The gray sky on this March morning is about as lifeless as the gray sweatshirt I just put on. Even though there have been moments recently when the slant of the sun and the warmth in the air brought that indescribable feeling that spring will soon be here, today is not one of those days. Scattered remnants of dirty snow can be seen outside my windows and there is no sign of new life hibernating in the earth or the trees. The weather report promises that spring will be in the air tomorrow—60 and partly sunny—but even that hopeful whisper of new life is diluted by the sorrow that comes this time every year when the calendar page is flipped to the month of March.

My sweet little nephew Cameron should be turning 16 years old tomorrow, but he will remain forever 5 years and 5 days old, taken way too soon by a sudden illness which the doctors failed to diagnose until it was too late. Eleven long years he’s been gone…what an unimaginable length of time to live without that sweet little boy who should be excitedly jumping behind the wheel of a car all by himself tomorrow and speeding toward a new life.

In addition to coming upon the 11-year mark of Cameron’s death this week, March 15 will mark 11 years that Grandma left us and two years ago yesterday that Mom went to meet her loved ones. Though both of them had been afflicted by Alzheimer’s Disease and thus had been lured toward their ultimate destinations during the years leading up to these dates, the pain is exponentially increased by remembering them. Why is it that some people are blessed with both healthy bodies and healthy minds well into old age while others are taken from us too soon, either by them forgetting the lives they were once inextricably woven into or the failing of their earthly bodies? Why?

So, I sit here quietly, in reflection. I’ve spent the last few hours on this dreary morning doing some spring cleaning in my son Nick’s bedroom. Though all of the “stuff” in the boxes and in the closet was Nick’s stuff, I could not “Stop remembering!!” that the bedroom I was cleaning was Ben’s bedroom for many, many years. Oh, the memories that rushed at me. Pure torture having memories flung at you from every direction hour after hour. It took extraordinary strength to endure the “I remember’s” and the “if only’s” that repeatedly assaulted me as I sorted through item after item.

I have no desire to get up and do anything. I want to sit here on this gray March morning and allow my thoughts to dwell on what I actually call the March Mourning, that time each year when we all replay the blow-by-blow of those traumatic days of losing Cameron and our grandmother and mother. I know my family members are like me, so I know those moments of terror and great sorrow are carved into their psyches. Even though years have now passed, it seems like each hour of these March days brings back an accurate and intense instant replay of the horror that unfolded during those days when we realized that Cameron and then our grandmother and our mother would no longer walk this earth with us.

So, spring will be in the air tomorrow! But my mind, and the minds of my family members, won’t be exuberant even if that indescribable aura of spring floats in the air. Our senses will be dulled by the persistent March mourning that comes year after year. Though I don’t wish to speak for others, I believe that when tomorrow arrives with the hint of spring in the air and the promise that new life will inevitably follow, any breath of fresh spring air will forever be diluted and dulled by thoughts of loss and death.

It’s quite shocking how much control and power those little blocks on the page of a calendar exert over us. After these days of March have sulked away, the page will be turned to April, the month of Ben’s death. Where does one find the strength and how does one retain the desire to go on when year after year we know that certain dates on the calendar pages cut deeply into us…cut into the place where the sorrow burrows deeper and deeper into our hearts with each passing day?

The calendar on the wall tells me it is March 6, 2016. I want to scream, “Liar! Liar! TIME DOES NOT HEAL ALL WOUNDS!”

This March Mourning…

And then April comes.


There’s no room for regrets, they say. You can’t go back and change yesterday.

If only their words were true. They’re not. There is such a room, a room that I stumble upon when I wander down those dark and lonely hallways in my head. If I find myself standing in front of the door to that room, I’ll pause and slowly open it just a bit and then slam it shut. I know the demons that live in that room. Those damn demons…they will torture and torment me and all I will be able to do is scream, “I didn’t know my son would die!” I slam that door shut with a vengeance every time.

Who says there’s no room for regrets?


I will slow the pendulum of time and stand sentry over you. I will allow you to lie dormant, heedless in your healing, until you, and you alone, believe the time has come to fight your way through another layer of debris, to lift your face toward the sun, toward your next season of grief, of life.

Then, as you peer into your future, I will gently silence them, they who are determined to restrain you from returning to the depths of your pain and the darkness inside and focus only on the brightness that they see through their prisms. I shall teach them humble understanding, so they too will come to know that we, now and forever, will view the rest of our lives through the kaleidoscopes of our pasts.

As we wander through our canyons of grief, lost in the never-ending maze of hollows and bends, I will convince you that you need not fear being alone ever again; that if I become weak and falter along my way, and lost in my own grief, you will timely cross paths with another gentle soul who will reach for your hand and guide you gently along your way until we meet again.

I shall walk in the rain with you, seeking shelter in the barren caves as the storms pummel and overwhelm us. We shall rest together, and weep together, and watch as our tears roll down the canyons and meld into the rivulets that will lead us toward home.

And, as we near the end, I will carry you, still wounded and weary, to the water. We shall fall to our knees and weep silently as peace, at last, fills our empty spaces and the water cleanses our wounds. We shall let our souls connect with the sad and lonely who live beyond our gaze. Our sorrow shall become their sorrow and our pain shall become their pain. We will watch as the waves become one heartache that reverberates from shore to shore…and listen as the cries of the grievously wounded unite with ours on the soundless wind.

We have walked each other home.


I am alone while darkness rises. Always alone. A silhouette in the dark, footsteps falling silently in a world no longer my own. There is no contrast between me and the night that has fallen. How could there be? We have been wed. We have become one, the darkness and I.

Separated from the world around me and from what was once, I feel the darkness as it descends upon me, becomes me, once again in the moonlit night. Everything declines while darkness rises. Nothing overcomes me – this must be life’s way. Welcome, Darkness, my old friend.

The Mirror

I stand in front of the mirror and look deep into those eyes, something I’ve done only a handful of times in the nearly two and a half years since Ben’s death. I’m now so good at performing the menial tasks of brushing her teeth and putting her make-up on without actually looking at her that it feels as though I’m working on a mannequin. As I stare into those eyes, my eyes, for the first time in many, many months I wonder, is it possible that there is a semblance of the woman who used to be, somewhere within that dead zone that stares back at me? Who was she? Is that her?

Is she the woman who loved to garden and marveled at the faces of the daises poised to usurp the mid-day sun? Or is she the tangled mass of roots half-dead and lying dormant, hoping that someday the world around her will thaw and breathe new life into her?

Was she the one behind the camera snapping thousands of pictures, capturing even the ordinary moments of the most ordinary days of her children’s lives so that she and they would never forget the wonder of it all? Or is she the woman now turning her head and shielding her eyes as she walks past a picture of her oldest son, her first true love who has gone on before her, because the knife slashes deeper whenever she looks into his eyes smiling back at her?

Is she the woman whose book had already been written, pages being turned as she willed, with the story simply waiting to be told? Or the one staring at the chalkboard wiped bare, the whispers of chalk marks discernible only to her naked eye, resembling the ghosts of her past screeching and screaming with unspoken words that a happy ending to her story will never unfold?

Is she the woman who lies next to her husband in bed, marveling that they still are together after having seemingly “survived” the sorrow of the storm, four decades after becoming man and wife? Or is she the one silently weeping, so as not to disturb him, wondering if he or anyone else realizes that she may sleep in this bed but no longer resides exclusively in this world?

Is that the woman, lying in that same bed, who would call each of her three children when a siren in the night would send panic to her heart? Or is she the mom now acutely aware that only two of her children are able to respond to their well-being check, as the scream of the third siren has already been quieted with the death of her dear son?

I continue to stare and reflect as I maintain eye contact with the woman in the mirror. Is that the person who was me? I need only look in the mirror to realize that answering the question of who I used to be is impossible without relating it to the death of my son. The reflection in the glass tells me that there will never be an old me without the new me in sight.

The questions and the comparisons continue. Why have I been so afraid to look into those eyes, my eyes? Was I afraid of what I would see or that I would not see the me that has gone before? Fear no more, I say out loud. It may be possible to see her, the woman I used to be, as she merges into and becomes accepting of the shadow that falls upon our reflection, the shadow from the dead zone that resides within me.


I work hard to keep the protective walls up around me, to shield my heart whenever possible. Instead of reacting wildly to insensitive remarks like I did right after Ben died, I’ve trained myself to cut some slack to those whose insensitive words inadvertently stab me directly in the heart. Nowadays, I can usually listen to the blurb, put on a passive face and act as if it’s simply flown over my head. That little shield goes up around my heart and I turn away, not wanting to hurt or confront the one who was insensitive. You see, I want to be a kind and gentle soul when it’s all said and done…as much as that is possible. I don’t want to be remembered as an old and cold and bitter woman when I am gone. And how can I expect others to know that my brain is still (and obsessively so) consumed with the after-effects of Ben’s death? Most probably think I am “better” but I am just oh so good (well trained) at hiding my true feelings. How can I expect them to know that every word I hear, every word I say and every relationship I have is still directly related to and processed in the context of my son’s death?

In the nearly two and a half years (how can it already be that long ago?!?) since Ben died, I’ve learned that there’s only so much outwardly displayed grief that’s permitted in most environments. Only when I am with a precious few of my loved ones do I feel free to be myself, to share my grief and also laughter with them. It’s a strange thing, but I’ve come to realize that once a person has allowed me to cry in their presence and allowed me to be real with them, there comes a sense of freedom to also share a good from-the-gut laugh with them, a laugh that surprises even me when it comes out of me. I guess it’s because they’ve allowed me to take off my mask, to be real, to be me. They’ve let me know that they love me in spite of my often despairing and ugly inner workings. No need to put on a public display of perfection for them!

At work this morning, I actually allowed myself to behave in a manner contrary to my usual self. My boss was meeting with a client. He walked into my office and asked me to prepare a receipt for him to sign acknowledging to the client that we had received the client’s estate planning documents. As he turned to go back into his office, my boss said to me, “He needs a receipt so that his family knows where his documents are….just in case his body cools down to room temperature before he gets his documents back.” I sat there for several moments, digesting those words. Wondering how they could have been said to me. Were they actually spoken to me, the still-devastated mom whose son died? As soon as those words slapped me upside the face, my thoughts went to Ben….I pictured him laying in the middle of the road after his accident. I know my boss. I know him very well after working for him for decades. He is one of the nicest men I’ve ever known. If he had stopped to think, I’m sure it would have registered that those words had the power to hurt and he would not have said them. But, after allowing similar but different remarks to fly over my head for months, I just had to rid myself of the ugly feelings that had been generated by his not ill intended but yet “un-thinking” words.

Because I so desperately needed to tell him that his words had deeply affected me and that I was hurt by his insensitivity and because I knew I would not be able to control my emotions if I chose to talk to him, I wrote a little post-it note for him that read something like this:

“I cannot say this out loud because I will end up crying, and I surely don’t want you walking on eggshells around me, but I just needed to let you know that I am very sensitive to words like ‘…in case his body cools down to room temperature.’ Since Ben’s death, words such as those have the power to stab me deep in the heart. Usually I can play tough, but not today. Sue”

I handed him the note and ended up crying anyways as I listened to him try to explain his rationale for saying those words. But I do wish to give myself a little pat on the back. Today I chose to not let that insensitive remark fly over my head. I chose to speak up to let my boss know that I am not simply a metal robot who walks around without a heart remaining in her chest. It’s not easy trying to function in the same manner that I did before. I can play tough, but sometimes watching and listening to those around me as they continue living in their un-shattered worlds overwhelms me. I don’t believe I emit the deep, unsettled emotions that I feel when I watch them live their perfectly ordinary lives, happy for them yet saddened by what I can no longer take for granted. I am not impervious to what goes on. I have become hyper-aware of what happens around me and super-sensitive to words tossed out into the wind without thought, words that aren’t meant to hurt but which do hurt this super-sensitive soul trying to balance the happy with the sad in her life.

I believe I handled the situation kindly and maturely (in spite of the post-it note delivery). I always worry about and am sensitive to others’ feelings, even in my altered state, but my feelings matter too. No public display of perfection for me today!


I remember at Ben’s visitation at the funeral home occasionally looking up to the next person in line and feeling, through the haze, a jolt of recognition. “Oh, my God. Your son (daughter) died too!” With tears in their eyes, those men and women were barely able to whisper to me through their sobs, “I’m so sorry.” Looking back now, I realize that I had seen tears of sympathy from all who had come, but specifically tears of knowing from those who had also lost their children.

A few days after the funeral, I remember standing at my kitchen counter and writing on a 3” x 5” post-it note the names of those people. The list was 13 life stories long. I stuck that post-it note inside the door of one of my kitchen cabinets and would look at it often. I’d stand there and read that list and think, “They survived it. You can too.” Somehow, in those early months, I was given strength each time I looked at that list of 13 people.

But what does “surviving it” mean?

Before Ben died, I’m sure I was sympathetic to those friends or acquaintances. My heart would hurt for them whenever my life would interact with theirs and they would speak of their children. And then I’d go back to my life. I now realize how simplistic it was of me to think that just because I had seen those people “functioning” in their lives after the deaths of their children that they had survived. I didn’t know.

My tears of sympathy have now turned into tears of knowing for them. Like me, each of them could write volume after volume of an autobiography and the wild range of tumultuous emotions that continually zap us as we go throughout each day, creating more havoc in our already restless and exhausted minds, could never be adequately documented.

Now when I see those friends or acquaintances, I make this clear to them, often times without words:

I hear you. I feel your pain. I understand.

I see you for who you really are behind your facade.

I’ll cry tears of knowing with you.

How simplistic of me! As if a 3” x 5” post-it note could summarize the heartache of 13 people?



We drove Nick back to Boston on Thursday. We spent Friday and Saturday moving his stuff out of the storage unit and into his new dorm room and shopping for every other thing under the sun that he could possibly need to get him started in his second year of law school. He’s excited and I’m excited for him even though I am now back home sitting again in my empty nest after enjoying his company for the last 3 months. It was so nice to be a “hands on” mom again, if only for these few months that Nick lived at home and worked at his summer internship.  673 miles of highway now separate Nick from us, but those miles are nothing compared to our separation from Ben.

While driving home from Boston yesterday, I looked up from the passenger seat to see a motorcycle in front of us. We followed the young couple on the bike for just a few miles, but during those few miles I was taken back to our long trip home from Wichita, Kansas, after Ben’s memorial service there. I had driven my car to and from Kansas and Nick and Gina had ridden with me. My husband rode most of the way there and back with Paul, one of our dear friends who had volunteered to go to Wichita with us for Ben’s memorial service and to trailer Ben’s motorcycle home for us. On that trip home I remember how devastatingly sad it was to follow Paul’s truck, knowing that the motorcycle being pulled behind the truck would never again be ridden by Ben. I watched as it bounced and occasionally rocked from side to side on the trailer, all 995 somber miles of the way home, traveling down the highway without the only rider it had ever known. Like the riderless horse.

I had noticed a decal on the storage trunk of the motorcycle in front of us yesterday. LIVING THE DREAM in fancy calligraphy. I watched the young couple disappear from sight as they rounded the curve of the exit ramp. I, of course, don’t know those people from Adam, but my wish for them is that they do end up living their dream, whatever that may be, that they live a much longer life than Ben did, and that their hearts are never stricken with a pain as intense as the one I live with every day.

As for me, I wonder how does one go from living the dream, a life with three kids and the white picket fence in the front yard (which we literally had) to accepting what lies ahead? Every day presents a struggle between what was and what is, between what I had and forcing myself to stay hyper-aware of what remains that brings joy. I envy those who appear to be living the dream, since Living the Dream has now become a lost ideology to me. How to Survive has become my mantra as I continue the every-day struggle of how to transition from the life I knew to finding balance in my life. It was easy for me to believe I was Living the Dream. The big question now is…How do I go about Living the Shattered Dream?

I’m missing Ben so much right now as the image of his “riderless horse” remains with me…in stark contrast to the young couple on their Living the Dream motorcycle.


I remember when I was a kid being coaxed to climb that ladder. I didn’t want to do it because it seemed to lead up into the sky, way too high for me. “Come on, you can do it,” they’d say. “It’s fun going down the big slide.” Too embarrassed to say I was afraid, I’d cling to the handrails and lift one tentative foot after the other until I reached the top of the ladder. As promised by the others (in the way that little kids chatter), the view from the top was beautiful, offering from the top step a totally different perspective of the world. But what about swinging that last foot over and having faith that I could maneuver my body to a sitting position at the top of the slide and then let go, trusting that my two feet would soon be safely on the ground? I remember sneaking a peek behind me and seeing the ground so far below. Which would be worse? Turning and going back down the ladder, admitting that I was a chicken? Or just sucking it up and pretending to the others that I wasn’t a trembling mess inside? I ended up sliding down that slide many, many times, but I was always trying not to think about the fact that I could literally fall off the side of that huge slide and fly through the air before coming face to face with the hard ground. Splat!

The last couple weeks have been tough ones. Nothing drastic, just quietly sad and reflective because little boxes of reality have been regularly deposited one after the other in front of me, as if I really needed stark reminders of what life is like now.

It started with calling Ben’s fiancee to wish her happy birthday and hearing that a “male friend” had taken her out to dinner for her birthday. Because she was so good to (and so good for) Ben, I really want her to be happy, and not lonely, but reality hit.

And then listening to Gina last Friday as she told me that she had called her good friend a few nights before, crying and sobbing, telling her how being sad about Ben was a constant in her life but on that particular day, after listening to a song that Ben liked, she was angry, so very, very angry, that he is not here. Reality. My poor Ben and my poor Gina.

And then a few hours later in our swimming pool with Gina and Ben’s two sons who are now 8 and 10, I was wishing I could go back in time and be in the swimming pool with Gina and her two older brothers, Ben and Nick, as we had been for hours upon hours year after year during the lazy days of their childhood summers. I had a great time for those few hours in the pool with my grandsons, but it was tempered by the fact that Ben is not here to enjoy. Simply reality.

And then waking up very early the next morning to walk in the LifeBanc Gift of Life Walk and Run to honor my sweet little nephew Cameron, who was only 5 years old when he died ten years ago. Me hugging his mom and hugging his dad (my brother) and crying. I was so sad, as reality was again brought to the forefront. As I watched the beautiful sight of hundreds of balloons ascending toward loved ones in the perfectly soft blue morning sky, I asked myself, “Why Cameron? Why Ben?” Reality.

Later that evening my husband and I went to an outdoor wedding of the son of one of our best friends. So many young people were there, laughing and dancing and drinking and enjoying the joyous occasion. Ben was going to be married in our backyard last summer on a day he had chosen–the fourth anniversary of the day he had been diagnosed with cancer. I danced a few slow dances with my husband and really enjoyed chatting and watching the spontaneity and joy at the wedding of our friend’s son. But why couldn’t it have been Ben’s wedding? Reality.

Sunday night set the scene for me sitting nearby to witness the “friendly” argument between two men as they discussed life and death. I sat quietly as I heard over and over again: “There is no God; it’s all just luck; if you’re lucky, you live a long life; if you’re not lucky, you die; there is no heaven; when I die, all I’m going to be is dirt, nothing but dirt; etc., etc., etc.” I sat there silent, simply listening. It was difficult then to process my feelings as I listened to their viewpoints and still difficult now, several days later. What does happen after we die? What is reality?

The questions never end. That’s reality. But the who, what, where, when and why’s of my past need to be reconciled with my future…somehow.

I have yet to figure out why, since Ben’s death, my brain spits out very random thoughts at very random times. It’s as if it’s on overdrive. I may be quietly working or quietly walking or talking with someone but my mind is always racing behind the scenes. It’s as if I lead a double life. One actor on the stage as another actor works behind the curtain doing his own thing, an entire performance, never to be seen by the audience. Several people have learned how this mind of mine now operates. Fortunately, I am able to laugh with them as they have enjoyed many good laughs over the way my brain “ping pings” now. When I was ironing Nick’s dress shirt a few mornings ago and “you’re sliding down again” went through my head, I didn’t question where that thought came from. It had just popped into my head like so many other thoughts do. I’ve worked on processing my emotions related to that “slide” thought for the last few days, with the intent of analyzing and writing down my emotions so I can compartmentalize them and put them away. Hence, the slide analogy as I’ve found myself “sliding down” for the last couple weeks.

There were two slides on the playground in the schoolyard down the street from our childhood home, The Big One, and a smaller, less intimidating one. I was always content with the smaller one but could be persuaded to attempt The Big One at times. As I imagine myself standing at the edge of the playground now, at this stage of my life, I listen to the cheerful chatter of those around me. I watch the “kids” scramble to get in line for the journey to the top of The Big One. No one pays attention to me. I guess I’m now considered the spoil sport as I don’t choose to join in their quest. The thought of me taking one fearful step after another to prove to others that I can climb back up to the top of The Big One is no longer appealing or important to me. I’ve learned many, many things about myself since Ben died, and a very important one is that I can go at my own pace to achieve what I want to achieve. I strongly resist the pressure to be someone who I am not. In a nutshell, I am still, and even more so since Ben’s death, content with the smaller slide.

The view from the top of The Big One was beautiful, offering from the top step a totally different perspective of the world. But I’ve realized that the view from the smaller slide can be just as beautiful, especially since I now see the world from a totally different perspective. Standing in line to take my turn on the smaller slide, I look around and see that I am surrounded by a much smaller group of people than before, but I realize that these people are not standing behind me coaxing or chiding me to tackle The Big One. They may be smaller in number and some of them are new friends I’ve met since Ben’s death, but many of them are the same people who witnessed me literally fall off the side of that huge slide and fly through the air before coming face to face with the hard ground. When I went “splat!” many who had been “playing” with me forever ignored the disaster on the ground (me) and scrambled back to take another turn on The Big One. But these people, the ones who now surround me, they pulled me up off the ground, helped me to stand on my wobbly legs and still continue to regularly check on the damage to my brain and to my heart caused from going “splat!” I am not at all embarrassed to say to them, “I’m chicken and I’m trembling inside.” And they insist that I don’t need to “suck it up” in front of them. They don’t push me beyond my current courage and wait patiently until I say I’m ready for another attempt at the ladder. If they sense I need a little nudge, they give it to me. If I stumble on the steps, they give me the option to go higher, rest on the step, or return to the ground where I am most comfortable. And because they know that there will always be times when I feel like I’ve lost control as I start sliding down again, like now, they’ll watch as I drag my heels to slow down the descent and be waiting near the bottom to catch me before I go “splat!” again. That is love.

I’ll enjoy watching those who continue to play on The Big One, but hanging around the smaller slide, with a much smaller group of people who are real and genuinely care for one another, is just fine with me.


I never listen to music any more. It’s talk radio or sports radio I tune to when I’m in my car. Music “speaks to my soul” and I relate every song to Ben and/or memories of long ago when I was young and naive. New song or old song….the pain and longing emerge and the tears fall when the music starts.

But, when Gina’s in my car with me, it’s impossible not to have the radio on. She’ll flip to a music station and I’m too much of a mom to admit my weakness to her and say, “Turn it off because it makes me sad.” Occasionally I will hear a re-mix of a song and she’ll seem surprised when I mention to her that it’s a song from my past.

I think of myself as a re-mix of many songs. The words I say and the “tune” I play may be the same, but I know that there’s an imposter behind the scenes. I’m a re-mix of the me I used to be. The trauma of Ben’s death has affected me so deeply, so dramatically, that I don’t believe there’s much of the original me left. The backdrop behind the words has been damaged and changed and re-arranged beyond measure.  The rebuilding of my life has just begun, more than two years after Ben’s death. So, as I go about my business from day to day, I know that there’s a totally different “artist” behind the scenes, behind the familiar lyrics and tunes. I wonder how many other people, if any, realize that.