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.

West County Drive

•September 5, 2013 • 1 Comment

I don’t post here much anymore.  I do check in.  Your comments come to my email address, so I read your thoughts and hold you in the highest esteem (you have no idea) – because you took the time to share your losses and hope someone was reading.  I am still reading.

This afternoon, I took a drive to Freestone, CA, less than 10 miles from my home.  I had a massage scheduled at Osmosis Day Spa.

Osmosis is a beautiful place away from the noise and confusion of my everyday world.  I am only an occasional client, one who seeks out an oasis in this amazing valley on the west side of Sebastopol, CA, when I need to escape the mundane and reorient myself.  I found a restful and healing afternoon and wondered why I don’t commit more of my time to this type of self-care.  These afternoons at Osmosis are expensive, beyond what I would normally consider prudent.  Yet, after a massage here, with the bountiful gardens and the setting sun, I get in my car to drive back home, and the physical, emotional, and spiritual relief I feel is worth more than I can adequately convey.

Earlier, on the drive west toward Freestone, however, I was confronted with memories that took me back in time.  I remembered Nat and Owen driving in the car with me when they were young, laughing at something absurd or silly, and holding their hands outside the car windows, catching the air’s currents that caused their hands to wave up and down, unpredictable and full of joy in the unknown coming of a physical manifestation that they couldn’t actually see.  Hands wave up.  Hands wave down.

Tears fell down my cheeks unexpectedly, and washed away my thoughts of this too-busy day through my recollections of times long gone.  As much as I wanted to hold on to the past, I also wanted to open more doors to the future.  Nat, my older son, is 31 now.  He is strong, funny, generous, and smarter than the average bear.  I wished he was with me on this short day trip.  But, alas, he was at work, as is to be expected of a grown man with a family.

How is it that I can so easily see and feel the old days through the files and folders of my mind?  This is the beauty of the human brain, the human senses, and the lived experience.  This is the stuff of which dreams are made.  I get to visit every single aspect of my life whenever the landscape and the car windows open my heart again.  The wind is warm on my face on this September evening.  I’ve opened the windows, and I know love.  This is the mystery of life.  I will never leave my loved ones behind.  They ride with me every day.  I…am…so…lucky.

Song for the night:  Through the Window of My Mind, Beth Hart  (Dave chose this song – he’s such a great companion, the kind of husband and father so many hope to find.)