Public grief


Last night, I started to think back on the day of James’s visitation. For whatever reason, in my grief, I haven’t dwelt on those specific days. Maybe because the pain is too exquisite right now, and my mind is sheltering me from it – who knows? Some parts of those days are very hazy, and other parts stand out in sharp relief. For whatever reason, I started to think about bathing him. I remember nothing about the night he died. I don’t remember going to bed. I don’t remember falling asleep. I don’t remember when I woke up. I do remember bathing him though.

We tenderly undressed his little body. He had dried blood at the site of his PICC line and at the site of his Broviac catheter. We placed him in his little hot pink bath tub (courtesy of the sisters that proceeded him) with the whale sling. We gently cleaned him. My husband sobbed beside me. I remember shedding a few tears but overall feeling a sense of calm. We needed to do this for our baby. We had to take care of him.

At one point, blood started to ooze from the site of his PICC line. I think that I calmly asked someone for a Band-Aid to place over it. I don’t think that I broke down. I was his mommy, and I had to take care of him. After his bath, we dried him and picked his clothes. I didn’t want him to wear a suit or set of clothing that he’d never worn. I wanted him to wear the sweet little snuggly outfits that he always wore, so I put him in his warm little tan pants and a sleeper shirt with moons and stars on it – one of my favorites.

That memory is forever in my heart and mind.

People probably wonder why I am being so public about my grief. Why do I post to Facebook? Why do I write this blog? How can I share such raw, intimate images of the moment of James’s death with so many people? Do I need attention? Do I need validation? Am I just a crazy narcissist?

The answer is that I can’t not share it. I can’t keep this grief bottled up inside me. My son, my only son, died in my arms. To keep the words that describe it within me, to not share his life story, the story of his death, and his legacy – that would stymie my healing more than anything. Even more than that, I want people to see this grief. I want people to understand that there is no “healing.” There is no “better” or “recovered” from grief. Grief is forever. And it isn’t something to be afraid of or shy away from.

I want people to know how to support me and thus, how to support others. I want grieving mothers and fathers to know that they aren’t alone on this path. I want James’s legacy to live on through my words, through his story. He has changed me. I am not the person that I was, and I never will be again. He has made me better. I am more empathetic. I want to reach out more. I want to give more of myself to others. I’m a better mother.

Ultimately, I want to change the conversation about death and grief and funerals in America. That’s a big goal, and it’s one that I can’t achieve on my own. But by keeping this blog, by telling James’s story, by buying Cuddle Cots, and by being honest in this journey, I hope that I can help make a change.

Grief isn’t pretty. It can be awkward and messy and scary; but it is an emotion more than anything that shows us what love is. We grieve because we loved, and we lost. We grieve because something more precious than words has been taken from us. We grieve because we will never be the same people again. We grieve.

And we need you to be with us in our grief – public or private.


3 thoughts on “Public grief

  1. Oh, Catherine…yesterday was one year since Nora’s passing, and we were just talking about how that day was a blur. Not remembering when we slept, or woke, or did anything, except I distinctly remember bathing her and dressing her with my husband, and laying her out in her own bed, in our own home. Such sweetness and beauty in the midst of heartache, and like you, I have no idea how I would have survived it if she’d not been here with us for those days. We need to talk about our grief…sharing stories is what has connected humans throughout history. The tribes of past all shared their grief. We’re not meant to be in such’s just the past century or two that people have lived that way. So share away, in whatever way you need to. You sharing is a gift, and a way for James to live on. My heart is with you.


  2. The loss a a child is one of the most catastrophic things that can happen in this world. You grieve however and whenever you want. I think you are very brave to share. The cuddle cot was a resource I have never heard of before. I do think you will help many people in their struggle with grief– I’m just so sorry that you have to. Hugs, prayers, and tears from here.


  3. It’s taken me a while to be able to read this post. You see, I lost my father on March 17th, 17 years ago, and it still hurts, I still grieve. But I had family and friends to lean on and to talk to…a support system.

    What you say is so very true. Grief needs to be shared, by those around the one grieving and the one grieving. The way society views death and grief does need to change, there is an unspoken taboo that I can’t fathom. To lose a child is to lose a part of your very soul. I’m glad you write this blog, I’m glad you share your thoughts, emotions, memories and mental wanderings. It’s something I wish I was able to do. One doesn’t recognize the very vital part support plays during a time like this until it simply isn’t there.

    You are doing good things, and you will continue on and do great things. James is proud.



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