Untold Stories #3

•September 25, 2016 • 2 Comments

I don’t know where to start.  Huh.  Start from where you are, Linda.

I’m sitting on my kitchen deck in Redding, California.  The wind is soft and warm.  Lovely, really.  If I wasn’t delving into the past, this would simply be a beautiful night looking at the stars in the early days of Autumn.

Yet, I just spent over an hour reviewing this site – it has been a long time.   The air is thick with thoughts of Owen – the past, the present, and the future.  And, I am reminded that everything that went before, is still present.  My mind cannot relinquish memories just because I sit on a new deck with a new view.  Owen is still here with me – always in my heart and in my mind – just as I promised him.

I didn’t know we would live here when I last wrote on this site over a year ago.   At that time, we were still living in Sonoma County, where Owen died and where our family survived.

It was a fluke that we ended up here – Dave, Michael (Nat’s and Owen’s father), and me.  For many parents of child loss, moving to a new location is a way to “pull a geographic” – a way to *hope* to avoid the pain of the familiar surroundings that constantly remind us of the reflections of our dead kids.

Moving to a new town does not wipe out our memories, but that seems to be a commonly perceived remedy that simply does not pan out.  When we bought this property, I don’t think we contemplated an easier way of dealing with the aftermath of Owen’s life.  From all of our discussions pre-move, this was a good financial decision, the possibility of a new business venture, and one that could serve us into retirement.  Now…I’m wondering if it was an unspoken way to diminish the constant tape loop of Owen’s life and death that plagues our family.  We don’t speak of it often.  That’s not a surprise to me.

So much has happened.  And, not so much.  While a change in geography did not eliminate our memories, I think we ineffectively hoped we could start anew.  The former familiar streets, the locations of schools our kids attended, the jobs our kids held, the houses from which we picked up our kids after overnight parties, were not wiped out when we moved to a new location. All those memories live in our minds.  The sounds.  The voices.  The music.  Always, the music.

Untold story:  Owen had problems with anxiety.  He did not tell us.  We saw it in his behavior for years, but when we engaged him in the discussion, he downplayed it, said it wasn’t something he wanted to address – he was “okay”.

After Owen died, I read his journals, the ones he wouldn’t let me read when he was alive.  In those journals, I read things that relegated me to…I don’t even know how to describe it – “hell” might be a good descriptor.  If I take his journal words at face-value, he experienced a level of psychological torture that I couldn’t quite accept at the time of his death nor in the years prior, nor did I know the depth – and he said he didn’t want to commit to “a label”.  Now, and during these past 9 years – I see something quite different.

Owen’s sensitivity to this life was something that does not easily function in our society – then or now.  After these many years, I believe he was what is now called a “highly sensitive individual”.  This make sense now.  How did I not see it?  It wasn’t a “thing” then.  As a mother, I blame myself for not seeing it for what it was.  I knew, but I did not know.  Would that it were.

Owen did not intend for any of us to be fooled by his behavior.  He just wanted to live his life the way he chose.  He did it well.

And, I hope I won’t get fooled again.

Song for the night: https://youtu.be/SHhrZgojY1Q




8 years and counting

•May 28, 2015 • 3 Comments

I want to go to sleep.  I can’t imagine what that might feel like right now.  My mind is alive with memories.  Laughter, generosity, visions of my kids when they were young and when they were not so young, heartfelt moments, funny/odd anomalies, and unbelievable sadness…in our loss of Owen.  8 years.  Eight freakin’ years without Owen in the middle of our everyday lives.  Yet, he is always right here, right in the middle of every move we make.

If you haven’t lost a child, a sibling, a very-very close parent, a best friend, or a significant person who you may have never shared with anyone…maybe you don’t know.  If you have, well, you know, and you may not want to share.  In the end, who is listening, besides those who feel the same?

Eight years ago, Owen said to me, “Goodnight, Mumma.  I love you.  I’ll be up for awhile.”

“‘kay, honey.  See you in the morning.  Love you, Bubba.”

(Or, something very close to that…time renders our minds more favorable, yes?)

I didn’t go to sleep easily that night.  Something kept me awake, listening to Owen’s fingers tapping away on the keyboard of our living room desktop computer, just outside our bedroom door.  The year was 2007, and we had no laptops or iPads that could accompany us to private places – like bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry rooms, closets, cars, or park benches.  We investigated the Internet in our open living spaces.  Owen did.  What did he find?  Things have changed.  Would he have changed, too?

And, that was the last time we spoke together.

The rest of the story is memorialized in this blog starting in 2007.  So much has not been shared by me.  I couldn’t then.  Wouldn’t.  I probably won’t now.  Owen was clear with me on the subject of his state of mind – “it’s nobody’s business, but mine”.  I was clear, to the point that I could help him protect himself – or so I thought – and offer him whatever I knew might help.  None of it helped, though my resourcesfulness was his for the taking.  He was adamant that how he lived his life was more important than a diagnosis.

“If I have a diagnosis, Mom, I will become that label.  I’d rather be me like this, than me with a diagnosis.”

If you are a parent of child loss, you may have heard these same or similar words from your kid.  I don’t even know what to say about how to counteract that response.  Nothing I could say to Owen swayed him, though I tried for years.  He was a man of his words…and a man of his own path.  He knew things I cannot know.  He was brilliant in intellect, and suspect in emotional and psychological makeup.  He knew.  He talked with me about it in our quiet moments.

This day, 5/28/15, has been filled with good news and laughter in our small circle – little of which has anything to do with Owen and our loss of him.  I am one of the lucky ones (you’ve heard me say this before, yes?).  I find purpose and meaning by way of my experience and love of Owen and our family before and after he left us.  I find the same in my experience and love of those of us still here.  We are all working toward the next day, the next plan, the next hearty laugh.  And, we are amazingly steadfast.

Good news in the present does not erase the harsh news that Owen’s body was found dead in the Petaluma River on June 2, 2007.  The last day Dave and I talked with him was this same date.  We cannot escape that reality.  We can only address our mutual love and acceptance of everything our family was and is.  We did.  We still do.

My life is a testament to the fact that parents of sudden, mysterious, unexplained child loss, can be meaningful, purposeful, productive, and even (dare I say it?)…happy.  I believe that Owen would expect nothing less.  He knew our family well.  We trust that his early demise was his way of saying, “Go on, do stuff, don’t get caught in the shit that limits us all.”  Of course, those are my imagined words for him.  This is how my family navigates the world now.

I will definitely fail in posting a song tonight, because Owen is not here to edit.  I’ve listened to dozens of clips this evening.  It seems important that I share something positive.  This is my best effort for the bunch of us in Owen’s circle:

“In my life, I love you more…” The Beatles

Quiet Acceptance

•June 2, 2014 • 1 Comment

Today marks the 7-year anniversary of Owen’s body being found in the Petaluma River.  My family celebrated his life yesterday with a gathering at our house.  We brought in this next stretch with lots of laughter and love.  I think that’s as it should be.  I think Owen would have wanted it this way.  He would have felt right at home with his rye and sometimes dark sense of humor in this raucous crowd.  Nat certainly kept the high hilarity going and the rest of us were in rare form.  All good, strange as it is to admit.

When your loved one has been missing before the awful discovery that he or she is dead, it’s hard to know what date to honor as the death anniversary.  This makes for a long mourning period in the beginning, and sometimes years of unanswered questions.  We have had both.

Now, we rely on what makes us grateful.  In this, we find meaning and purpose.  Thanks, Owen.  You were a great teacher and a beloved son, brother, and friend.  You are always here in our heads and in our hearts.  We love you bigger than the sky.

Song for the night:  Kiss the Sky, Shawn Lee’s Ping Ping Orchestra

Studio 7

•May 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Our family is coming up on the 7th anniversary of Owen’s death.  Strange and awesome – that about sums it up in the briefest of all possible statements.  If you’ve been reading here for a while (or ever), you know that I seldom make brief statements.  So, I will continue with my thoughts tonight.

I remember a strange moment in the early days of grief, when I was startled by wondering what it would feel like seven years in the future.  I don’t recall what I imagined about who I might become or how my relationships might change.  I only remember knowing that I would still be sitting here processing my emotions, my relationships with family and friends, and the future that no longer held Owen as a living breathing part of it.  For some reason, I do recall thinking I would be okay, that I would find my way through it all.

Finding my way has not been easy.  Nor has it been anything that I could have predicted.  At times, I thought I would lose my mind in the quagmire that is child loss.  I thought I would be possessed by the unanswered questions about how Owen died (still unresolved).  Unexpected things that happened:

  • I did not lose my mind (permanently, that is)
  • My spiritual orientation is stronger now that I have let go of limiting beliefs built on doctrines that do not serve the greater good
  • My marriage is stronger for the unending love of my husband
  • My relationship with my surviving son has grown in ways I could not have predicted and my gratefulness is unsurpassed
  • My relationship with Lea is one of the most sustainable of all friendships (actually, I relied on this, so that might have been expected)
  • My relationship with my brother and his wife has evolved and brings me great joy
  • Research on subjects of dying, death, and grief grounded me
  • Incessant and disturbing thoughts of Owen’s death are less frequent, but still there
  • My body and health took significant hits during the early years of grief, and still
  • I left my career of 20 years (6 years after he died)
  • I returned to school and obtained my Masters degree, my massage license, and am working on my dissertation proposal for my PhD
  • I’ve met thousands of people through this blog and face-to-face who struggle daily with complicated grief
  • I’ve met people in my graduate programs that have enriched my life
  • I have come to accept the possibility that my family may never know what happened the night Owen died, and he might have wanted it that way
  • My memories of Owen are softer and still connected in ways I cannot describe to anyone who has not experienced a similar loss
  • I no longer blame myself for not figuring out the mystery of Owen’s death

Other significant things occurred, as is the way of living with intention.  In December of 2012, I started the local Death Cafe Sonoma and just recently turned it over to a new facilitator, Tess Lorraine, who is magnificent.  I finished my coach certification and now specialize in life transitions and complicated grief.  Dave and I bought a house and have made it our home.  I no longer feel a need to work in jobs that are not in alignment with my values, traditions, and ethics, just to bring in a paycheck.

Throughout these seven years, I have depended on Nature and her ceaseless cycles to show me the way.  Nature is a brilliant wallpaper to my life, and one that deepens my understanding of nonduality – the idea that I am not separate from anything else.  No small feat there, as it required that I embrace things I can’t explain, yet experience internally and externally, and from a perspective of “wholeness”.

I wish for you, everything that I have learned and all that I still have to experience.  Losing a child can stop your life in its tracks – no doubt there.  Or, it can allow you to find purpose and meaning in a future that still wants your contribution, relationship, and love.

“Studio 7” is an amalgam of my whole life context.  It is the name of my next venture with Lea and our prolific circle of friends.  Lea and I are in a “7 year” in our chronological lives and it happens to be the 7th year anniversary of Owen’s death in a couple of weeks.  This does not miss our attention.  All things happen in good times and bad.  This is one of the good times, and it’s no longer hard to say just that.

Thank you to everyone who has read this blog, posted comments here, and to everyone who is still searching for answers as to how to move forward to a healthy resolution of their grief.

Song for the night: Count on Me, Bruno Mars






•January 31, 2014 • 1 Comment

I’m almost ready to post again here at mysteryoriley.  I guess by my posting tonight, I’m saying it’s time to say something, so almost is actually “now”.  Huh.

So much has happened in these last few months.  Thank you to everyone who has posted comments on various pages and posts over these last 6+ years.  I hope to reply to each of you when able.  Many of your comments have been posted when I’ve been at work or studying for school, and I see them in my email, but can’t quite cope with replying at the time.  Please know that I’ve read your comments, your stories about your lost children, and your distress in grief.  I get it.  This is my work – complicated grief – the kind that demands our attention because we have no answers, or because the answers are simply too tragic to acknowledge as our lot in life.  Oh, exhale.  There are so many of us, and we have so few avenues for positive outcomes.

Yet, there are ways to become attuned with our losses.  It doesn’t seem so in the early days, weeks, months, and years.  If we keep looking at the world around us, and become engaged with the circle of life that surely surrounds us, ultimately, we do find purpose and meaning again.  In the mystery, there is a strangely logical acceptance.  At least, for me.  I hope the same is, or will become, true for you.

I think Owen would have loved Philip Glass’ music.  When I listen to Glass, I see Owen.  I see the instant, the distance, and the unknown.  I hear Owen’s voice in the music.  I hear…well, I hear.  And, I listen to the bliss that is this life and the next.  In child loss, or in any tragic loss of a significant loved one, there is no “mad rush” to resolution.  There is only being in the grief and allowing it to develop into transformation.

Song for the night: Philip Glass, “Mad Rush”  

Tubular Night

•October 31, 2013 • 1 Comment

It’s Halloween, 2013.  HallOWEeN, Owen’s favorite holiday.

This day was loaded before I awoke.  I slept in our guest room last night.  I do this when I feel a need to be alone.  It’s rare, but when I sleep in this quiet space with a great bed and comfy sheets, I usually wake up more rested, and am grateful.  Today was different, slightly odd.  I woke up wondering where I was, out of a sleep so deep I wondered if I could function when placing my feet on the floor.  An old friend, now a distant memory, had visited me in my just-before-waking dream.  She was kind and calm in the dream.  I got her a glass of wine, as she asked.  She was relaxed, not like I know her in the waking world.  I felt sad that our relationship has gone so far south.  And, I felt certain that her path is her path, and mine is mine, once I shook off the stardust.  All good.  All different from what I would have hoped.  To what end, I wondered.

I did function today.  And, fairly well.  I had a great day at work.  I wore black  with an orange shirt and a skull scarf.  I felt like I could do anything.  And, I did plenty.  It turned out to be a good day for contemplating how far we’ve all come, and how far yet we have to go.  I said funny things.  People laughed.  A good day, indeed.

I talked with a friend tonight, one who reminded me why I do my work in dying, death, and grief.  The trick-or-treaters were not at the door yet, so I went to the store to find something quick for dinner.  When I got home, I had to back my car up a few inches to open the garage door.  When I got out of my car, a man yelled at me from the middle of the street that I had almost run over his kid, and that I should be more careful about backing up in my driveway on Halloween.  I yelled back, that I had looked in my rear view mirror and hadn’t seen anyone.  He yelled something awful, and I walked into the garage with tears already flowing.  I remembered what my friend had said on the phone, “You know what you have to do.  Just do it.  Write the papers, do your work.”

I did my best to put my groceries in the kitchen and make ready for the ghosts and goblins soon to show up.  The doorbell rang and I raced to the door with candy in hand.  “Trick or treat” came the salutation.  Before me stood a Spider Man, a Batman, and a fairy.  Candy dolled out, door closed, and I cried again.  I was remembering the years upon years of Halloweens with Nat and Owen in tow – me, the parent worried about driveways and cars, my kids knocking on doors and collecting the treats to be consumed in the days to come.  Suddenly, the years were not the years, they were now.

It’s always now when one of  your kids is dead.  It’s always now when you hear his or her voice saying, “Hey, Mom, can I take a piece of candy in my lunch tomorrow?”  It’s always now when you remember the last time you saw the smile that made you melt and know that love survives all life experiences.  It’s always now when you drive by the place where his or her body was found.  It’s always now when you open the closet in the third bedroom and see his or her clothes, his or her guitars, his or her boxes of books.  Everything that happened then, is everything happening now…because memories are not something that happens in the past.  They are something that happens every time you remember.  And, you remember constantly.  This is the complicated grief that does not go away.  It lives with you every day.  Note: it lives with me every day.  I don’t know how it happens for you.

Later tonight, Nat, Anna, and Ruby came by the house.  They always do on Halloween.  They know how much I want to connect with them on this anniversary of Owen’s special day.  Nat hugged me in the way he always does when he knows I’m hurting.  He’s hurting, too.  He is my touchstone on the significant days.  He’s my touchstone on any old day when he visits, and when he doesn’t.  He knows, like no one else.  We share this profound loss of Owen, like no others.  I can’t describe what it feels like to hug Nat when he and I know we’re thinking the same thing.  We just know.  We hug like it’s the last day.  Because, we never know if it might be.  This is the gift and the deficit of losing a son and a sibling.

I remembered “Tubular Bells” tonight when the kids were here.  I looked it up on YouTube tonight after they left, but none of the posts seemed to say what I want to share.  It’s Halloween, so I am sharing a song of Owen’s choosing.  He loved the movie “Donnie Darko”. I posted something about this movie a long time ago, can’t remember now.  But, as I said, all of it is now.  So, here’s to you, Owen.  It’s a tubular night, no matter what song I post.

You’re such a girl!

•September 22, 2013 • Leave a Comment

It’s true.  I am such a girl.  For years, when I was younger and more able to compete with my peers, I tried to blend with the guys.  I employed my physical prowess like them (as much as possible), I communicated like them (as much as possible), I partied like them (as much as possible), well…you catch my drift.  I was an early post-modern male/female amalgam.  Not exactly a crossover, or androgynous, but, more…someone who sees life from both gender aspects without having to adopt either or an adrogynous affect.

What happens to us if we see life from both the male and female perspectives?  Huh.  I see it like this.  No gender.  Just human.  Perhaps this is just too simplistic for most of us.  And, for many, even thinking like this is an abomination.

Is there a generous and thoughtful simplicity to a sentient being that allows us to avoid gender orientation and definition through a discriminating lens?  Not likely, in my experience.  But, maybe, if we see ourselves as animals (as we call them).  I was reminded of how humans discern the human v. the other-than-human world today.  I guess that’s why and how I found this old draft of a post (from March 7, 2012), and revived it just now.

A friend asked me today why he makes a differentiation between feeling “loss” of roadkill when the dead animal seems to be a well-groomed pet versus a sense of “no loss” when he sees what looks to be a stray or a wild animal.  He asked why he has pangs of loss for the perceived pets, but none when the dead is wild or stray.  He was also wondering why it’s so easy to kill cockroaches, but not an animal of a “higher” order.  In response, I went on and on about my spiritual orientation to insects, mammals, humans, how humans tend to adore beauty (pets v. strays), and the All and the Everything.  Yada yada.  I went ON.  Of all the work I did today for school (I’m in a PhD program with an inquiry in thanatology – the study of dying, death, and grief), this was my most fun response because it came from my heart through all of my senses and my spiritual orientation.

I have often been accused of being “such a girl” by my family and friends.  Is that a condemnation of some kind?  Is there something about valuing gender or species that I’m just not getting?  I don’t think so.  I would propose that those who value one gender over another, one species over another, or one philosophy or religion over another are missing the point.

We’re all in this life thing together.  Equally valuable and precious.  Plants, animals, humans, dirt, rocks…mysterious and connected.  At the moment, I’m liking my “girl” designation.  It gives me a way to see difference as something that highlights other ways of seeing the world.  Though I feel I can address many perspectives from a perceived knowing, I can’t really.  I am such a girl.

Song for the night:  Grand Canyon Sunset, Paul Winter.  Question:  what would be the sound of the wilderness, the desert, the mountaintops, the beaches, and the rivers if there were no insects, mammals, birds, fish, the blowing winds, the shifting sands, and the rustling leaves?  What if there were no conversations from the different perspectives of men and women?  Dull.  Still.  Vacuous.