Past or Present?

When talking with people, people who may not be familiar with your story, people who you have just met, there comes a moment that every parent who has lost a child dreads –the question, “So, do you have children?”  If you have children who are alive, the answer is a bit easier to come by, but for me, Jake was our only child, so how do I answer that? In the past or the present? Have or had? It is a bit of a dilemma. Even though Jake isn’t alive, I am bound to keep his spirit and memory alive, so for me, there isn’t really an accurate response. I am not willing to relegate my fatherhood to the past, but technically, I no longer have a son. Do I say,”Yes I do”? That invites more questions such as: “what does he/she do?” How old is he/she?” etc., and the conversation gets dicier as it goes on. Do I say “Yes I did”? More accurate but invariably triggers the second dreaded question, “What happened?” I have been somewhat circumspect in this second answer for the past two years. Mostly I just say “It was an accident”, and let the asker assume I mean an auto accident. I don’t get into the details, not everyone needs to know. The third answer, “I did once but he died” is a sure-fire conversation stopper. Direct, yes, but depending on who is asking, can end the conversation in an uncomfortable silence or can trigger the “what happened” inquiry, and we’re back to square two.

Perhaps, the answer, “Yes I have a son, but he passed away”, might be the best, albeit somewhat contradictory, choice; past and present all at once. All of them have the ability to unleash the emotions that bubble so close to the surface, whether I can keep them subdued is a random and unpredictable affair. Sometimes I can talk about Jake with a clear and rational tone, dry-eyed as I relate some anecdote or other, or depending on the vagaries of my feeling that day can talk about the how and why of his passing. Other times, I can barely mumble a reply and excuse myself from the conversation. I never know which one will show up.

For me, he is still such a vital presence, or as has been observed, his absence is such a massive presence, that to talk about him in the past tense doesn’t feel quite right. I am reluctant to let him go. And yet, it happened. What’s past is past, and all the equivocating won’t alter the reality. I had a son, and he is no longer with us. Had. Past tense. It’s as if I have to keep repeating that to convince myself of the truth. His death, and my life without him, is still so surreal that some days I cannot believe it happened. Still in the WTF stage. Still so bewildered that our lives came to this. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. But it is. The past is past. Cliché? Yes. That bright future we all looked toward has been shattered forever, overwritten by events of that past. I am unsure of my own future now. So we only have the present. Each moment ticks away, the days flit by, weeks pile up and the years grind on. Now more than two. Soon enough it will be five, ten, twenty, and yet each moment is “the present”. There is really nothing else, and in each of those moments, Jake lives. If only in our memories, the memories of those who loved him and whose lives he touched, but he lives.

So I think that last answer will suffice. I have a son. He is no longer with us, but I have a son. Will always have a brilliant beautiful boy. In a way, he is immortal now, as long as we remember him, remember the past he so vividly inhabits and keep him close to us in the present. Past and Present all at once.

How do you answer that question? Past or present?

About edcol52

The Infinite Fountain of Love and Loss flows unceasingly into the pool of memory and sorrow. I created this blog in response to the most dreadful tragedy every parent fears, the death of a child, our 24 year old son, Jake. We are now on an unimagined journey along this road of grief and recovery. If you can find some comfort within these pages, than I will have succeeded in some small measure.
This entry was posted in Daily Ramblings, Grief, Jake Colman, Observations, Progress and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Past or Present?

  1. And in losing him you can capsule a hero – my alcoholic, drug ubused daughter gives me constant heartache in the living world – glad for you that fear has gone x

  2. Judy says:

    A friend who had two sons, one of whom died at the age of 28, answered the question of, “do you have children?” She says, “yes, I have two sons, one isn’t with us for now”. That usually stops any more questions. They don’t know what yo ask after that .

  3. Four, but my oldest son has died/is dead. Is in another realm. Sorely missed. Six years grieving.

  4. Kathy says:

    I have no idea what to say . I wish I could think of something. We are 10 months in. I haven’t been asked that question too much, but I answer yes, to the do you have children question, and then quickly change the topic. There are many people I interact with him regularly who have no idea that I’ve lost a child. It’s pretty weird. I read something that helped me. It was about how Sarah awaits us in our future. That gave me comfort. It helped me to look forward, instead of always looking back, which makes me so sad. It helps me remember her presence instead of her absence. There are just no easy answers for this. But I’m so thankful for people like you who put these topics out there. Thank you for this post and for sharing about your precious and beautiful Jake.

    • edcol52 says:

      Kathy, I am so deeply sorry of your loss. I know in some measure what you are going though. What you will say will change as time goes on, and may vary depending on who is asking. Just know that there is no wrong answer. I wish you peace as you move forward with your lives.

  5. Hi Ed,
    Such a painful complicated loaded question. Obviously the person asking me is making small talk so I say I have three children and then I walk away. I will never ever say two. That is not denial because trust me I know. John and I may always be in the WTF happened stage. There is just no wrapping our head and heart around this. We think of you and Terry often and of course Jake.

    • edcol52 says:

      Thank you, dear Dee for your usual insightful comment. Yes there will always BE Jake and Amy. Never WAS. Always in the present, always with us, waking or sleeping. Best to you and John.

  6. rysfam says:

    I am deeply sorry for your loss of Jake. I also feel this way for mine and my family’s loss of my son Ryan. Died over 4 years ago, age 26.
    Took me a long time to be able to say:
    I have 3 children, two daughters and a son. My son lives in Heaven.

    I commend you Ed for starting your blog, great job and something I haven’t found the courage yet to do. You inspire me. God’s blessings to you, your family and to all of Jakes family and friends. God Bless Jake♡

    • edcol52 says:

      Thank you for visiting and your thoughtful comment. I am humbled that you find some insight in my words. It wasn’t so much courage as an imperative to write that inspired me to begin chronicling my journey. That imperative has diminished somewhat in the past year, but every now and then something strikes a chord and writing helps me process those thoughts. I wish you and your family whatever windows of peace you can find.

  7. Ten years later, my response is like Dee’s. I always say 8 never 7. I never feel like I have to explain. I think it’s because the wound is so deep, it’s my right to protect it.

    Far too often, I had found myself protecting others through the awkward conversations. It was more emotional withdrawal. I needed to regain some power of what I allowed.

    I can’t imagine asking someone how their child died. No one has asked me that. In groups, I have changed the direction of the conversation if I thought it might be heading that particular way.

    • edcol52 says:

      Some people do. Not so much any more, and in the beginning, it was mostly people who knew Jake. Now, with people I meet for the first time, the fact that he died is enough to bring that part of the conversation to a screeching halt. Thank you for your comments and visiting.

  8. gingerym says:

    It is my least favorite question now and I just about refuse to ask it of other people anymore. Usually, I go for the 4th answer though often I say we have a “heaven held son.” Like you said, though, that usually ends the conversation quickly.

    I waned to take a minute and thank you for your honest and heart felt blogging. We joined this club in October of 2014 and I still have days I can’t figure out what is going on. I connect deeply with your thoughts and words.

    • edcol52 says:

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, there are still days where I have no idea what is happening. I think that will be the case from now on. In the two years since Jake’s passing, those days have lessened somewhat, but I think it is more the case that I have learned how to ignore the questions a little better. I will always be bewildered by Jake’s death, will never figure it out, but we just have to learn how to live with it. I wish you peace.

  9. Gkiger91189 says:

    Hi Ed….I have read your many writings since we lost our son some three and half years ago who was 23 when I found you’re web page. You’re “”Past or Present” statement is spot on for me and you’re last two paragraphs have deep meaning so very much the same.

    It doesn’t matter for me past or present because he still lives everyday I am alive. There have been many a time when people ask, “do you have kids”. The answers always yes and if they ask more I tell them more and if not it ends there. One time it was the ” how old are they and what do they do”? My daughter does this and my son lives in heaven, I once replied. I’ll never forget that look.

    It’s funny how for me he lives more alive today at times, then when he was alive. I remember things he did, he said, wanted to do, and his future plans. Why is that? I, like today heard a song and had such an emotion in the words it effected me all day missing him so deeply that you want some way, some how to hold him, touch him and speak with him you would do anything to get there… So I talk to him and cry talking to him, it’s your or my escape to him, to again grieve once more.

    Jake is alive and my son Brett is alive and I always say as time goes on, we are growing closer to them everyday. Keep writing Ed, you write wonderfully, so honest and so heart felt.

    Peace to you and you’re family

    • edcol52 says:

      Thank you for your heartfelt message. Yes, there are times where a thought, a glimpse of someone who looks like Jake, or a song can snap me right back to those first horrible moments. Just the other day, I was riding in the car with my wife when Bob Dylan’s Mr. Tambourine Man came on the radio. Most people only know the one verse that the Byrds did, but this was the original version with all 4 verses. I began to cry because when Jake was little, this was one of the songs I used to play for him at bedtime. Don’t know why he liked it, but he would ask for it sometimes. It was part of our bedtime repertoire.

      I write in the room that was his bedroom surrounded by much of his stuff, books, cameras, pictures, so when I am in here, he is here with me. We carry our loved ones, our precious children with us wherever we go. When he was alive, I thought of him often, but now that he is passed, I think of him always. As you say, in an odd way I have grown closer to his memory. But it isn’t the same. I long to hold him, hear him explain his latest invention, discuss his latest photograph, or just sit in silence in the woods listening to the trout stream bubble and splash while the afternoon turned chilly and the redwood trees sigh and rustle in the breeze. Precious memories, but now it is all that we have.

      I wish you and your family peace too, such a precious thing in these turbulent times.


      • Gkiger91189 says:

        Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
        Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
        The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
        Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
        Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
        Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
        With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
        Let me forget about today until tomorrow.

        Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
        I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
        Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me
        In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come followin’ you.

        Thanks Ed for bring the words to light again……Peace for you and your family until we meet our loved ones again someday……

  10. edcol52 says:

    That’s exactly the verse I was going to write about. It’s the one that gets me every time. Would that I could find that beach far from the twisted reach of the crazy sorrow I now live with every day and forget about all the todays until a far distant tomorrow when we will be reunited. Thank you.

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