Say what you will about the stages of grief.  When you’re wrapped tight in one of them you can’t imagine it will ever end or you will ever move on to the next stage.  You certainly can’t imagine the final stage – Acceptance – will ever come.

I’ve been in Denial – the first stage – for almost a year.  My husband moved through Denial and Anger and came out the other side to Acceptance months ago. He wonders why I can’t do the same.  We no longer discuss this.  We tiptoe around each other and the subject:  our son Justin’s death from acute leukemia two weeks before his seventh birthday.  We feign politeness.  “Excuse me I didn’t mean…”  “I’m sorry, did you want…”  We parry, but never thrust to the heart.  We speak of the inconsequential.  It is important to say something or our silence would take on a blackness deep as a never-ending night.   So we talk about the salmon and how it crusts better on the outdoor grill than it does in the oven.   Or about the roof and its loose tiles.   I let him take the lead and carry the conversation.  I am, by and large, compliant.  Don’t expect me to pursue an argument.  

Early afternoons I look forward to a cold, dry, dirty martini.  Five p.m. and the ice is in the glass.  I place three caper berries on top, pour in four fingers of Beefeater’s, a hint of white vermouth, a splash of juice from the berries.  By the time Greg gets home around 6:30, I’ve started sipping from drink number two, pretending it’s number one.  

This is how I feel: I’m at the bottom of a whirling black hole whose slippery sides afford no purchase.  
Last night, when I carried after-dinner coffee into the media room, he turned off the TV.   “It’s time to clear out his bedroom,” he said.  When I didn’t respond he continued, “I’ll take care of his clothes.  You gather up his books and toys.  We can donate everything to the Boys Club.”

I felt his eyes on me as I set blue pottery mugs on the coffee table.  His words burned through my skin.  Scraped through layers of muscle, nerves, blood vessels.  Laid me bare and bleeding with no defenses.  Had you placed a gun in my hands, I would have killed him at that moment.  How dare he dismantle my son’s life?  Give strangers the clothing that touched his sweet body.  Take apart the only sanctuary where I could smell his boy smell, touch his loved toys and books, lie on the narrow bed in the little depression that held my only child.  How dare he destroy these living memories?

“I’d like to use the room as an office.”  Greg’s calm voice turned the words into an obscenity.  A blasphemy.

“That room,” I hissed, “is our son’s bedroom.”  I couldn’t go on – anger swelled, closing my throat, threatening to suffocate me.  I hated him so much I ran to the guest bedroom and locked the door.

That wasn’t the only door locked over the past year.  I’ve gradually isolated myself from friends and family.  I don’t answer the phone.  Don’t open emails.  I’ve discontinued all my online social network sites.  Stopped playing tennis with couples who’ve been friends for years.  On the few occasions Greg goes to church he no longer asks if I want to come along.   I can’t face pious Christian pity.  The empty platitudes justifying God taking Justin to heaven.  How angels watch over my boy.  Behind it all I see relief that their own sons or daughters haven’t died. 

Don’t expect me to believe in God just because I’m in agony. Don’t expect me to pray to God to help me.   That makes no sense at all.  I know Justin died from a disease, not because some supernatural being plucked him out of our lives for some higher purpose.  Or because “it was his time to go.”  It’s just that I’m not ready to live my life without him. Can you understand that?  I am not ready to live my life without him. Period.  So, why go on, you ask?  I ask that of myself every day.  My options narrow as each hour passes.

Now it is morning.  We’ve finished breakfast.   My husband says, “Let’s go.  I have boxes ready in the bedroom.”  I follow him up the stairs and into our son’s room.  He opens dresser drawers, emptying their contents.  He doesn’t linger over a favorite sweater or comment about the soft Little League shirt Justin loved to wear to bed.   I move over to the bookshelves where Justin’s CDs and DVDs stand.   He was so proud he could alphabetize them by title.  All his favorites: Cars, Spirited Away, The Little Mermaid, Toy Story.  Books from toddlerhood he wouldn’t let us give away: Blueberries for Sal, Bob the Builder, Good Night Moon, Holes.  Greg had just begun reading Huckleberry Finn at bedtime.  It lies open on the bedside table.

I cannot do this.

Suddenly, a sound rips from my body.  From some place I didn't know existed comes a wail, a howl rising in pitch and intensity until it fills the bedroom like a living, sorrow-filled spirit.  My husband enfolds me in his arms.  We fall back on the bed into the hollow of Justin’s space as my grief finds its voice.  The keening sweeps over us, over our son’s toys, his books, his clothes folded so neatly on their way to other lives.  It pounds at the windows.  Tears at the walls.

Finally, exhaustion sends us into sleep and when we wake I have passed through to the fragile peace of Acceptance.

Ellen Reilly McCormick, co-author of gift books, A Good Teacher (I) and If I Could I Would Give You, hones her writing skills by participating in a weekly writers group and taking creative writing classes on line.  She has been a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate speaking out for abused and neglected children for over eleven years.

Many decades ago a pale, tiny girl of four died.  She often came to our back door pressing
her face to the glass until she caught my eye.  Then she smiled and said, "Hi, Ellen."   She died of syphilis. I listened to neighbors and friends console her mother.  I touched the tiny white casket.  I said, "I'm so sorry."  I sent white roses.
A few months ago, when our writers' group selected The Bedroom as an exercise title, the story wrote itself. As I wrote, I found myself in the bedroom with the child's mother. Now that I look back on the writing, I know where the feelings came from.



Copyright 2009