It’s been six months since Roger died and the shock has finally worn off. What has the experience been like?
- Indescribable sadness and sense of loss – in so many ways, it seems that nothing really matters anymore. I am alienated from myself.
- Wondering “what if” and “why” leads to a roller-coaster ride of guilt nearly every day, as little things call to mind my actions, my ignorance, my faults as a parent, a wife, a teacher and a human being.
- Anger over my ignorance of Roger’s drug use and shame of having him be yet another statistic in the epidemic of fentanyl drug overdoses
- Appreciation for having had the opportunity to raise him, this highly gifted enchanted boy, whose boundless imagination, risk-taking and masterful storytelling skills led him into his own rollercoaster ride of a life, short but thrilling and fantastic in its own way.
- Trying to imagine a future without Roger is impossible and yet I have survived 180 days since his death already.
As part of my grief practice, I write in my journal several times a week. I have drafted an outline for a play about Roger’s life. I have recently begun online grief counseling. And I listen the podcast “What’s Your Grief?” which is produced by Litsa Williams and Eleanor Haley, two Baltimore-based mental health professionals. They asked listeners to compose a Mother’s Day letter which I have remixed to reflect my own experience:
Dear Friends: You have been wondering about my grief, what it’s like, and how I am dealing. It’s Mother’s Day 2017 and I miss Roger and my mom, Rosemarie, who we buried only 8 days before Roger died. This is my first Mother’s Day without my mom and my son.
Multiple times a day, I find myself distracted by my grief. The emotional tone of the loss is a deep heaviness in my heart, a downward, slow-motion feeling that pulls me into the abyss. This grief of mine will never leave me, and honestly, why should it? I have lost my mother and my young adult son, who never got to see his 29th birthday.
It is excruciating knowing that Roger will never return to my arms, that I will never see his sparkling blue eyes, hear his many charming varieties of laughter, or read another short story, poem or novel of his. I now fear the loss of my memories of Roger and I know that I must hold on to all the quirks and charms of his irreplaceable identity.
With my mom, I get the satisfaction of knowing what a great, full, rich life she led, how much she laughed, loved and learned, and how much she gave to the world, to her students, and to Steven and me. With Roger, I feel the ache of not knowing how his life arc could have gone, what he could have been, done, or felt. Who could he have influenced? How could he grow and change? The pain is in the absence of a future — for him and for me and Randy. We will grieve the loss of Roger’s future forever.
Grief has changed me, of this I am certain. I’m just different now. I wake up in the morning and wonder, “Am I even alive at all? And if so, how am I supposed to make it through this day?” I will always be a grieving mother who will always love her deceased child.
When people ask, “How is Rachel dealing with the loss of her brother?” I must say, “I don’t really know.” Everyone experiences grief differently and some aspects of it are truly unknowable. I love both my children in unique and special ways, but my love for Roger and my love for Rachel will endure far beyond my lifetime. At the moment, though, I cannot always always manage my feelings of pride, joy and happiness for my amazing daughter Rachel while I grieve for her brother. The rollercoaster effect makes me queasy.
All that said, you asked me what it’s like to grieve a child on Mother’s Day. Today, I’m alone by design and happy to be alone with my memories and my pain. My pain reminds me that I am alive and that I love. I know it’s hard for people to talk about Roger and it’s sometimes hard for me to talk about him, too. But silence about him makes me feel that Roger has been forgotten. Honestly, I find it really comforting when someone talks about Roger. I love hearing stories about Roger, as Mandy Allen was so kind to share with me recently. Maybe you know a story I’ve never heard, or maybe I’ve heard it a hundred times before, but it really doesn’t matter to me. These stories, even the silly and trivial ones, are a deep source of comfort.
Now I am so sensitive to all forms of loss. I feel with intensity the loss of dear friends and family members who are no longer close to me, and even the loss of my old self, the person whose life was defined by joy. Someday, it’s possible that I will be able to grieve and celebrate on Mother’s Day all at the same time. Today that is hard to imagine. Thanks to all who have reached out to offer support and help care for me during the past six months.