August 13th, 2008 | by Matt |

Over the past few months we have ordered some books about grieving and other topics that feel relevant. One of them is called “Comfort” by Ann Hood (Amazon). It’s a short book, just a few hours to read from beginning to end. She lost her 5-yr-old daughter Grace after an unexpected and sudden attack of serious strep throat. Dawn had read it earlier, but I just got around to reading it tonight. It’s a raw, emotional, unapologetic account of the emotions that the author goes through after losing her daughter, and much of it rang especially true to me. Not that every situation was the same or that I felt exactly the same emotions, but the way she writes just seems very real and honest to me. It’s not a simple account of the time line of her daughter’s life and death and aftermath, but a glimpse into the confusing and crippling thoughts that she dealt with – that we can relate to. The prologue especially is written so well that I thought I would share it here. In many ways it captures the unfiltered and true thoughts of someone trying to come to grips with the worst possible loss, and how confusing these thoughts can be. I read it not just as the words that people say to a grieving parent, but also things we say to ourselves.

Comfort: A Journey Through Grief


She is in a better place.
She is still with you.
You should walk every day; you should write this down; you should go to church, to therapy, to the cemetery; these things will help you.
There is a heaven and you will see her again there.
You are not dreaming about her because you are closed to possibility.
Time heals. Once you have lived through all the firsts, it will get better. The first summer at the beach without her elaborate sandcastles; the first day of school, when she would have put on her purple leopard backpack with her collection of key chains – a starfish, miniature Lincoln Logs, the butterfly from Japan – and walked into first grade; her sixth birthday and her customary costume/painting/tea party birthday party; the first Halloween with her dressing as something with wings; an angel, a fairy, a ladybug; the first Thanksgiving when her face does not appear among the thirty others eating twenty-three pound of turkeys in our dining room; the first Christmas that I do not have to hide art supplies in the closet in my study, the bags bulging with glitter markers and crayons and sketch pads and modeling clay and watercolors and fat paintbrushes and gel pens and rolls and rolls of stickers of smiley faces and daisies and puppies and stars; the first Valentine’s day that she does not cut out construction-paper hearts and string them together for me; the first Easter with an Easter egg hunt or a pink basket filled with Smarties and Sweet Tarts and Peeps, the purple ones; the first anniversary of losing her, when the peonies are blooming in our garden and the air is filled with promise. After you have survived all of those things it will get easier to live without her.
Are you writing down how you feel? But I cannot write. I cannot think of anything except her, the way she looked splashing in the bathtub, the way she wiggled her toes against mine, the feel of her sticky hand holding on to my hand good and tight. Write that down! It will help!
The images of those hours in the hospital, of the doctor’s face telling you Grace was not going to make it, the rushing of the nurses’ feet with vials of her blood, the voice on the intercom announcing that Grace was in cardiac arrest, the way they made you wait outside the room, your face pressed against glass, the sounds of your screams, all of this will fade.
She is still with you. She is a rainbow in the sky. She is the butterfly in your garden. She is the cardinal in the mimosa tree. But I have called out her name to each of these things and they simply fade away. That is because you don’t believe.
You cannot stay in bed everyday and watch Sex and the City on DVD. You need to get outside. You need to walk.
You will sleep again, an entire night through. It is when I sleep that I am back in that hospital. My own screams wake me.
Take Benedryl, Ambien, Xanax, Zoloft, Prozac, Dr. Bach’s Rescue Remedy, smoke pot, drink white wine, warm milk, single malt scotch.
Go to grief groups and listen to other parents tell how they lost their children. Then you will know that you are not alone. But when I listen to how children are dying, on go carts and in fires and with guns and falling out of windows and from mistakes in the hospitals, I only feel more despair. Then you do not want to help yourself. These people can help you but you won’t let them.
God loves you. If there is a God, why would He have to take my Gracie Belle from me? Why would He do this? God only give us what we can bear. But I cannot bear this. Yes you can. You are not trying hard enough.
She is in a better place. How can a five-year-old little girl be in a better place without her mother? Heaven is better than here. But she is all alone. I am all alone.
Are you writing anything down?
Here is a book by a rabbi who lost his son; by two women who both lost children and they have written their stories; by C.S. Lewis, who lost his wife and was Catholic and wise; by a psychiatrist, a sociologist, a teacher; by someone who has interviewed parents who lost children. But none of them lost Grace. They do not know what it is to lose Grace.
You need to get out of bed; off that sofa; out of the house. This world is full of five-year-old girls. They are everywhere I go. The supermarket is full of cucumbers and blueberries and pasta. Target is full of pink dresses and purple shoes and things that sparkle and glitter and shine; the drugstore only seems to sell nail polish and hair ornaments. Out in the world there are only five-year-old girls holding their mothers’ hands wherever I go.
You should walk everyday.
Aren’t you feeling better? You got through a year of the firsts! I did not go to the beach this summer. I did not park in my usual place at the school so I could avoid watching the first graders filing outside through the playground at the end of the day. On her birthday I sat outside beside her toy log cabin and ate cucumbers and pasta and drank too much rose and tried not to think about the feel of her in my arms the night she was born on how her skin was the color of apricots, while my husband talked to her best friend Adrian Roop and his mother in the dining room. I did not know what to do with her Christmas stocking, the one with the angel on it and her name sewn in my crooked attempt to use a needle and thread. I did not know how to celebrate a New Year without her. And on the first anniversary of her death, I ran away with my husband to Cape Cod and climbed the dunes there and felt the spring sunshine on my face as if these things could make me feel better.
You look better!
You sound like yourself again.
Grace is sending you white feathers, heart-shaped stones, pennies from heaven.
Have you been writing this down?
I can’t believe that after one year you are still not going out more. You should be walking, taking Pilates, joining a gym. My body cannot move. I am paralyzed.
Here is a book about the Holocaust survivors.
Did you know that Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain all lost children? And look at what they accomplished! Then I am not as strong as they were. Grief is bigger than I am.
Time heals.
Grace would not like to see you this way. How do you know what Grace was like? I believe she would want me to miss her with every cell in my body. And that is how much I ache for her. My arms hurt from not holding her on my lap. My nose aches from not smelling her little-girl sweat and powder and lavender-lotion smell. My eyes sting from not seeing her twirl in ballet class. My ears strain every morning for her calling “Mama!” when she wakes up. My lips reach for her sticky kisses. At night I search for her.
You need to give her clothes to unfortunate children. Even her sparkly red shoes? Her pink skirt? Her lei made of paper flowers? Her leopard rain boots? Her two-pointed brightly striped pom-pom hat? It is not healthy to keep a shrine. But there are shrines to lesser things. To Jim Morrison. To pets. To saints who are no longer even considered saints. But you need to move on.
Are you writing any of this down? Only the lies people tell me. There are no words for the size of this grief. There are only lies.
You will see. Time heals.
In time you will sleep again and dream of beautiful things.
In time you will not miss her.
You will see.
Time heals.

I also found the beginning of Chapter Three to be something I could relate to:

GRIEF IS NOT LINEAR. People kept telling me that once this happened or that passed everything would be better. Some people gave me one year to grieve. They saw grief as a straight line, with a beginning, middle, and end. But it is not linear. It is disjointed. One day you are acting almost like a normal person. You maybe even manage to take a shower. Your clothes match. You think the autumn leaves look pretty, or enjoy the sound of snow crunching under your feet.
Then a song, a glimpse of something, or maybe even nothing sends you back into the hole of grief. It is not one step forward, two steps back. It is a jumble. It is hours that are all right and weeks that aren’t. Or it is good days and bad days. Or it is the weight of sadness making you look different to others and nothing helps. Not haircuts or manicures or the Atkins Diet.
Writing about Grace, losing her, loving her, anything at all, is not linear either. Readers want a writer to be able to connect the dots. But these dots don’t connect. One day I think about how knitting saved my life, and I write about that. But how do I connect it to other parts of my grief? Grief doesn’t have a plot. It isn’t smooth. There is no beginning and middle and end.

I’ve never been much of a writer, but these days I find it therapeutic. I find comfort in writing down my thoughts, whether they are read by others or saved only for myself. This book, in it’s disjointed and raw form, encouraged me to continue writing down my thoughts and feelings, even if they are in private form rather than a public blog. And to continue sharing with family and friends. Sometimes it helps to tell a story for the 10th, 20th, 50th time. There are moments and memories that feel just as raw as the day they happened. The excruciating early-morning hours in the hospital on the day Kevin died. The long, stormy, silent drive to Iowa City. The final moments we had with him in the same PICU room where he struggled to survive after being born. Having to tell an unsuspecting Emily that her brother died. Coming home. Making funeral arrangements at a time when we could barely think. The empty days that followed.

I’ve shared some of the events and my thoughts with some people, and some close to us lived them with us. But I feel like I need to write these stories down, if not for anyone else then for myself. I hope that by continuing to write and share we will also find Comfort.

  1. 3 Responses to “Comfort”

  2. By Jeni on Aug 13, 2008 | Reply

    I’m glad the book encouraged you to continue to write. I know many of our friends read what you and Dawn write even if they don’t comment, and they really appreciate hearing stories about Kevin and how you are feeling. I love that Kevin’s site continues as it’s a website I checked daily during his life and now.

    I really like the part on grief not being linear. This is something I didn’t expect. As Kevin’s friend it’s unpredictable when I will be hit with sadness. It smells like fall to me right now with the cooler weather and that reminds me of Halloween and Kevin as a skunk and of his birthday.

    I though Noah’s birthday would be hard just 20 days after Kevin’s death, but instead I find Lily’s birthday preparations to be more difficult. Lily wants Kevin at her party so badly. She got angry one afternoon when she realized he would not come to her party. I finished her birthday video, and she loves watching the silly video and pictures of her buddy Kevin. His memory lives on in even his youngest of pals.

  3. By Kristel on Aug 14, 2008 | Reply

    I read the book shortly after Dawn did. It was heartbreaking and so raw, its hard to even imagine how she was able to put those experiences and feelings on paper. Just reading the prologue brought all the tears back again. I saw Kevin on his commercial today, which always makes me smile and reach out in my heart for him. It will never “be easier”, but as long as we have family and friends, there will be other happy times.

  4. By Mikki Jaeger on Sep 18, 2008 | Reply

    I happened to go to Kevin’s site in my bookmarked area today and read your postings for August. It’s been a few weeks since I checked it. It took me awhile to get through what you wrote, past the tears I shed thinking of you and Dawn and Emily’s grief. All I could see was Kevin in his cowboy boots running down the hall, laughing, or the video where he was mad and “Duker” got it with all his tiny vented crying scene that day. We miss him too Matt and although we don’t bear the grief you guys have we wish the clock could be turned back, just for some time so we could give him some more loving and watch him experience the world again. Every time we tell your Mom & Dad some silly stuff that 2.5 year old Sarah does we wonder if it might be too painful. The day we recently went over to your Mom’s with Dale & Michelle and the kids we hoped it wouldn’t be too hard on them too. Kearia at 7 still says something about Kevin’s “Day” as she calls it when he got to meet Jesus. She said he’s playing up there gramma, Sarah sees him too. It’s not unusual to see Sarah gazing up into the sky sometimes and she says “Hi” and waves at “someone” that we adults don’t see. The belief is babies “talk’ to angels all the time. I ask her is she is talking to the angels and she says Jesus. So who knows, but it always warms our hearts. It’s a mystery to us who she sees, but it’s with rapt attention as she sits and stares up into the sky and then waves. I like to think maybe sometimes she sees my Dad or sometimes maybe it is Kevin… Someday we will see him again and along with many other loved ones who are waiting just past the gate… God Bless you guys, we love you and your in our prayers for the strength to keep on keeping on… There is no such thing as it gets easier, but instead the memories will always be there…