loss of a child


We all have memories of the clown in our class, the kid who always made us laugh as he challenged the teacher with a joke or a prank. We all love a clown.

I shared with a friend last night how I feel like a circus clown most of the time. I’ve become quite adept at performing, at exaggerating my expressions and actions, as if I must prove that I have energy continuously gurgling to the top and that ambivalence does not control my whole being. Mimicking the actions of the old me, the woman I was before Ben died, is becoming natural–even though it’s so very unnatural to me. I pretend now. It’s expected of me.

I have already grown weary of living in a world that doesn’t understand my grief. I’m tired of feeling rejected if I allude to my grief. So, I’ll be that clown who plasters an over-sized smile on my face for you. And I’ll be the clown who turns away so that the lonesome tear trailing down my cheek cannot be seen by you.

Only I, and those who allow me to feel and share my grief in their presence, will understand how brittle and fragile I am. So very fragile and sad. I am the glass clown.


I spend a lot of each day in hiding, having realized that there’s a time and a place to share my sorrow. But I try to be real, at least with myself, in my private time. Burying my feelings only allows them to gain power and seep out sideways at some later point in time. Today I’m struggling with bitterness, the one emotion that keeps sniveling its way in, no matter how hard I try to battle it.

Love and time are the two most important concepts that I try to keep in the forefront of my life as I go forward after Ben’s death. One of my new friends from my support group has encouraged me to share her mantra, what keeps her going to get through each day while combating her grief over the death of her son. When she begins to sink, she tells herself: “Just keep going….take this minute to do the next loving thing.” What a wonderful mantra to live by, using my love and my time to make my little circle a little bit better.

Being a numbers freak, I’ve figured out that there are 1,440 minutes in each day. That gives me lots of opportunities to say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you.” Ben died a year and 9 months ago. According to my handy little calculator that I pulled out of my cupboard, the clock tick-tocked 1,440 minutes in each day, 43,800 minutes in each month, and 525,600 minutes in the first year after his death. Get your calculator out and you can compute that over 923,000 minutes (yes, that’s nearly one MILLION minutes!!) have passed since Ben’s death.

I really need to take a few minutes to spew the ugly bitterness within, to allow room for more loving thoughts in my head. I treasure those who have willingly come into my life since Ben’s death and those who have willingly stayed. They have made me feel loved even on my darkest of darkest days, and they have taught me that it is possible to find balance between joy and sorrow. A little bit of that mixed in with a whole lot of that. I will never, ever turn my back on any of them because they have taught me what love is. In contrast, those who haven’t taken a minute out of their month or their year to contact me have taught me what a lack of empathy is. If I haven’t heard from someone in tens of thousands (or in some cases almost a million) minutes, it might be wise if I came to the conclusion that they just don’t care about me. They’ve chosen to avoid me, to miss a lot of opportunities to say “I love you” or “I’m thinking of you.” I am hurt. I feel abandoned by their inaction. It makes my heart hurt….even more.

So, you who came to Ben’s funeral and then walked out of my life or those of you who said “I’m here for you” or “I’ll call you,” please know that I’ve noticed. As I listen to your silence in another day, as another 1,440 minutes float into the past, I do notice that you never send a quick “love you” or “thinking of you.” It would take less than a minute, less than a second, really. But by not doing so, you have taught me an extremely valuable lesson. You’ve taught me that words can be shallow, but you’ve also taught me how precious time is. Not the time that we have left until our last day on this earth, but the time that we spend in showing others that we love them. I’ve learned how rewarded I feel if I show kindness and compassion and empathy to those whom I love. Each and every minute giving love counts. Your silence in these tens of thousands of minutes speaks volumes about you, while encouraging me to be aware of the circumstances of those around me.

I can’t remain bitter toward you who have abandoned me. That bitterness will poison me. Let me take my pain and my hurt and turn it around. Let me send out an extra whisper of love each day to someone who needs one. Let me take one minute out of the 1,440 minutes in each day and make a difference in someone’s life. “Just keep going….take this minute and do the next loving thing.” And then perhaps I can forget that you have forgotten me at some point during the last 923,000 minutes and counting.


I can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but I can’t fool me. Maybe it’s because it’s coming at me from four directions today that I find myself sliding again into that big black hole.

When we dropped Nick off at law school two weeks ago, I was determined that I would head out of Boston with a smile on my face, no tears in my eyes, happy that Nick was where he is meant to be and confident that his mom would not fall to pieces upon walking through the door of our now empty nest. Since Harvard had so kindly given Nick a year’s deferral after they learned that Ben had died, we were given a reprieve, allowing us an extra year to still be “hands-on” Mom and Dad.  Now Nick’s at college, Gina’s in her apartment a half hour away, and Benny is gone. It’s officially empty…for the first time since December 16, 1985, the day before Benny was born. So, here I am, bobbing about, with my mind in a whirl and my heart all jagged.

When we decided to cut our trip to Boston short last week so that we could get home to Jack as he was dying in the nursing home, I knew the next several days would be busy ones. I’d be OK. I wouldn’t be home long enough for the empty nest idea to register. And when I went to sign Jack up for hospice the morning after our return, I assured myself and the hospice people that “This is nothing. My son died. I can handle this. Jack’s 75 and “only” a friend. Nothing can be worse than my son dying.” But Jack was like family. Divorced and estranged from his only uncaring daughter, he had spent every Thanksgiving, Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, baptism, birthday, First Communion, Confirmation, etc. with us, celebrating every milestone of our kids’ lives with us. I spent all day last Sunday with Jack in the nursing home and he died early Monday morning…in the same nursing home that my mother-in-law also lives in.  She’s been there for 3 years with Alzheimer’s, and two days ago the RN told me it was only a matter of time for my mother-in-law too since she had stopped eating.

The “sucking in” or “sucking out”, whatever you call it, started yesterday afternoon when I looked for pictures of Jack on my computer and in the big box of Benny’s pictures. The box that holds most of his pictures. The box we have to grab if our house ever catches on fire! After about a half hour of looking through pics, I emailed the funeral guy and told him I couldn’t find a decent picture of Jack. But really I didn’t have the strength, the heart, to look at any more pictures. My heart was breaking. So, I gave it up, feeling guilty that I had no strength to continue to look for a nice picture of Jack for his obituary. When we were shopping last night and I told Ben what I had emailed the funeral guy, he said he’d look through the dozens of other boxes of pictures we have so that we could find a nice picture of Jack and also a nice one of his mom since we would soon be needing one for her. Wanting to spare him that pain, I looked through about 4 boxes this morning. But I discovered there were lots of pictures of Benny still in them! So, hiding my pain from my husband, I gave up. I couldn’t look at pictures of my baby any longer!

And just now my husband, cleaning out a cupboard, came across a lunch box with Gina’s name on it and I said, “Oh, yeah, there’s one in there too with Nick’s name on it.” And then, struggling to get the words out, and debating whether or not I should do it, I told him about the two post-it notes that I had just found in the picture boxes.  Both written by me when Benny was about 2 or 3, quoting him:  “Mom, I are big now” and “Mom – did you ever hear ‘Don’t let your boys grow up to be cowboys – let them be nurses'”? So I told my husband about them and it was all over. Me as Mom and him as Dad, standing in our empty kitchen in our empty house, both of us sobbing, hugging each other, in tears, mumbling about how overwhelming this friggin’ nightmare is! “Oh, Benny! Oh, Benny!” my husband cried.

So, today the life is officially sucked out of me. I’m officially down and out. I’ve surrendered. The bravado mask I’ve kept plastered to my face has been tossed to the floor. Time to be nice to me as I sit in our empty nest….. no faking it today. So many pictures of my son!!! So many memories !!! And reading the email from my sister-in-law with a draft of my mother-in-law’s obituary… preceded in death by her grandson…..” Looking for a picture of Jack. And realizing that 9 years ago today Dad died. Dad, one of my best friends, who I could talk to about almost anything. Death surrounds me on all four sides. It envelopes me. Suffocates me. I miss my Dad and I miss Ben so much that I can’t see beyond today. What is life? What is death? How does one go on?

It’s like having a balloon, inflated, held tightly in hand, but un-knotted, air always seeping out of it. I know I have to keep going on. To search for strength when I feel I have no more. To find it somewhere, somehow. And to live my life so that, if there is a heaven, I can hug my baby again. But the air keeps seeping out of me, out of this “balloon” and it takes so much effort to keep it inflated and so much of my energy to keep puffing “life” back into it.  I’m trying so desperately to hold on tightly to “keep it inflated”, but it’s so damn hard. I can’t stay inflated all the time, I can’t keep smiling, I can’t keep fighting. Today I give in to my sadness. Death is wrapped around me today, closing in, sucking my spirit out of me, ripping my false bravado away. I am limp and lifeless and I have surrendered. I can’t fool me. I hurt!! My heart is broken, never to be the same again. Mom and Dad are home alone with the pieces of our hearts co-mingled in the wreckage of our dreams, our family. We bleed each other’s blood. Dear God, keep me inflated………..

I miss you, Ben, with every ounce of my being!