Thursday, March 31, 2011


I dream of Colby, which I have not done for more than a month. We are in a house. There are lots of people here, people who are all part of a family, Colby's family. There must be more than thirty people on the ground level, all of whom love and adore Colby, and he them.

Colby shows me around the spacious rooms, then we walk out the back door into a beautiful garden. The garden and its wondrous flowers give way to a meadow and Colby and I walk through it.

"I want to stay here with you," I say. "It is too hard without you."

Colby tells me that is not possible, that good things are coming my way. Soon. He says he is with me most of the time, that he is helping create these good things. His life, he says, was complete. He learned all he needed to know and it was his time to go. Now he helps me, helps Colby's Army.

As we walk, Colby is on my left. Unlike other dreams where he wears a light blue short sleeved dress shirt or a light polo shirt, this time he has on a brown long sleeved T-shirt. The light blue jeans and white athletic shoes are the same. He drapes his right arm around me as we walk and pulls me tight. I feel his touch, feel him supporting me as we walk.  I am awake now, aren't I? I think I am.

I turn to Colby, but he is gone. I look at the tall green grass of the meadow. There are snow-capped mountains in the far distance. The sun is bright and the sky is a soft blue, but it is not hot. Nor is it cold. There is a lake to my far right. I turn to walk back to the house and realize I am standing next to my bed.

That morning I am presented with three wonderful career opportunities. I feel Colby's arm draped around my shoulder as I accept each one.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I was recently asked how I had changed the most since Colby passed away. There have been so many changes but I'd have to say the biggest change is fear. I no longer have any fear. The worst thing in the world has already happened. What else is there to be afraid of?

I used to be afraid of heights, of flying, of drowning, of Colby not being able to breathe. Now, Colby is no longer breathing and I am drowning, so heights and flying are no longer an issue. Radiation from leaky Japanese nuclear conductors? No fear. Terrorists bombing a building I am in? Earthquakes, car accidents, illness, electrocution? I am not afraid.

That said, in integrating this lack of fear into my life I am aware that I must not be too bold. I must not take too many risks, especially risks that could endanger others. This makes me a more cautious driver than I was before. I am more aware of the possibilities of children running into a street or elderly people tripping and falling. Somehow, my lack of fear has made me more able to spot danger for others. Maybe my natural maternal protectiveness over my child has transferred to the world in general. I am terrified for others, but not for myself. Never for myself.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Undo it. Take it Back

Undo it, take it back,
make every day the previous one
until I am returned to the day
before the one that made you gone.
Or set me on an airplane traveling west,
crossing the date line again and again,
losing this day, then that,
until the day of loss still lies ahead,
and you are here instead of sorrow.

Nessa Rapoport, A Woman's Book of Grieving

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Today I remember Christmases past. I remember the year Colby was fifteen months old and kicked Santa Claus. The year he was a little more than two and was afraid to sled down my mom's slightly sloping driveway. We made snow angels instead. I remember the year he was three and got the choo choo train and the drum he had been asking for all year, every day, since the Christmas he was two.

By Colby's fourth Christmas he and my mom and I were sledding down the bigger hill in her yard like pros. That was also the year he begged to go to the dinosaur exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum, then screamed when he saw the first dinosaur and refused to go in. By age eight Colby had graduated to sledding the hills at the local golf course and by age ten he was beginning to snowboard. We built snow forts and snow men (and snow women and dogs) and had a number of snowball fights.

In between the snow, there were trips to other museums, art exhibits, plays, concerts, restaurants, and lots and lots of movies. And board games. Colby always won at Michigan Rummy. And there were always projects Mom needed done. Colby fixed the gate to the downstairs when he was about twelve and it still works. He re-hung closet doors, helped clean out those same closets, and learned to drive on snow.

When Colby was maybe nine, he and Mom and I made cardboard swords and decorated them glitter, beads, and bits of sparkly fabric from my old skating costumes. He made cookies with the neighbor behind us and we went for winter walks in the neighboring woods. He and I checked out the neighbor's houses from the front by walking on the frozen lake, being sure to stay close to the shoreline. We snuggled during blizzards, went to church, and drove around in the evenings and looked at Christmas lights.

I am so grateful for these wonderful memories. Christmas will never be the same without Colby, without family. I struggle with this new reality, in finding my place in holiday doings and the family gatherings of others. For now I ignore them. Colby's loss is still too fresh, too painful. Someday, maybe, the holidays will mean something to me once again. In the meantime I am blessed to have had wonderful Christmases past.

Monday, December 27, 2010


I sit here and watch it snow and think life is like a series of snowflakes. Every day life gives us challenges and each one of those challenges can be considered the equivalent of a snowflake. Individually, a snowflake weighs almost nothing and individually, most challenges can be met. But when the snowflakes and challenges build up, then life becomes extremely hard.

Colby had many challenges in his life. Like all of us, some were of his own doing, many others were just what life dealt him. Over time, the weight of all those many snowflakes built up, first blanketing Colby in them, then suffocating him with their weight. At the end, Colby was buried under a huge drift of snow.

My job now is to find a way to rid myself of my own deep layer of snowflakes. If I melt them, they compact and turn to ice, which is even heavier than the snow. If I pull globs of snow away from me, it leaves huge gaping raw spots that may not heal. Best to brush the snow off a little at a time, I think, and try to dodge any new flakes headed my way. How to do that, I am not yet sure, but every day I will brush and dodge until the weight of my individual snowflakes is once again manageable.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010





My beautiful 20-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident. I am writing this not only for myself, but for all parents who have lost a child, and to all of the wonderful people who asked, "What can I do for you?"

At the time there wasn't much anyone could do to help, but after two years I have an answer: Accept me for who I am now.

When Rachel came into my life, it changed me profoundly. Losing her did the same. Her father and I work hard to honor her memory, but we will never "get over it" to the degree of being who we were before. I am different now. In some ways -- I think -- better. I am kinder, more patient, more appreciative of small things, but I am not as outgoing nor as quick to laugh.

I know people mean well when they encourage me to get on with my life, but this is my life.

My priorities have changed. My expectations of what my future will hold have changed. Please extend to me again the offer of "anything I can do" and, please, accept me as I am now.



Please accept my profound sympathy for the tragic loss of your daughter.

I hope that your letter will help anyone who doesn't understand that the death of a child is the most devastating loss parents can suffer and that the experience is life-changing. They may get beyond it, but they never get "over" it.

To expect that they would is unrealistic, because it's a wound that may become less visible but never goes away.

Monday, December 20, 2010


I dream of Colby. It has been a long time since I dream of him so vividly. Months. Many months. In the dream Colby tells me that when he was here on Earth the brain in his body was wired differently than other people's brains. He saw the world through different eyes. I explain to him about schizophrenia and he says yes, that was his brain. He wants people to know that he was very smart. He is afraid people will remember him as dumb when in fact his brain was light years ahead of most of ours. He just could not cope with the differences in his brain, which were hereditary. I tell him that I was aware of Colby's intelligence, as was everyone who knew him. He is relieved.

Colby then says he likes the blue star. I have to think about that, about what he means. Then it dawns on me that the logo for Colby's Army, the nonprofit organization founded to finish the work here on Earth that Colby could not, is in the shape of a blue star. I had not considered it a star before. It was simply a shape that Colby drew over and over again when he was small. But it is. It is a star. And it is blue.

Then Colby says he loved the tree his friends and I planted in his memory. He tells me he was there that day, that he was the one who put the idea of the tree planting in my mind. Colby wants to know if we intentionally got a tree related to the goddess Artemis. After I wake up I look that up and find that Artemis is affiliated with the cypress tree. The tree we planted for Colby was a Leyland Cypress.

Colby also shares with me that my life theme is to be a peace bringer, that I am to help people look at the world through different glasses, to open their minds to ideas that are different that what they might currently perceive. He says he will help me in this and that he is here with me often.

Then Colby tells me he is curious about his death. He says he does not remember much about it other than he just fell asleep and there were beams of light and angels around him. When the angels asked him to go with them, he went. He is very happy where he is now. He says he can see the big picture and is pleased about what will come in the future for people on Earth.

Before the dream ends Colby becomes very excited and jumps up and down. He tells me I will write a book with someone who is very famous and the book will do very well. He won't tell me who the famous person is even though he knows. He wants it to be a surprise and says it will be a big one.

Colby has to go, he says. It takes a lot of his energy to visit me in this way. But he wants me to know that he loves me and is proud of me. We hug and I feel his presence intensely. When I wake up I have a sense of peace . . . and a purpose.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


A counselor shares a river metaphor with me. We are all floating down the river of life. Some of us are floating in the luxury of a huge yacht or the pleasure of a big party boat. Some of us are on a barge or a pontoon, others are in speed boats, or flowing down the river in a sailboat. I am in a kayak.

This is actually good news. For the first year or so after Colby's passing I was swimming, some days I was just treading water to stay afloat. Now I have a kayak. While my journey right now is very much a solo journey, I have the luxury of some direction. I can wield my paddle to direct the kayak toward the shoreline, where I can stop and rest for as long as I need to. I can float alongside a cabin cruiser or a barge filled with friends if I choose. In my kayak, I can sometimes see the rapids ahead and choose the easiest path through them. Then again, sometimes I come upon the rapids in the darkest of nights and am fully at their mercy.

Throughout our lives we can switch boats. While I grew up on a pontoon, for many years Colby and I were in a rowboat. I manned the oars of that boat alone for many years, but as Colby got older, he was able to spell me often. When he passed away, our rowboat sunk and I was left adrift.

I have a goal. I want to trade my kayak for a canoe. Canoes are easier to handle, drier, often slower, and it is easier to get your bearings in them. Plus, they are not so physically exhausting to manage. In my canoe, I can arrange my thoughts, my feelings, my goals, my plans. It is too cramped in the kayak to do that. Someday soon, I hope to find my canoe. In the meantime, I will continue to paddle down the river and learn to portage around the waterfalls that are sure to lie ahead.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


I stay busy. Too busy. Intentionally busy. Necessarily busy. I stay up late creating more and more work so I do not have that few minutes of down time between putting my head on the pillow and sleep. Those are dangerous few minutes. Those are the minutes where the tears are most likely to come, where the anxiety is most likely to rise. Where the panic begins. So I stay busy.

Of course problems arise, eventually, because no one can keep up a pace like that forever. My body betrays me in its protest. Exhaustion, aches, pains, lack of focus ensue. I must slow down. I must. It is hard. So hard.

In those few minutes between pillow time and sleep, minutes that stretch longer and longer the less exhausted I am, I vow to return to my mantra: "What would Colby want?" How would he like me to live the rest of my life? What would he want me to do? Where would Colby like me to place my focus? If Colby could come back and live through me, what would be important to him?

I know exhaustion is not one of the things he would wish for me. Nor would he wish me pain or sadness. What he would wish me is a life filled with creativity, horses, writing, and helping others. And down time, relaxation, time to enjoy life's little pleasures. That is a goal for me. It is no where near a reality. I have to learn to sit quietly without panicking inside, without  despair overtaking my entire being, without the empty ache that has become a black hole inside me.

I sit for one minute a day. Quietly. Sometimes. Hoping I can soon learn to be comfortable with two minutes. Or, three. Maybe. Someday.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Today I find a letter I wrote to Colby. It was a letter he never read, a letter I had never given him because I wrote it in case I passed away suddenly. It was to be my final words of encouragement to him, something for him to read after I passed on, never thinking that something that tragic would happen to either of us for decades. But just in case, years ago I tucked the letter into a corner of a drawer and in it I told Colby how much I loved him and that I would always watch over him. How, I think now, is that possible when Colby passed before me? How can I watch over him and care for him when he is no longer here?

Some might say that there is no need for me to do either of those things because Colby is now well cared for in heaven. I believe that is true, but as a grieving parent of an only child, my need to be a mom to my son didn't die along with him. That urge to care for him is still here. It is a unique position we grievers of only children are in. When our child passed, so did our role as a parent.

I find in addition to grieving for Colby, I grieve for my role as a mom. I grieve for the grandchildren I will never have. I grieve for the in-laws I will never meet, the weddings and birthdays and christenings and graduations I will never attend, and school plays I will never see. I grieve for what could have been, but will never be. I grieve for Colby, for my lost role as a mom, and for me.

The grief brings home to me that the loss of every person in its own way alters the course of the universe. There is all the love that will never be realized, the children who will never be born, the events that will never take place. It is very sad, all that loss. There is much to grieve for, and a lifetime of loss to contemplate.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Exciting new research from The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia indicates a very close tie between ADHD, autism and schizophrenia. The tie-in has to do with similar mutations on chromosome 16. I have mentioned before that since Colby passed I have found numerous relatives on my side of the family who had schizophrenia and I fully believe there is a genetic component.

This new finding is another step forward in learning more about the human brain and mental illnesses, including schizophrenia. Someday, I hope, there will be definitive genetic markers that will help diagnose schizophrenia, as well as medications to better treat it.

For more information, follow this link to the article:

Sunday, September 26, 2010


We all have scars. Some of us have very visible scars from accidents and others of us have internal scars from wounds incurred by life experiences. Colbby had a scar on his tongue that he got when he fell down when he was not yet two. I remember there was blood everywhere, but the ER doc I talked to assured me that tongues do bleed a lot and that it probably would be fine. And it was.

Another external scar Colby had was on his thumb. He was opening a can of dog food when he was about eight and ended up with a ton of stitches. The worst part of that incident was that it was right at the beginning of baseball season and he missed most of the games that year.

But, like a lot of us, Colby had many internal scars: the counselors who did not adequately diagnose him, the doctors who turned their professional backs, the teachers who not only didn't believe in him but actively and intentionally were unhelpful. And then there is me. I know I caused some of Colby's scars, just as all parents unintentionally disappoint their children from time to time.

Colby's internal scars were big and heavy and ugly and he couldn't carry them without help. Even though many of his friends and I tried, the devastating reality is that we could not get Colby the help he needed.

Like Colby, I too have scars. In addition to the usual accumulation of life scars, my biggest scar is that of a grieving parent. One surviving son of a parent in one of my support groups likened this kind of grief, this kind of scar, to a broken leg that didn't heal right. End result: you learn to live with the limp. That analogy is so accurate because I feel as if I am now limping through life. I will still end up at the same place at the end, but it will be a slower, more painful and difficult journey than it would be if Colby were still here.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Integration is a word I hear a lot in my grief sessions and from my therapy friends. In this context it means that grieving parents must learn to integrate their grief into their new lives without their children. With many other kinds of grief, the grief is short term and the person moves on. Not so with grieving parents. Their grief is for life.

This is not to say that the parent is stuck at the same level of grief or at the same point of their life. Instead, grief moves with you, becomes a part of you, is integrated into your life. Here, grief is a moving, fluid thing that becomes part of you.

The hard part of all of this for me, and probably for all parents, is to integrate something I do not want, something I never asked for. It's like being tied to a big, black, heavy ball and chain and having to lug it around . . . forever. The pain of carrying this big, heavy ball is so big, so deep, that at times it feels as if a series of Exacto knives are being twisted around my insides. Sometimes the pain is more bearable and then at the oddest moments I am doubled over in agony. That level of grief can last for days.

So many grieving parents have told me that it will get better over time and I do believe them. And, while my heavy ball will always be with me, over time I will also have integrated it well enough into my life that it seems lighter. It will become more manageable because I am more used to it. At least, that is what I hope for.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Colby's 25th birthday is (would be) a week from today. I have found that if I become anxious in days leading up to a special event such as this I get through the day fairly well. If not, then I am a mess the entire day, and in the days that follow the big day. It's too early to tell which way this day will go. If I had a choice, I'd prefer the anxious days ahead of Colby's birthday. Not that there isn't anxiety in all my days now. There is, but "special days" make it worse. Then again, if I had a choice, I'd prefer to take Colby to the restaurant of his choice for dinner.

When Colby was a child, he had birthday parties at home where the kids would ride our horse, Snoqualmie. Or, we'd go to Chuck-E-Cheese, or play miniature golf. Colby was really into miniature golf there for a while. As he got older his interest in miniature golf spurred the idea that he could whack golf balls from our front yard, across the road and into the playground of the school yard beyond. I was terrified that he'd smash a ball into a car, or even worse, a driver, so I stopped him whenever I found him enjoying that particular activity. He never did hit anything, though . . . that I am aware of.

It is hard for me to imagine Colby at twenty-five, even though he was almost twenty-four when he passed. On his birthday it will have been fourteen months and five days since he's been gone. I often wonder how Colby would be different today than fourteen months ago? What would his latest interest be? What new topic would bring about passionate  conversation? While I miss everything about him, I miss our conversations the most. We spoke almost every day and he always said something that made me look at people or the world in a different way. I miss that and hate that with his passing I now look at the world through a thick, gray filter. I wish that gray-ish view was a choice. I wish I could alter it, but it is a permanent presence that, for now, is unchanging.

I will do something to honor Colby on his birthday. Maybe on his birth hour of 1:12 p.m. I am not yet sure what that will be, so I hope "some thing" will turn into a "specific thing" between now and then. I still think it is terribly sad that our world keeps parents here without their children. I wish I lived in a world where parents were always the ones to go first. I wish no parent had to continue on without his or her child.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


It has been a month since I have written anything, probably a lifetime record for me. I have never not been able to write, so this has been a new experience. Thank you to all who have called or emailed to check on me. I appreciate you beyond words.

I have to admit, it has been a rough haul since the first anniversary of Colby's passing. There were so many thoughts and feelings and emotions swirling through my body and I couldn't grasp on to any of them. Some days I couldn't get out of bed. Some days I absolutely could not function.

Over time, what slowly began to emerge from that swirling mass was a visible layer of grief. Think of your body as a vibrant container of color. Maybe today your right knee is a bright blue and your head is a vivid yellow and your right arm is a brilliant orange. Every body part has a beautiful color and together all those colors make up you.

Now place a transparent layer of dark gray over each one of those colors. You can still see the yellow and blue and orange, but they are muted. This is the new you, more subdued, slower, heavier, grayer. The horror begins when you realize that this layer of gray will be with you forever. In years to come the gray may become lighter, it may become more transparent, but it will always be there. It is an entwined, integral part of who you are. Forever.

I hate the color gray.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


We all want and need to feel that our world is safe, and I recently realized that I have not felt safe since Colby was born. Colby's lungs collapsed at birth and he had many upper respiratory issues as a young child. Even though I had a room monitor, several times I woke up to hear Colby gasping for air, struggling to breathe, turning blue. I don't believe I've slept deeply since then.

At three Colby was diagnosed with asthma, at age eight with depression, and on and on. There was always something, or several somethings, that made me believe that if I slept, deeply, something terrible would happen that I could have prevented, had I been awake. Turns out I could not prevent the worst thing that could ever possibly happen.

Close to twenty-five years of sleepless nights became a habit, and old habits die hard. I still don't sleep because I cannot find that sense of peace, of safety. I still wake up every hour and check the door to be sure it is locked. I check that the lights are tuned off. I check the floor to be sure a glass hasn't flown off the shelf by itself and broken, scattering bits of glass I might step on. This is not normal behavior. I know this even as I check, one more time.

This is not a scary, fearful feeling of being unsafe, rather it is the feeling that I left something important undone. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that because I could not save Colby that I am now overcompensating. This is yet another part of grief, another part of the process grieving parents experience. I am told my feelings, my behavior, are not unusual. Grief for parents who have lost a child is a lifelong process, and this is part of that process.

Now that I understand, I find if I talk to myself I can sometimes talk myself out of jumping up yet again to check something. I can calm my rising anxiety and ward off another frightening panic attack. And sometimes, I can reassure myself that my world is safe, even though it will never, ever, be right or whole again.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


The big bus parked in front of my house looks like an aerodynamic whale in a black tuxedo. The bus pulsates and I feel the vibration of its energy. There are large wheels on the bus, almost cartoon-like wheels, but I know they are only for looks. This bus hovers and flies through the air, through space and time.

It is dark outside. The two people at my door are dressed in black business suits. One is a woman a few years younger than I am with dark red, shoulder-length hair. Her hairstyle is from the 1960s and her face is lined and severe. She is also slightly shorter and carries a walkie-talkie. The other person is a tall, thin, baby-faced man with dark curly hair who is probably in his thirties.

The two people and the bus are here for Colby. Colby is ready and waiting, and is eager to go. He has a duffle bag packed and gives me a hug and a kiss before he heads out the door. I try to grab him, to pull him back. I am frantic. Colby musn't leave! I know if he leaves he will not return. My fear and anxiety grow and the woman blocks the door as I try to run after Colby. She is surprisingly strong. "It's not your time," she says. I understand now that the two people are here not to escort Colby, but to keep me from following him.

Colby turns before he enters the gaping mouth of the whale bus. He waves. He is happy. "I'll check in on you," he says. Then he is gone. The two people and the bus disappear, and I am standing alone in my open front door, the night breeze swirling around my broken heart.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


I frequently get the comment, "But you always used to . . .." You can then fill in the blank: Go to the movies, attend business receptions, frequent favorite restaurants. The list is actually quite long. Many things I did regularly before Colby passed away I no longer do and there are several reasons for that.

One is that since Colby passed I have developed, not a sensory processing disorder, but something similar to that. Lots of sights and sounds, lots of people milling about, snatches of many different conversations, all overwhelm me. I can't think, can't breathe, can't focus. It is all too much. This apparently, while not common, is not unusual when someone is struck with devastating grief. It can last for years.

Another reason is that it takes me longer to do the things I do every day. I am not sure why that is but it takes more focus, more energy, to get my daily tasks done. The result is I am continually behind and when I catch up, I am physically and mentally exhausted.

When I decline an invitation I do hope the person extending it does not feel I am ejecting them or their event. That is not my intention. It is not how I feel. I recently read a great article by another grieving parent on I hope you'll check it out. The author is very eloquent in his grief, even though, for him, eleven years have passed. Grief is definitely a journey, but right now, today, I am not sure there is a destination.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Music helps most people through hard times. For me it is, always has been, the beauty of words.

Grief grabs us by the throat and shatters our world into a million pieces.
Some days it numbs us to the bone and turns us into walking zombies.
Other days it pierces our hearts and forces a scream so loud it scares us into silence.
John Bowlby, M.D.

Your absence has gone through me
Like a thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with it’s color
W.S. Merwin

He had learned the worst lesson that life can teach––that it makes no sense.
And when that happens the happiness is never spontaneous again.
It is artificial and, even then, bought at the price of an obstinate estrangement
From oneself and one’s history . . . .
Stoically he suppresses his horror.
He learns to live behind a mask.
A lifetime experiment in endurance.
A performance over a ruin.
Philip Roth

There is no tragedy in life like the death of a child; things never get back to the way they were.
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Healing may not be so much about getting better, as about letting go of everything that isn’t you––all of the expectations, all of the beliefs––and becoming who you are.
Rachel Naomi Remen

Friday, August 6, 2010


From Colby's Notebook
Ain't it funny, how we serve money
Ain't it funny, how we die for our country
Ain't it funny, we were born a slave
I'm not laughing, I won't behave

Since Colby passed I sometimes think about getting in my truck and driving to the ends of the Earth so I can live in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Since he passed, my brain does not function as it did before. There is too much input, too many sights and sounds for me to process. There is just too much of everything.

Oh, how I wish the world would stop for a year, of maybe two, so I could sit quietly and wait for my brain to catch up. I'd like to take time to learn to breathe again, to breathe without the catch in my chest that happens every time I breathe in, the catch that reminds me, every time, that Colby is gone. I want to learn how to wake up every morning without the horror of remembering that my son, my family, is gone. Forever. I want to learn how to go to sleep without crying and to eat without the food tasting like sawdust. I want to learn to live this new normal that is me without Colby, and in today's busy world, I find that very hard to do.

Time is a luxury in so many ways. I'd love the luxury of one more minute with Colby. I'd love the luxury of time to assimilate Colby's passing into my life and integrate it into what is now me. For this is a new me. I am no longer the person I before Colby passed away. I am not sure who this new me is. I need to familiarize myself with me, but, there is no time.

Isn't it interesting that the word familiarize is so close to the word family? I am my family now. And, as the first year without Colby is now history, I find myself moving into a new phase of understanding, of learning. I just wish the world would slow down and allow me the luxury, the time to catch up. Then maybe I could find a way to assimilate it all.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Someone asked me a few days ago if I could go back in time, what was the year and day I would go back to that would have changed the course of Colby's life. It is an interesting question on many levels and I have given that hypothetical concept a lot of thought with no real conclusions. On one hand there were many factors that contributed to Colby's passing and nothing would have changed the fact that he had a genetic mental illness. If I had somehow tried harder earlier on to get him better health care, if I had given 1001 percent rather than 1000 percent, the outcome could have been different, or it could have remained the same.

Then there is the idea that interfering with Colby's life plan could upset the balance of the universe. Most are familiar with the idea of the butterfly effect. The theory is that a butterfly could potentially beat its wings on one side of the earth and cause a hurricane on the other side of the globe. It is basic cause and effect. If I traveled back in time to change the details of Colby's life, how significantly would that change the balance of the universe? Because Colby passed away, I believe several others did not. Many other people have told me they took notice of Colby's death and made changes so their lives would not end up the same way. What if Colby lived and they did not?

Then there is the thought of "what is supposed to be, is." Colby often said when he was a young child in elementary school that he would not live long enough to marry, have children, or turn thirty. Was his life lived just as it was supposed to? Or could it have been altered so he lived a long and productive life without negatively impacting the course of anyone else's life?

Of course, we'll never know. The question was put to me, I believe, precisely for that reason. There was not one defining moment that took Colby away. It was many moments over many years. And, it may well have been his destiny. Right now, today, I have to believe that what Colby instinctively knew as a child was right. The details might have differed, but the end result could probably have been the same. This hypothetical thinking will not bring him back, but it does help me put some things into context. The one think I clearly know is that I miss Colby more than words can ever begin to express.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


It's been a year and a day since I found out my only child had passed away. I still look toward the door each evening, thinking he will be bounding through it any minute now. Sometimes I pick up the phone to call him, to tell him something he might find interesting or amusing, only to realize when I begin dialing that he is no longer here. Each instance of recognition is like learning of his death all over again.

A year is a milestone. As a society we celebrate birthdays, anniversarys, and holidays on an annual basis. As I think back with a year's worth of perspective to those terrible early days of shock and disbelief I realize now that they will never fully leave me. Those days will always be with me, as will Colby's absence. But his life will also be with me. The good times, the memories, will be there. I continue to be amazed at all the people he touched, the lives he changed for the better. Not a week goes by that someone lets me know Colby made a difference in their life. I am so proud of my son because I know it was often hard for him to stay positive when he was hurting inside so badly.

Two days ago, on the first anniversary of his passing, some of his friends and my friends planted a tree in Colby's honor and memory. It was a peaceful, communal effort in a quiet spot by a creek where Colby played as a child. After, everyone stayed to visit and catch up, and some placed personal mementos on the tree's branches. It was good to see everyone. Good to know Colby is still remembered. Good to know others cared about him, and his life. Good to know how much he was loved. Is loved.

Some friends, both his and mine, were not able to be there and while I missed their presence, I understand that grief is an intensely personal journey. This past year has taught me that I have no idea from one moment to the next what I will be feeling or thinking. Sometimes I might be up to facing a group of people, more often not. Those who were not there know where the tree is planted. Several have told me they have already visited it privately, as I will also do.

Many parents who are ahead of me in this process of grief tell me the second year is often worse than the first. This is because the shock has worn off and the finality of the tragic loss has set in. I don't see how anything can be worse than this past year, but time will tell. Today, I can see that I have progressed in my journey of grief. I have not come very far or very fast, but I have had movement. All I can hope for is that a year from now I can look back and see that I am further along the trail than I am now. That's all I can expect. Hope.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


In four days it will be one year since Colby passed. I haven't posted much in the past few weeks because I have such a swirl of emotion and thought and feeling that I can't begin to grasp onto any of it. What made sense to me six months ago no longer does, or at least it is less concrete than before. Now, half formed thoughts and feelings float through my brain and then disappear as soon as I try to define them.

I have spoken with a number of grieving parents about the first anniversary and just like the way they grieve, these parents honor this day in many different ways. There is no "should" or "should not" when it comes to this. There just is. In one way it is comforting to know that whatever I  feel or do is correct. On the other hand it is a bit scary not to have quantifiable bench marks to achieve.

Some parents tell me that at the one year mark they are still in denial. They tell themselves their son or daughter is on an extended vacation overseas or in jail or part of the witness protection program. Other parents keep themselves grounded by visiting their child's grave every day. These coping strategies are as individual as the parents themselves. My strategy is that I talk to Colby. I'd like to think he hears me, but if not, it helps me cope, helps me process this undefinable loss.

To honor Colby's first angelversary several of his friends, my friends, and I will plant a tree. Maybe this will be something we do every year. Maybe not. It's a way to honor Colby's life with a living, growing thing and with something that will give back to our environment. Colby would like this, I think. And maybe Colby will be with all of us four days from today. Maybe I'll tell myself that he will be. Or maybe not.

Friday, July 9, 2010


The Fourth of July was hard. These holidays either cause me great anxiety before the day and then are a non-event, or smack me flat from behind. The Fourth of July smacked me good.

I have many good memories of Colby on July Fourth. When Colby was three he and my Mom did the polka for hours before and during the fireworks. They had a wonderful time.

There was the year Colby was about six, when the 4th fell on a Sunday. Tennessee celebrated the Fourth that year on the third and Colby participated with his t-ball team in a parade and then won the t-ball all star championship. Then we flew to Minnesota and celebrated again the next day. By the fifth, we were really tired!

When Colby was about ten, we took our dog, Sundance, to a Fourth of July parade in Minnesota and laughed for years at the face Sundance made when the bagpipes came by. Poor Sundance, that was one of the few life experiences he had that he did not fully enjoy.

Then there were many really hot Fourths that we spent in the lake at my mom's, the years we had picnics, or went to a Twins baseball game, or went to a movie. Now it is so hard to deal with the fact that those years are gone. They are in my past, our past. I will never again share the Fourth or July, or any other holiday with my son. Life has turned into a really, really bad dream. But it is a dream I must live with and learn to make the best of. And, somehow, I will.

This year Mom and I went to the horse races and visited with her friends. Then, later, I sat on the dock with my dog, Abby, and watched as more than a dozen people set off fireworks across the lake. It was a nice time, but I so wished Colby was there to share it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


My mom and I are at a coffee shop. It is one of those trendy places with couches and easy chairs haphazardly draped over the floor. Recorded instrumental music plays softly in the background. Young women with dark, spiky hair and black aprons tied around their waists serve coffee and pastries. They wear brown short-sleeved button down tops and short black skirts to go with the black aprons. The walls are painted brown and the furniture is all varying shades of tan, brown, and a deep maroon. It could be a dark, drab place. But it is not. It is cozy, almost den-like. It is comfortable.

Mom and I place our beverage orders. And then we receive them. Then we wait. As usual, he is late. Then he arrives with a flurry of hugs and apologies. Colby looks good, looks happy. He is not as relaxed as when I have seen him before but this, he says, is because he is busy. Colby knows all the waitresses by name and they treat him as if they know him, as if they are his friends. He has lots of friends, they tell me.

Colby and I take our beverages out to a porch. It is the porch of an old farm house and there are a lot of tall leafy trees between us and the road in front of us. The porch and its accompanying railing is covered with peeling white paint. Colby sits on a chair facing me and I sit in the porch swing. It is hard for mom to get around so she stays inside. "They will let her know what I am doing these days," Colby says, meaning the waitresses.

Colby catches me up on his activities. He is busy with a variety of things and I am so caught up in drinking up the sight of him that I forget to listen. I tell Colby that I wish I could see him more often, that I wish he still lived here with us. He looks puzzled. He frowns that slight frown and his eyes look quizzical. "But I am always with you," he says. "I am always there."

Then Colby looks directly into my eyes and it is his gaze that I see when I wake up.