The messiness of grief

Grief is messy. No one likes a mess, and so people look away, pretend it’s not there. Everyone wants a happy ending to the story. Everyone wants the nice little bow wrapped around the package.

I remember several years ago that I somehow stumbled on a blog about a little boy named Tripp. He had a terrible disease called epidermolysis bullosa. As is the norm (I’ve  now realized), I had never heard of it. It is a horrifying disease – absolutely shattering – in my opinion, much worse than anything that we faced with James. I followed the blog closely as Tripp struggled, sensing that the end for him would not be long.

And then he died. And I stopped reading. I can’t tell you why I stopped. My heart genuinely ached for this mother, for that sweet little boy. But his story  had “ended.” There was nothing else to read, right?

Well, our story hasn’t ended. James may be gone, but we are still here – loving him, mourning him, aching for him. We are still here, getting up every morning and trying to face the day. We are still here, stretching out our open hands to others, trying to offer comfort, the gifts that we have to give others.

I get asked if I’m “ok” on a near daily basis. Honestly? No, I’m not ok. I am as far from ok as I could possibly get without going full circle.  I am – as someone else so eloquently put it – bleeding to death inside.

I held my son, my sweet, chubby, bright-eyed baby, in my arms as he died. In that moment, despite everything, I wanted to die with him, to close my eyes and never feel this pain. I witnessed his last breaths for all time. I felt his heart against mine, slowing, slowing, gone. He slipped away even though I held him against my mother’s heart. How could I be holding my baby and not save him? How do you survive it? How do you go on?

The Catherine that you knew is gone. The Catherine that believed in happy endings and shiny packages neatly tied with bows – she’s gone. The Catherine that arrogantly believed that nothing truly bad would ever happen to her – she has learned a valuable lesson. She learned that life is short and that it can be more painful than any of us ever expected or knew.

And despite that, I would do it again. All of it. Just for five minutes with that bushy-haired little man with his wise eyes. For those of you that are afraid – afraid of death, afraid of what could happen – fear not. Fearing to lose something that you’ve never had is the saddest reason that I can think of to miss out on life experiences. Does it hurt? Yes,  as if a thousand tiny shards of my broken heart are cutting into me every breath I take. Do I miss him? More than words could ever hope to capture. Would I do it again? Over and over. Just for five more minutes. A million lives in front of me – and I would still choose him and this path.

And don’t turn away from those of us that are grieving such a tremendous loss. Walk beside us. Sit with us. Listen when we talk about our children. Say our child’s name, as naturally as you would say Evaline or Hazel. They are part of us forever. There is no hurting us by remembering, by uttering those precious syllables. The only hurt is when those we love say nothing.



14 thoughts on “The messiness of grief

  1. Sweet baby James, I’m glad you were so loved while you were here. Catherine, I read every one of your posts, and though I don’t know your grief, I hurt with you. I lost 2 babies to miscarriage, and grieved them deeply. I can’t imagine loving James and then losing him. My heart is with you. Sue


  2. Thank you for this, Catherine, for sharing your grief. Today is the 16th anniversary of Alyssa’s death. And you’re absolutely right – despite the pain, the grief, I would do it all again, without hesitation, just to hold her a few more minutes.


  3. No words can say how sorry I am or how much my heart hurts for you. But I read every blog I pray every night and I know James is with you at all times. All you are doing for other families in his honor and remembering James is just unbelievable. You are inspiring and I’m so sorry we’ve lost touch over the years. Just know I will always remember James and every video of him smiling and playing knock out with daddy and mommy singing and the girls taking such good care of him those will be in my mind and heart forever. I do not know what the pain it’s like and no one should but the way you honor him just shows how much strength you have through the pain. I am at a lose for words so hopefully this isn’t much rambling I just want you Jim and the girls to know my heart is with you and James knows I think of him. Love you all!


  4. You dont know me. another vet who has followed your story and prayed for your little James. You are learning what I already sadly know. I lost my only child at 14 in 2012. I bleed everyday, I will never stop. People tell me to get over it…its time. No. I will never ever be the same. Joy is fleeting. I wish you a more peaceful journey…. i send you and your family hugs of love and understanding. I am so sorry – Kim


  5. I remember one day when I was a teenager I went to the birthday party of one of my mentor’s sons. Her son has severe autism and I wasn’t sure what to expect and I was scared that I would do something wrong or mess something up. Of course it ended up just being a fun birthday party. More than anything though what I took away from that day was the visceral experience of seeing the love my mentor had in her eyes for her son. That was the day I knew for sure that I wanted to be a mother someday. I think before then I was more scared of all the potential risks (what if something goes wrong? what if they’re unhealthy or they need parental support their whole life?) and responsibilities and asked myself whether I could ever really be ready for that. When I saw that look in her eye I knew that I couldn’t live a lifetime without it. As always, thank you for sharing James and your journey with all of us.


  6. Wish with all my might that no mother ever had to lose her baby. But, people are out here thinking of you and seer James. Reach out to us on holidays, his birthday, or just a crappy Monday. We’ll be here to lift you up in prayer


  7. Beautifully written. My son has not been born yet, but we anticipate his passing soon after birth, You capture the ache and the screaming in my own heart.


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