The Second Year



Slightly less than two weeks after Kai died, a well-meaning but socially (and perhaps emotionally) inept person said to me, “is it getting a little better each day?”   Most people upon hearing this would be outraged, knowing full well the absurdity of this question two weeks after what is arguably the most devastating event that could ever happen to a parent.

But would most people have the same reaction to this question if asked a year and a half later?  I don’t think so. And therein lies the problem.

I believe that our Western society over the past few generations is the first culture in history to be almost entirely unfamiliar with the experience of the death of a child and the grief that ensues. Until the advent of modern medicine in the 20th century, the death of children was a common event.   My own great great grandmother buried three of her five children. Not too long ago I came upon an article describing how, upon the invention of daguerrotypes in the 19th century, European families in particular would often have children photographed after their death as a keepsake and remembrance.   One photograph that accompanied the story showed the surviving siblings surrounding the younger one who had died and was prepared for burial.

Most people would recoil from this and say that it is macabre, at best, and at worst, abusive to the surviving siblings.   I believe this attitude about death permeates our society to the point where we will do almost anything to deny and protect ourselves from the reality of death, especially the death of children, whether they be young or adult children. The point is, people are utterly terrified by the thought that their children might precede them in death, and rightfully so. They will do anything to pretend that this is something that could never, ever happen to them. On top of that, our high-speed, goal-oriented culture demands that problems be addressed, handled, resolved, and filed away quickly, so as to move on to the next task or experience.

But where does this leave the bereaved parent?

This leaves the bereaved parent in devastating isolation, unable for the most part to express our true feelings to even the people closest to us. Who wants to hear 18 months on that I am still having more bad days than good ones? Who wants to hear that the hole in my heart is growing larger, that the pain in my soul is deepening? Who wants to know that there are many times of such intense sorrow that I long for my own death? In this society, it is taboo to admit that there may just be something that time, money, a prescription or therapy will never fix.

Somehow, I think our forebears understood this concept, and perhaps allowed themselves and each other to sit with the melancholy, rather than ignore it or attempt to chase it away. For now, I have chosen to allow myself to accept the melancholy. Masking it is exhausting and attempting to chase it away is futile. The only antidote to it is to find solace where I can, which happens to be in nature, particularly on the beautiful bay and ocean water that I am blessed to live near. Kai means “ocean” in the Hawaiian language, as well as in Japanese. This is one of the main reasons I chose this name for him. I have been drawn to the sea since I was a child. Now I feel closest to him when I am in the open expanse of sea and sky. There I can think and breathe and feel. I can look up at the sky and talk to him. There I feel a measure of peace. And that is the most I can ask for.


A Beautiful Gift



There is never a moment that I do not think about you.  I love you more than the moon and the stars.


sign of question: where to go for vacation?


For the parent whose child has died, this is one of the most recurring and torturous questions that we wrestle with on a daily basis. Why? Why my baby? Why me? Why our family? I hear in the news all the time of abusive parents, yet their children are alive, and mine is dead. They don’t even want their children, yet I would give my life gladly and in one heartbeat if it meant that my child would live. Why did this have to happen? Why why why???

Shortly after Kai died I realized that my life from that day forward would consist of hard choices. The choices are endless… do I get out of bed and go to work or do I call in sick and cry all day? Do I smile when I pass a coworker or do I look down and pass by without a word? Do I eat well or do I give up and decide that it doesn’t matter what I put in my body? Do I take up a hobby I’ve been wanting to do for years or do I decide that nothing will bring me joy and so not bother? Do I try to numb the pain or do I face it and feel it and endure the depth and magnitude of it?

The choices are constant and endless, and the decisions I make have enormous power to shape my life as it is now and also, I believe, to determine my future. There is one choice that is more difficult than any other, as it is existential in nature and not so practical, as are many of the other choices. I have to decide if there is a reason Kai left this life when he did, whether or not I understand the reason, or was his death an accident, or perhaps some sort of punishment or retribution by God who, at least for the time being, feels far away from me. This particular decision is one that is slowly evolving. I am starting to choose to believe that yes, there was a reason for my son being born and leaving this earth just under six years later.

Our lives should not be measured by the number of years lived, but how we impact others during our time here. By that measurement, Kai was more successful in his six years than many people I can think of who have lived five or ten times as long as he did. My father used to remark about Kai that he did not have a mean bone in his body. We say that about people and usually it’s not quite true but in Kai’s case it was. He had an endless supply of love and affection. He was happy every single day. He found joy in so many things, from digging in the dirt to talking with a homeless man on the train and making him laugh and doing a fist bump to solidify their new friendship. When kids were mean to him, he didn’t dish it back. He wondered why his “friends” were being mean. He thought he was the luckiest guy ever when he won a crockpot in a raffle at my company’s picnic. He gladly let another child at the park fly his brand new kite. He made me feel that I was an amazing musician when I played my Native American flute for him, even though I was certainly not. He adored his brothers and our pets. Simply put, he loved life, he loved people and he made them happy. Being his mom for six years taught me more about life as it should be lived than I could have ever learned without him. And now that he is gone, I want to continue to learn what he was teaching me and become more like him in the process. It would be a great dishonor to him to do otherwise.

Does this mean I have accepted his death? No, I have not reached that point. I do not know if I will ever fully accept that he was taken before me. There are days, many of them, when I am so angry that I can hardly hold it in. Other days I am so full of sorrow and longing that the tears never quite stop flowing. I will never stop missing him, not even for one minute. But do I have an idea, a growing answer to the question of why? Yes, I do.


If Only




If only you could have seen your brother graduate, you would have been so happy and proud.

If only I could hear you sing Three Little Birds one more time.

If only you could kiss my tears away.

If only I could see the smile that made my skies blue.

If only you were here, I would never be lonely again.

If only I could, I would never let you go.








i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

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 apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

~e. e. cummings




My older son CJ is graduating from high school this Friday. In two weeks he will be leaving for his summer job in another state, and from there he goes on to college even further away. I am so proud of the man he is becoming and of his many accomplishments, and although I expected to have mixed feelings, I did not expect the intense wave of grief that has overtaken me.

In the months since my last post, my grief for Kai has taken on a deeper and more profound place in my life, to the point where I have been unable to write about it. This grief, mixed with the reality of CJ’s departure now upon me, has made me feel that I am utterly lost, adrift in a nameless gray sea without any idea of where I am, where I am going, and even where I have been.

Our children anchor us. They provide purpose, meaning and direction in life. But what purpose, meaning and direction do we have left when our child has died?

I know some of the answers people give to this question, but these answers are of no comfort to me right now.  

I only hope that in time, my path will become clear.  And I hope to make both of my children proud. 

The Journey


When your child dies, you no longer fit into the normal world. There is now an enormous disconnect between my outward self and my inward, or true self.  I believe many, if not most people maintain a disconnect between the outward and inward self, but for me, the disconnect is magnified now to a degree that I could never have envisioned before Kai died.

I am convinced that a large part of the intense physical exhaustion of grief comes from the sheer effort of living, essentially, as two people.  How many times a day am I asked the usual question we casually ask each other, “How are you?”  How many times do I respond as expected, “Fine?”  How many times do I lie?

I am not fine, not at all.  What kind of person would be fine after burying their child, their own flesh and blood, their future?  Yet I keep up the façade, the image, the glossy airbrushed version of myself that I present to the world.

A few people have penetrated the shell and refuse to let me disappear, and were it not for them, I would not be surviving this new life.   These people know who they are.   They are family and friends alike… their emails and texts arrive consistently and often mysteriously at the right moment, their cards appear in the mailbox and their gifts appear on the doorstep or at the gravesite when least expected and when most needed, their flowers are left on the kitchen table when I come home to an empty house, yet again.

Yes, grief is a solitary journey, perhaps the most solitary journey one can take in this life.   But I am not walking this path alone, and I am eternally thankful to those who are quietly walking beside me.