Imagine awakening to sunshine. Birds sing-songing their morning choruses. Joy in the nesting season. Joy in raising their young. The hardwood floor creaks its familiar sounds on the way to the kitchen where you are greeted by Cerelean blue and Schoolbus yellow walls.
Ceramic red, green, and yellow chili peppers (which are all connected as part of an artistic sculpture from New Mexico) adorn the walls by the stove. Water swooshing in the tea kettle. Irish Breakfast tea brewing in the cup. As always, good, strong, hearty–dependable.
Life before suicide. But life changes in an instant, doesn’t it? A secondhand on a school clock’s wall, a heartbeat, a millimeter of a second. And in that single breath inhaled, the shattering of a life exhaled by suicide. In the name of a child. Your son. Your daughter. Children.We say their names because we call them ours. Our son. Our daughter. Our child.
Shattered by Suicide: And in your After Suicide Life? Grief, Guilt, Regret, Remorse, Sorrow, Longing, Despair. All now yours. All needing reckoned with. Dealt with. And overwhelmingly deep. Dark. Anguish. Against the impermeability of all expectations. Things taken for granted. A rhythm and flow, ebb and tide to life. The circle of life. Broken. For now. Forever. For he was your son.
How now to sing on? To find joy in the morning and reason to go on? How now to say all that needs saying only in hindsight? Only in the glare of headlights. Too late. Too fast. Too soon. Too young.
Solace in writing. Solace in poems of the heart, poems of love and loss, poetry in the shape and motion of my son. His heartbeat now my own, my words written in ways that march on past the pain, past the sorrow, past the anguish. Words reckoning with guilt, wrestling with regret, tallying pain and remorse. “That All of Time Could Sweep Love Back” came from pain. A crippling pain.
“That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back”
“That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back”
That All of Love Could Sweep Time Back Should've, Would've, Could've, If I'd only Come to See, That might I future forward live To see all eternity. That I might know when and where somehow, And here and now then see, To erase the dark and stay the day To bring back you to me. If only and What If now child and why couldn't I just see To hold you close forever and stay the light just you and me. That darkness might not permeate my heart now and yours then, that all of love could sweep time back and bring back you again. ©Beth Brown, 2021
Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.Edna St. Vincent Millay
How Are You Filling the Hole Left by Your Son or Daughter?
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
here is the deepest secret nobody knows (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows higher than soul can hope or mind can hide) and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apartE.E. Cummings, Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J., Poetry Foundation
“How are you filling the hole left by your son or daughter?” someone asked.
I leapt almost immediately to a thought—maybe I’m not. Maybe I’m not filling the hole. Maybe because of the profound loss of losing my only child to suicide, I’m forever aware of and walking around with the Dylan-sized hole inside me.
It has been nearly a decade of grief. I find this impossible to fathom, though somehow, I have walked out the past 10 years of my life without my son. The days, months, and cumulative years march by without Dylan physically here, but I live on as I have always lived—with my son a constant part of me. I have learned to live as is, as now, though find my life quite different. The Holidays are approaching and making my life bearable (and even at times happy and in the moment), I find myself running in circles. Frantic energy, but more to distract myself than to accomplish much of anything.
Losing My Only Child
I have worked hard to find myself again. Losing my only child ingrained in me a sorrow I wish I could change, yet cannot; a sorrow that even when unspoken to others, rests alongside the all of me that greets, moves through, and closes each day.
I have learned to love gardening again. I always did, but I lost myself completely into the throes of an abyss that seemed hopeless in the first 4 years of grieving Dylan. I grieved acutely for at least 2 years. Fifteen months into my grief journey, I became aware of my surroundings outside. Dylan died in June 2012, and it wasn’t until September 2013 that I noticed it was a beautiful, 73 degree day, early fall/late summer.
I saw, for the first time in 15 months of a heart so broken I had to be reminded to breathe, my neighbors across the street, their boys playing basketball in their driveway just like they always had, the steady Ker-thump, Ker-thump, Ker-thump of the ball being dribbled on blacktop. I saw a blue sky and puffy clouds, and I saw sunshine. Finally, I was grounded enough to see where I was. For me, this was the beginning of my again being present in my own life.
I gardened then, where I was, at the house where I raised Dylan, and I garden now, yet again, even more magnificently because I have more space and an incredible array of plants and flowers. Yes, I have had to —and sometimes still do—push through pain when I’m gardening, but I also find the soil forgiving, the trees healing, the flowers opening at just the right time a joy, and my life thoroughly grounded when I’m outdoors.
It is spring here. Beautiful, temperate day. My windows are open, songbirds are singing, someone somewhere is mowing their lawn. I can hear cars on the freeway, smell the sweet fragrance of daffodils, tulips, rhododendrons, peach-colored flowering quince, my Stella Magnolia tree. To walk around my house is to see my dogwood tree just opening its delicate white puffy blossoms and my rose garden only now budding up in preparation of opening fully come May. Bees have awakened (and I realize I have to do something about all of the dandelions in my front yard, more so for my neighbors’ sake than mine as dandelions are bees’ first spring food source), insects are stirring, and a family of gray squirrels chase one another up and down the Hemlocks, Serviceberry trees, Apple trees, and Black Walnut trees (my neighbor’s tree, not mine, as black walnuts leach toxins into the soil that injure other plants and trees and besides, they make a terrible mess of my driveway).
I used to dread gardening because Dylan and I gardened together. I have such a love of the land (was raised summers in a 100-acre orchard), and I shared this love of all things green and growing with Dylan. He and I would haul wheelbarrows of mulch and together, make of a cold winter’s dormant mess a beautiful garden come spring.
We grew vegetables too, and I had to laugh the day Dylan told me our Gordon Setter had eaten the tomatoes right off the vines! I was irritated that Dylan hadn’t told her “no,” and yes, I would give anything to feel that irritated in the moment with my son. I miss his spunk, his sense of humor, his slow smile when he was joking with me, his strength (he was 19 years old) in helping with everything and especially hauling heavy stuff.
Rediscovering Writing & Art
I have also rediscovered writing. I had no voice in the beginning of my grief journey, but I wrote anyway because someone told me in a grief-support group that I’d never remember my first year of grieving. I wrote that I might not forget. I am so grateful that I do not write in sheer anguish anymore, but now with reflection, memories, my growth on this journey we all must take without our children here now.
And I read. Again, since for a while, I simply couldn’t focus on anything. Sometimes I still can’t, but that’s okay. I’m gentler on myself these days. I have trouble with fiction—I am too easily triggered—but I read voraciously and randomly. Stacks of books around me mean I’m really reading. A single book usually means I’m trying, but not finding my focus and energy.
And I am doing art again. And music. Sometimes. Recently, and especially now, these past few months, really since at least fall or earlier, I have vacated myself. I didn’t know this, but I saw someone who said this of me. Insightful. Painful to deal with, because it means I have to put the focus on myself and come back “home” to where I still am, to where I still live, inside this self, this woman, this mother of a child I must parent from afar now.
Sometimes, I just don’t want to feel what indeed it is that I must to move through a difficult, painful place. March was Dylan’s birthday, April is too close to May and Mother’s Day and 2 previous suicide attempts where Dylan was in critical care for what seemed like forever. I hate triggers. I’d rather only feel happy, free really, but to really live, I must recognize the hole I work so hard to fill—and to my credit, oftentimes do fill with what my life is now—for what it is and for whom I bear witness the rest of my life.
The Hole in My Heart
And so my hole, in my heart, in my soul, in my shadow even on “good” days, belongs to my son. To honor him is to open up this hole a bit deeper, go places I’d rather not go because it still feels like if I cry (and when I cry), I will never stop crying. I don’t want to feel that original pain, that terrible, infinite, shrieking pain, that place where the pain feels hopeless—and helpless, lost and without any life, any sign of daylight, anything really, just the raw splitting open of all of me over and over and over again.
But in the end, honor Dylan I must and hopefully, at this point in my journey, still unbearable at points but having to bear less frequently these tidal waves so constant at the beginning of my journey. I am about to go for a walk and just for now, I will be here now.
But I get Edna St. Vincent Millay, that when the darkness comes (and be it night or the darkness of my Dylan-sized hole does come), I fall into that hole and miss my son, all the time but especially in the dark edges, like hell. Perhaps it really is hell to walk out my journey without Dylan here, but for whatever reason, here I am, loving the spring all the while missing my son. My life has gone on and I have not moved on without Dylan, but forward with Dylan always in me.
here is the deepest secret nobody knowsE.E. Cummings, Complete Poems: 1904-1962 by E. E. Cummings, edited by George J., Poetry Foundation
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
If Earth Were Sky (And Sky Above)
“If Earth Were Sky (And Sky Above)”
By Beth Brown
If earth were sky and sky above
Then heart could hold this ache of love,
Suspended, like rain, in clouds wanting to fall,
But bound to sun’s joy because heart touches all.
I fall ‘ere so slowly most cannot yet tell
My pain lives so deep and my heart goes through hell.
I crawl more than walk through days such as these
Heavy with sorrow, wanting only ache relieved.
And yet truly what is can’t be undone,
I’ve lost my life in the loss of my son.
For seven years counting this marking of time
Having lost in him life, both his then and mine.
I stay hollow inside though try as I might
Come to from the damage of my now soiled life.
I’d rather be still with my son by my side
My heart filled with love and my joy still alive.
For Dylan, Always for Dylan
©Beth Brown, 2021