I have been collecting all my writings from this past year into one long document that I keep on my computer desktop. It has a feature that counts the words, and with this post I’ll pass 65,000, not counting commentary on other people’s posts. It’s a lot of words. Nearly 140 pages worth including photographs and other art ‘borrowed’ from the infinite storehouse that is the internet. Not sure what it all means. Not one of those words has the power to return my son to me. Not one of those words has the power to undo the damage his death has done to this world. None of those thousands upon thousands of words can give me back my old life, or revoke the infinite sadness his departure has wrought. I rarely go back to read what I wrote weeks or months ago, but at the turn of the year, I did revisit some of my earlier writings. They are raw and full of pain, confusion, and anger. Railing at an unfair universe who took my beloved boy. The wind that blew my darling boy away. I am not sure why I did that. I cry every time I read them.
I started posting on Facebook almost every day nearly from the moment I learned of Jake’s passing. On January 21, exactly one year ago, I started this blog and put up my first post. As time went on, and I moved from Facebook to this forum, the writing became less descriptive, more . . . umm . . . analytical as I struggled to make sense of the senselessness. Of course, there is no sense to be made of such an occurrence. It merely is. One of the things I wrestle with is the “what ifs”. What if I did something different at each turn in Jake’s life. What if I had been more or less of this or that. What if I had done or not done this or that. Second guessing every decision over the past 24 years. Everyone does it, no matter what past circumstance we are “analyzing”. Beating ourselves up for what we perceive we did “wrong” that led to such a horrible conclusion. It is a futile and destructive exercise. At the time we made each decision, and I am speaking both of myself and anyone reading this, we evaluated the situation based on the facts we had at the time. We gathered information, we listened to other’s advice, we searched our soul, and made the best decision we could with the information we had at a specific moment.
Looking back, we tend to forget all the tiny details we used to arrive at that decision, can’t always remember what exact things we weighed to make our choice, and knowing the outcome, it is easy to say, “Oh, if only I had done, or not done __________ (you can fill in the blank), things would have turned out differently.” It isn’t true. We did what we did, for whatever reasons we thought would be best. No one says, “This seems like a bad idea, let’s do it.” It is always a good idea at the time. Perhaps if we had “done something differently”, things would have turned out better, maybe they would have been worse. Although it is difficult to imagine a worse outcome than the loss of your child. But you can’t play that game. At the risk of an oversimplified platitude, things turn out the way they do, and we have no more power to change the outcome than we have to reverse the spin of the planet. The other things that change over time are the circumstances. We use the circumstance of the “now” to judge the actions of the “then”, which is just as unfair. We have to make our choice based on the circumstance and the best information we have at the time, and live with it. That is the difficult part, living with it when it all goes to hell.
Something else to consider. Our children made decisions along the way too, based on whatever their criteria were at the moment, and couldn’t know how it would turn out either. With some exceptions. Oh yeah, if you jump off a 50 story building you will probably die, but barring the simplistic, the results of our decisions are far more complex. I used to tell Jake that every action has a consequence. Sometimes the action produces a consequence immediately, sometimes it may take days, months, or years for the path we chose to run its course. Of course, we can look back and say “oh, he/she shouldn’t have done that”, and even when they were alive, we might have known what they were doing was going to turn out badly. But part of the double-edged sword of parenthood is that we raise our children to be independent beings, and somewhere around the age of 13 or 14, we lose whatever authority we may have had over their thoughts and choices. They are going to do what they are going to do, no matter what we say and how bad we know that decision may be, based on our own experiences. It is their experience at work here. Unless we keep them under lock and key 24 hours a day, accompany them everywhere they go and physically prevent them from doing anything we don’t approve of (all of which are impossible), at some point we have to let them go. We can advise them, we can strive to educate them, we can counsel them, we can rail at them, we can try to impose our will on them, we can beg them, we can try to intervene, but ultimately it is their life and their decision for good or ill.
So here I am three score and five thousand words later, and what have all those words accomplished? No, they can’t change anything, can’t bring Jake back to us. There is little power in any single word. Perhaps taken as a whole, they have helped me get through this first horrible year. Perhaps someone else on this path took some comfort knowing they weren’t alone in what they were feeling, weren’t insane for feeling it. Some readers of these scribblings have told me as much; I don’t really know. I am still terribly sad beyond measure, still furious at the universe, still aching inside with a longing that won’t go away no matter how many thousands or millions or billions of words I may write.
Oh Ed…even if in could somehow add a million words to describe my pain at knowing you and Teri are in pain, it would if course still fall short of its mark. So from far away in Israel, I am sending to you both my love and never ending friendship to soothe some part of the pain. Love to you both
Please forgive the numerous errors in typing..have no clue as how to fix it!
Hello Ed, if I may call you by your first name.
I’m Rose, and I’ve been reading your blog for a while.
The first time your writing caught my attention was when I saw that you used a word in Portuguese, which is my mother tongue. SAUDADE is not an easy word to describe in other languages. Knowing the meaning in Portuguese, and knowing how it really feels to have SAUDADES de alguem, meaning missing someone badly, my heart aches for your and your wife.
The way you write always make me cry. It takes me to a different level of understanding, and how I see or percieve things. You as man, writing , writing a lot and writing about your feelings. That is not common to me. Also, your writing is rich. Rich of details, your words are clean, clear and you are able to express your feelings really well.
With that said, I have to tell you that you ALWAYS teach me something through your writing. I know you can write a zillions words and none of them will bring your beloved son back. I know that sometimes they come out of you in the form of an angry/sad statement. However, these same words carry a weight. And this weight sometimes help others. In this case, me.
I have 2 kids, one entering his teenage years soon, and I’m afraid. Afraid of failing, afraid of not doing a good job teaching him about the world outside of his house, and how things really are. I’m afraid of losing him at any given point….I know these are just thoughts. After reading your words above, I realized that yes, things will follow it’s path no matter what. That perhaps, we can through our love and teachings to our kids, give them some ideas of how things can be for the good or for the bad side. But, life at end will take it’s course no matter what.
I’ve read a lot of your posts, and through some of them I was also able to question myself on top of other questions I always do to myself. For example, God, faith, religion.
Your 65, 837 words written so far, won’t bring your beloved son back. I wish they could. But, they will bring light into someone’s else life.
I really feel for you and for your wife. I hope that through your own words or someone else’s words you will be able to find a bit of comfort, a bit of peace.
Rose, your beautiful letter moved me deeply. I am truly humbled that you find some meaning in my words, and that I have been able to touch you. That, in fact, was one of the primary goals of this project; to let others who may be going through this same tragedy, especially men, that they are not alone. That there is one person out here who feels this or that and by sharing, perhaps let those others know that what they are feeling isn’t insane or abnormal, that they are allowed to grieve, to cry, to scream, to curse, and yes to laugh occasionally. As I wrote recently that there is no right way to grieve nor a wrong way to grieve, there is only grief.
As for your impending adventure with your two children, I don’t have any advice, you can see what a mess I made of my parenting. However, I can say you must love them unconditionally, never give up on them, tell them always that you love them, at least once a day. Teach them by setting an example, try to insure they have good friends around them and other than that, trust that whatever you have taught them over their childhood will inform their decisions. They will make some bad ones, to be sure. I have read that the human brain is still being formed up to 25 years old, and that the areas that are the last to fully develop are the areas responsible for planning and judgement. That’s why adolescents and young adults make so many bad decisions. But above all, and I do mean to repeat myself, love them. It isn’t always easy to like what they do, but as a parent, you will always love the person inside.
Thank you for responding. I send these posts out like messages in bottles, wondering who will find them cast upon the virtual shore, and who will take the time to uncork the bottle and extract the tattered paper on which these words appear.
Be well, and I wish you peace.
You know, Ed, you touched on the very topic we discussed at our Compassionate Friends meeting this week. Thanks to the weather, it was a small group, 8 parents sitting around a table crying and still frantically wondering what the hell we could have done differently to save our child or rewrite the tragic ending. Each of us with our own tormented answer of “if only I had ….” But the bottom line is we would have done ANYTHING within our power to save our child. If only love was enough. Keep writing until you run out of things to say. Sadly, I can relate to the anger, frustration, sorrow and deep despair as I continue to struggle through another day without Amy.
I also think about what I might have done differently. It’s impossible to NOT wonder about that. But sometimes I think about the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and how her father did everything in his power to prevent the curse placed upon her from coming true. Despite all of his efforts, she still pricked her finger on a spindle and fell into a deep sleep. Maybe there was nothing we could have done that would have resulted in a different outcome. We’ll never know. But it continues to haunt me.
That is a great metaphor for what we go through. Yes, for all the protecting, praying, counseling, therapy, magical spells, and whatever else we try, they still do what they will do, and prick their fingers. The bitch is, as you say, we’ll never know if we did something differently could we have prevented it. In the end, after all, we couldn’t no matter what we did or didn’t do. I wish you reprieve from the haunting.
I feel ashamed. Anything that costs you so much – so infinitely much – should not comfort and lighten my grief. You do, though. Your words have so much comfort for others.
But I would give it all back in a blink. I wish I could. For you to have Jake.
I don’t believe for a second that you made a mess of your parenting. It’s the control. The control that none of us have. The control that life *forces* us to know we don’t have – none of us, in the end.
You didn’t make a mess. Your Jake – it can’t be that he is gone!
But he is. No one wishes him back with the relentless, stinging agony that you and your wife do. You would do anything, go anywhere, pay any cost – oh, Jake! Just to have you back, Jake. I am a stranger, and I would do anything at all. Only imagine how your father feels, and your mother.
I’m sorry, Ed. Your words mean so much to so many. I’m sorry because I look forward to hearing your voice, reading your words.
Nothing about it will ever sit right. The cost was Jake. It is a debt no one can pay. A bottomless debt.
I’m so sorry.
Thank you Ed for responding to my message. It did mean a lot to me.
I appreciate you taken the time to read, and respond to me on such a delicate matter.
I read, and re-read your response , and I could not quite understand why you mentioned that you’ve made such a mess as a parent. I don’t agree with that.
I believe that the real beauty of anything lays on the details. Not on the big, oustanding picture most of us see it at first. In this case, to me the pictures you’ve posted here do tell a beautiful story about you and your beloved Jake. And in none of them, I see a sign of someone that made a mess as a parent.
What I see through them, is a son and father that were connected, that talked, laughed, cooked together. This interaction, believe it or not does not happen between every father and/or mother and their children all the time. But, it does happen with special people.
Through your pictures, I see a son that was loved by his parents, family and friends. I see a son that also loved his parents, family and friends. I see a son that took the time from his probably busy young life, to play golf, to cook, to spend time with his father. I see a son that enjoyed having friends over and that enjoyed cooking for them. I see a son that when in contact with mother nature took the time to seat down and observe what was around him. Perhaps listening to the silent sounds of mother nature. I see a son that liked arts, and for that he had to have a gentle soul, because to me someone that does not have a gentle soul, is not capable of understanding the real details in all forms of arts.
Your pictures of your beloved son and his short life on this planet, show not one sign of a person who had been raised by a messy set of parents.
They show love, caring, friendship to me.
These are the small details I’ve noticed.
I understand that the fact that you can not bring him back, that you can not reverte certain things that were done and said in the past, perhaps will leave you with a sense of you been a not so good of a parent. Or perhaps, not been the father you thought you could and/or should be.
However, the details in your pictures show something else. And these details contain more information that sometimes one can grasp.
I believe, without never having met your beloved son, that you and your wife were great parents. I believe you were the kind of parents that other children would love to have and that some children will never have.
I believe, Jake was a great soul, and that his passage on this planet, was made even bigger and more important because of the support and love of his great parents.
Rose, thanks for another thoughtful message. When I said I made a mess of parenting, I think I was focusing on the outcome. What I tried to convey in the original article was that we can only do what we can do at any specific moment. We tried to make the best decisions at every turn, some of them turned out to be right, some otherwise. Ultimately, we can only work with the information and circumstances that we have in that moment, information and circumstances which change continually.
As for being the father I thought I should be, I deliberately did things to have a close relationship with my son, a relationship that my father never had with me. In that I succeeded, Jake and I had a close bond. In later years that bond was sorely tested, but I never doubted he loved me, my love for him never wavered, and I think he knew that too. I know his demise wasn’t my fault, but there is no parent who has lost a child who doesn’t look back and wish, “If only … ”
I am sure, from reading your replies, that you are a loving and caring parent, one that your children are lucky to have. Remember to tell them you love them every day, and cherish them always. You may not always like what they do, but you will always love them.
Pingback: A Perpetual State of Bewilderment | The Infinite Fountain