What We Hold Onto

I felt the 5 year mark creep up starting in July. So did my daughter. This is what traumatic loss does. It nestles in and with it goes the sights and smells, the sounds,the temperature, the friction, the frequency of death. There is nothing simple or artistic about it. It is not a painting to interpret, a score to take in note by note, or the written word to observe given the temperance of the playwright. On any given day, what was nestled in with death on that day, with the things you do remember in the fog and haze, a remnant will emerge. It could be time of day, the air in the room, the breeze outside, the crisp blue sky, a song on repeat, the sirens. What was sucked into the marrow on that day oozes out without any hint of warning and suddenly there are tears. I had not intended to mark these 5 years with much of anything. It is not how my daughter and I choose to honor the man we loved.Each year we have quietly and with great reverance looked back on the love and the loss. We look to each other to find the words that mark the day, to honor the love, the pain, the permanence. She has hers, I have mine and we have ours. And every year, there is always someone, usually someone he did not like all that much that beats us to it anyway, posting pictures of my dead husband, from decades gone by. People are weird with their claim to dead people.

This year is a bit different.

The weight of tramatic loss is heavy. You can find ways to cope, but the unbearable( at times) weight of suicide gets heavier along the way, until you decide the weight is no longer yours to bear. I have held onto not only the weight of my husbands suicide, but everything that came with it, and then everything that comes with life, because being in the living takes work, but being in the living while seeing that your daughter is thriving, and bills get paid, and work gets worked, and health is tended to is hard. While you carry the weight of traumatic loss, life does not give you a pass. You will survive. You will put boundaries in place. You will navigate false friends and you will cut family members loose. You will close the circle tighter.You will keep the real and discard the rest. You will pay attention to not what is said but what is done.You will learn to listen. Deeply. You will linger longer at life, and each day you will let go of the answers that will never come. You will be honest. Painfully honest, first with yourself and then with those you cherish. You will let go, purge, remove, cast out, smudge, purify and remember. You will hope that one day the aches and pains that came with that night 5 years ago, will subside. Some have. Some have not. I think there are things our bodies remember that will always carry the mark of sadness. It is the way. You will curse and scream and cry and cry and cry. If you are lucky you have made an effort to carry on, it will not be easy. You will lose those you thought were friends( be grateful) and those who never were family( be grateful). You will find other family(be grateful). People will say and do things that leave you speechless and hatefilled(be grateful).You do not have to forgive. Forgiveness can be overated. You will find the edge of authenticity at times is poignant and blunt, and at times quiet and still. You will make deals with yourself, you will lose bets with yourself, you will gain new perspectives. You will find things that work(stick with them) and you will find things that never will( stop trying).You will question everything. You will watch your daughter wrestle with her own pain,questions and revealations. Pray you find the strength to allow her to do this and be there as she does.Stop what you are doing and be there. 101 people will tell you what you need and why you need it because they are projecting their own stuff onto you.Death brings out the fear in people.Their fear is not yours. 101 people will be quick to tell you what is wrong with you(WHATDIDYOUDOTOHIM?WHATDIDYOUSAYTOHIM?), lie to you, use you and wait for you to break. Let them go. You will wonder if there are signs from above or below, in the whisper of the tree you planted, in the ebb and flow of waves, in the turn of a page, the turn of the seasons, in a book mark, or letters left behind. We still have not found the places to scatter his ashes. We will know when we know. We are not ready. It is okay. You will leave nothing unturned until you find the answers. You will not find the answers.You already know the answers. Let it go.

It is fucking hard.

In these five years, I have survived the unimaginable and all that came with it. My daughter has survived the unimaginable and all that came with it. We will continue to move through each year with all that comes with learning to live with the unimaginable. We go on. I have no idea what my life would have been like had my husband made different decisions. I will never know if he could have confronted his deep pain and lived the life he wanted- one without shame and the wounds of trauma. His capacity to love was as deep as his own pain-and I am confident that my daughter and I got the best of his love- while also being privvy to the worst of his pain. I will never know if he could have over come all of that pain and poured more of his self into his creative genius.He wanted to, he really did. He could not. I am sad the world will never know the true artist- brilliant artist he was. He was trying. He was confronting his own unimaginables and talking about them. I know he hated that his inability to manage his pain was tearing apart his family of three. I know he loved his daughter with every breath and then some. I know he loved me. It was not enough. I go back to that day more times than I care to admit. There is still a constant ringing in my ears from the primal scream I let lose that night when I discovered my husband. I no longer like loud music or the dissonance of noise. It took four and a half years and a wise physical therapist to deal with the hidden pain in my body brought on by the rush of fight or flight. Our bodies don’t lie. I learned to listen. I learned to be brutally honest. Traumatic loss does this. If you can not be brutally honest about suicide, about death, about loss, then you are not able to live in the truth of life. I know it sounds like a cliche, but this has been my discovery. I no longer waste time. I make mistakes. I go back and do it again. I let go. I let go.I let go. I am a mother to my daughter, I am true to myself first and always. I trip up, I get angry, I grieve.I grieve. I grieve. There are no stages to this thing and then like a magic wand, poof! grief is gone. Nope. Not this way at all. We go on. We travel. We do. We love. We fail. We fuck up. We rest. We yell. If the roof is leaking, we fix it.If the windows and floors are rotted out because the roof was leaking, we get new windows and we fix the foundation. If the pipe in the basement breaks, we get a new pipe. We plant trees, take out the trash on Mondays, go to school, stick to a practice,plan for college, for the future and for next week.We do our best. It is enough. We say a prayer for those in pain, keep ourselves safe and hope for the best. We say yes as much as we say no and mean it. We do the milestones with as much joy as the day to day. We love. We honor the pain and the people who have been there along the way. We find the memories and create new ones. On this day, to mark the 5 years, I honor the life we are living. The abundant love and discovery of what we know now. This is it. All of it.


  1. Beautifully written about a beautiful soul that you and your child loved – it seems beyond measure. Your awesome strength will prevail on this day. Much love to you and Ava.

  2. Thank-you Mrs.Shane. And thank-you for instilling a love of words and writing way back when in high school. You made a difference in mu life. XO

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