indeed; gut wrenching, painful, and nearing cathartic. Thank you for trusting us with this level of frank grief. I can imagine other grieving parents reading this and responding with a simple, “Yes. This.”

  4. I think of you both every day. The road is long, I hope you have people who can walk with you without expectation, without trying to fix the unfixable.
    Tricia (Australia)

  5. I have no words….I am just so sad and think of you guys every day. This is so not fair. I just hope it gets better with time, or at least won’t feel as if there is no end to the depths of your grief. Sending hugs and love, and healing to you both!

  6. how i long to have words of encouragement, of wisdom, of relief to offer. i don’t know the grief of losing my child, but i do know the intimate grief of losing a parent suddenly. what i know of this grief is that the terrain shifts. these crevasses turn to softer valleys sometimes. your deeper breaths return for awhile.

    i listened to the onbeing podcast the other day–an interview with storyteller kevin kling. he told many stories of being born with a disfigured arm, and then later paralyzing his working arm in a motorcycle. he shaped his whole worldview of loss on his arms. he said, “When you are born w/ loss, you grow from it. When you experience loss later in life, you grow toward it.”

    i thought of you and timaree, as you discover who you now are as individuals, as a couple.

    there are so many people surrounding you, holding you up.

    you and timaree are so loved.

  7. I don’t even know what to say. I can’t even begin to imagine the grief you are going through but you are still Caemons mama you were, are and always will be and nothing can change that! Praying for you all ❤

  8. Caemon was so lucky to have two wonderful parents. I don’t know you and I fell in love with Caemon the first time I came across your blog. I can tell from the writings of the both of you how you bothed loved that little boy to the ends of the earth. Not all children get that kind of selfless love. The universe doesn’t do things the way I think it should, that’s for sure. Things can be so senseless. For what it is worth, the three of you are loved and supported – even by strangers.

  9. Jodi, I think of you both and Caemon every day. You are never alone with all the love and support around you. And yet you alone are recovering from your personal loss. You will always be his mamma even though you are not doing mamma doings with your boy any more. I know you know that. The universe has something grand in mind for you and you will find it as you discover ways to carry on Caemon’s legacy. That will happen at the right time, and I hope the magic of what the universe has in mind for you pulls you forward with such force and love that you and Timaree will have no choice but to be lifted. For now I am crying with you and wishing we had been there more.

  10. My fear is that the pain is bottomless but my hope is that it is finite and that once you run out, the road to restructuring will be easier and more clear. Thank you for sharing your grief. I read your words and share glimpses of your pain in hopes that your release of those feelings here allows you some freedom from their weight. Your post is indeed beautiful yet ugly and so very brave. Sending my love and wishing small comforts for your and T every day.

  11. My experience of losing my mother as a child is that the depths of the pain never lessen, never shallow out the slightest little bit. It is the rest of the terrain that eventually rises out of that ever-present trench increasingly over time. First stark plateaus, then the occasional sunny hill, and finally mountains full of brilliant color. You will build bridges over your grief to make navigation easier, but will also become adept at sitting with just your feet dangling into that chasm for a moment before returning to the rest of your ever-expanding landscape.

    In the meantime, much love and many hugs to you.

  12. «Matthew 5:8 NIV
    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.»
    That was the verse on my daily devotion the day Caemon passed away. I hurt for his loss and find myself thinking about you guys and what you must feel and it’s heartwrenching. I take comfort in that verse. I’ve made it Caemon’s verse. He was perfect and pure and FAR TOO BEAUTIFUL. Please know that he’s always with you. His spirit will never leave his moms sides. You are FOREVER HIS PARENTS. He is FOREVER YOUR SON and NO ONE CAN TAKE THAT FROM YOU!
    I pray for you to find some sort of comfort. XO

  13. Thank you for sharing this. I wish we could all take turns, carry your grief, offer you respite from it. It sounds like labor–the way the grief overtakes you and becomes you. You are strong and brave…I wish there was something we could do ease your pain.

  14. Jodi, your writing of your emotions cuts right to the heart. We were all sobbing in the sun and dust and rocks with you. As many have said, you are a mamma-that can’t change now. You have changed to become a mom, and you are made more powerful and more sensitive and more fragile. Grief may have a bottom for you, and I suspect you will sink there many times–yet it will maybe become a familiar place, one not to fear or dread or even feel self-conscious of, but one where you can see so clearly from your soul. That isn’t all bad, and it certainly puts thankfulness in a wonderful perspective. Be thankful that you are able to love so deeply. Breathe Love in, Breathe Love out.

  15. You are and will always been a mama, his mama. I hold no answers and words seem trivial, but bottomless would and probably should feel raw, real and true in face of the horrible grief you are experiencing. This is your process but I am sure you will both come up for air through the pain. Much love and always in my thoughts. -Jen

  16. I wish I could take your pain away and while I cannot, I pray you peace and comfort. I truly believe that once you are a mamma, you’re always a mamma. Sending love from New Mexico.

  17. When I first read this post, I just didn’t know what to type. I think this is common when people you know and love loose someone so very important to them. So this feeling left me feeling a bit off…since I don’t know you or T. So I said nothing, I closed the link and went on to other things. But there is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about you ladies and your beautiful son. I’ve come back to this post to read it several times. My heart breaks for both of you, your love is so pure for your sweet Caemon. There are no word to explain the why, it just is, the world is never fair. I tell myself the only thing I can do is just keep sending out healing love to you both.

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