I Have No Voice, and I Must Grieve

Published 10 years, 4 days past

In the hours since Rebecca’s funeral and inurnment, I find it increasingly hard to speak.  I can talk if I must, almost always in response to someone’s attempts to engage me in conversation, or to thank people for coming to Shiva.  I have no words of my own.  Only here, typing, can I find a few.  Even these are hard to produce.

People come to the house and tell me how sorry they are, and all I can say is “So am I.”  They tell me how remarkable Rebecca was, how much the service moved them, how we’re constantly in their thoughts, and all I can do is mumble “Thank you.”  They ask me how I’m doing and I don’t know how to answer.

I look at her pictures on the wall and on the mantle, sitting in front of the Shiva candle, and I try to feel something.  Anything.  Grief seems as absent as joy.  Tears rarely come, and only then in sympathy with the tears of others.  People tell me how incredibly strong I am, and I don’t know what they mean.

In my head, I tell myself that this is still shock, deep shock, and that grief will come.  In my heart, I ask myself how I could possibly feel — more accurately, not feel — this way, if I ever truly loved Rebecca.  Was the whole thing a long, involved dream?

The mourning candle burns on the mantle, and the pictures surround it.  Rebecca as a baby.  At Disney.  Laughing with her siblings.  Kissing a dolphin.  Smiling next to her mother.  It must have been real.  The house seems empty now, vast beyond need, filled with too many rooms and not enough use.  I miss her laugh, her footsteps, her arms around my neck, her energy.  It must have been real.  Yet I still sit, numb and passive, wondering if I will ever grieve my child’s death, and what it will say about me if I never do.

Comments (27)

  1. I blog, sometimes, because it is the only way I can speak.

    Online, offline, I’m honestly not sure what to say to you either. But I’ll stay, because I’m your friend, and whenever and wherever you do find the words, I hope to hear them.

    I love you. I love Rebecca. And beyond that, there are places that words wither.

  2. You’re in shock Eric, and grief unfolds over time.
    All the support, all the words, won’t change things, but I hope it goes some way to help you and your family. Respectfully, Matt.

  3. Each loss is unique, each mourning its own. There is no schedule, no timetable, no charted course. How you find yourself to be at any moment is how you should be, how you need to be, in that moment. Be patient with yourself. Be kind to yourself. The rest will follow.

  4. I think sometimes we feel like the world expects us to act in certain ways in the wake of certain events.

    There is no time table for grieving no rules that must be followed and if you don’t act in a certain way you obviously are an unfeeling monster.

    No one who has been reading your blog would ever say that, your grief is palpable and honest and earth shattering. I only know of Rebecca through here and through Ferrets live journal and even I feel like the world has lost some very small vital important little life force.

  5. You loved her. You loved her so deeply and profoundly that your psyche has cauterized itself so you could function during these most awful days. You are grieving now. The enormity of what you’ve lived with and what you are living with today is more than anyone can bear. You have a Becca-sized hole in your soul and the numbness is the only way you can perceive it. Don’t question yourself. There’s no rule book. There’s no right way or wrong way. There’s no schedule. You loved her. You love her. I’ve never met you — probably never will — but I have seen in your writing and your actions a pure expression of love. You loved her. There is no doubt. Don’t doubt that. Breathe. Be silent. There are no words. Don’t impose any. Peace be with you and your family.

  6. Grief manifests in different ways. What you’re doing now is no less grieving than someone whose tears flow more easily.

    When I was twelve, my grandfather died. We got the phone call in the morning, and my reaction was a simple “I’m not going to school today,” and I went back to bed, to be quiet and alone. It was the first funeral I attended, my first experience with death. Everyone was worried about me, because I didn’t cry – I withdrew. I’m the same way still, two dozen years later.

    There’s nothing wrong with it. Or with you.

    As always, my thoughts are with you and your family.

  7. Well, you will. Actually, you are right now. Don’t judge your process. My love to all of you.

  8. Don’t worry about *if* you can grieve. You can and will. You will grieve. Long after the guests are gone, long after you aren’t consoling your wife, your children, long after you painfully return to some sort of professional schedule, you’ll grieve in your own way. There are no rules about when. Grief follows you silently, then manifests itself spontaneously, often at inopportune times. Your friends, family, colleagues, all will understand. Every time you go to a funeral for someone else, even for someone you didn’t know well, you will grieve for Rebecca. Every time you think “oh she would have loved this”, you will grieve for her. You’ll burst into tears for no reason because a certain tune comes into your head. You’ll grieve, it will be ok to grieve, there’s no right and wrong time. Do not let this worry you; if anyone has a voice, you do.

  9. I’m with Ferrett on this; I’m at a loss for what to say. I know that there’s nothing I can say to lessen your hurt in any meaningful way, and I’m paralyzed that I’ll say something wrong or trite and thus make it worse. In the end, I hope you’ll understand by our presence that Stacey and I want to support you and your family, even in this place beyond words.

    Rest assured that we see nothing unusual or wrong in your silence. It’s certainly not a sign of a lack of love or a lack of grief. Oh, goodness, no. As others have said above, each of us grieves as we grieve. This is part of your process.

  10. My husband lost his sister very young, also to cancer, and he and his parents have all grieved her in different ways. He once told me he couldn’t cry for her, after she died, and he always wondered if that meant there was something wrong with him. But there wasn’t, and isn’t. He is a loving man; his sister was his best friend. Death is simply too big to comprehend, sometimes, maybe especially when it’s so close.

    I don’t know your family, but I am so sorry for your loss, and I wish you comfort and the presence of loved ones in these grey days.

  11. We do not know each other, but I am a Lexington graduate from 1987. I feel compelled to write after reading this blog. Everyone is right, there is no wrong way to be or feel. I can only offer something from recent experience. My closest friend lost her son in September. Very different circumstances, but the same because she lost her boy, her precious child. For several days, she was moving around as in a daze. Tears came occasionally, but more in response to others. I became convinced that this was her mind’s way of protecting her. Because if the pain and sadness came all at once, she simply could not survive it. Therefore, the pain and sadness has come in stages. Not to make it easier, but to make it survivable. Not to make it bearable, but to make sure she will be able to get up and move through the day and care for her children. Maybe this is how it is for you. Mostly, please know that even though we don’t know each other I grieve for you all with a parent’s heart. I have learned in the months since last September that there is no answer to the question, “how are you?” I don’t even ask that to my friend anymore. My wish and prayer for you and your family is that you feel the love of so many people and that you let that love breath air into your soul. There is no wrong way to be. Just be

  12. You have been grieving for months, anticipating this huge blow.

    Be gentle with yourself, and as impossible as it sounds, let yourself rest. You and Cat, and Carolyn and Joshua, are not only devastated. You’re exhausted.

    When you have the energy again, tears will come, or they won’t. And if not out of your eyes, out of your fingers, and we will shed them for you.

  13. How can you know that with each word you bring yourself to us and we are with you? Because of your blog, we know your wise and sunny Rebecca, and will always know her.

    It is heartbreaking to read of your doubt, ” How could I possibly feel-more accurately not feel- this way if I ever truly love Rebecca?”

    Just as you fought so hard to give your deal girl her choices-like going to school because Rebecca knew what she needed to do, please understand that you too are doing what you must do; your system knows. This is the first of the “aftermath” of your loss.

    Try to trust yourself, dear man. Please be kind and accepting of your needs.

    Love to you, Eric, and to Kat, Carolyn and Joshua.


  14. I have been reading for some time, but I can so closely relate to what you are going through. I lost my daughter 2 years ago. After the funeral (actually, after picking where she was to be buried) I stopped feeling. Anything. Not sad, not grieving. Even my affect was off. I would respond strangely to people because there was no emotion. I was ANGRY at myself for this. I wanted to feel. To grieve. A grief counselor met with us and after telling her all of this, she had one important piece of advice: You must not be hard on yourself, and let your mind and body go through the process as it happens. Do what feels right, not what you think should feel right.

    After that, I somewhat accepted (though it was difficult) the emotionless state. Shiva was strange. Everybody seemed to have more emotion than I did. But after a little while, the emotion started to creep back. Just enough that I could cope (as much as that is possible). For me, talking through it really helped. With my wife, close friends, counsilors and eventually a support group for parents who have lost children.

    I am confident you will find your own way, just trust yourself to do it.

    With deepest heartfelt sympathy as you navigate through the painful abyss,


  15. Sometimes there simply are no words left for you to say. Grief will come in its own way and in its own time. I suspect you are simply numb with the weight of your grief right now – not right or wrong, you just “are.”

    Keeping you and yours in my thoughts and prayers.

  16. Eric, I lost my mother relatively early to a terminal, incurable, untreatable illness (ALS/MND), which took four years to work its course. My grief process was rather strange, but what you have written about since last summer sounds a lot like it. I essentially started the grieving process on the day she was diagnosed. I did all my denial, kicking walls, bargaining, and depression while she was still alive, just like you have done in your blog. I was able to be much more independent as a person and stronger for her as a result, and that helped her greatly as she faced leaving us on our own way too young. In retrospect it was also my way of detaching from her while she was still alive as a defence mechanism – much like Rebecca tried to do with you. It wasn’t conventional, but it worked, and like you and Rebecca, we were able to surround our last moments with love as a result.

    Eric, you’re not in shock because you’re not grieving the way a book says you’re supposed to. You’re in shock because you can’t believe how strong you are. Consider that Rebecca’s last gift to you.

  17. As far as I know it will hit you in waves. Hopefully the time between the waves will get longer and the waves will get calmer. And after some time you will be able to enjoy and smile again and this is a good thing.

    Looking at the pictures of Rebecca you posted on flickr I see an amazing girl, full of energy. This energy will stay with you.

    When a grown up I was close to died from a brain tumor people wished me strength after it had happened. But the hard part was before his death, knowing it was ahead of him and not knowing how long it would take. His death was also a relief for me: not because he had died, but because the year thinking about cancer and being in hospitals was over. And because it was clear that there was nothing more I could do for him.

    Rebecca’s life was brutally short and loosing her at a time when she was almost bursting from potential and promise must be devastating. But she had a good life and that was because of you.

  18. Eric,
    The feeling you describe is exactly what I went through when I lost my mother who died just after 50th birthday, after a very aggressive type of cancer took her from us. I remember it too clearly, even though it is almost 20 years ago now: the enormity of it worry, the anxiety, the panic, the heartbreak and the ultimate stillness after the fact…
    She was my mother – who was the most amazing person and who gave me more than I could have never asked for – and when she was gone, it was as if I felt nothing. I remember lying in bed, trying to understand. I knew my heart was broken – but I was wondering why I was not in streams of tears, shaking with sorrow, asking myself the very same questions you asking yourself now…

    But as others said: it was not until much later when the grief struck me. I think of these kind of reactions are a coping mechanism to get through the days or weeks following such loss. For now, your mind is taking control of your heart – making it a little more bearable to get through these difficult times. Might be because you sense that your wife and children need you, might be that this is too personal, too difficult to deal with right now…
    At one point, your heart will take over again – and you will grieve, in your own way.

    And the way you will grieve is yours – it will be only about you, only about Rebecca. And it will be only about the love between the two of you.

    Thinking of you all x

  19. Eric, I have lost both parents and 8 siblings in an awful 20 years. I have learned, as loss after loss happened, to let the shock be. I let the numbness be. It is protective. You have had one of the worst kind of loses, a child.
    The numbness will be replaced by pain as your conscience allows to shock to dissipate.
    I have found that the numbness allows tiny bits of “getting used” to the loss to occur.

  20. Nothing, I have nothing to bring you, Eric. It is absolutely huge the situation in which you are immersed. Enormous. It’s just not right to lose a daughter. Maybe it was in another century, I do not know. Give yourself some time, a long time, a year at least. And then think, not now.

  21. Eric, I do not know your personally but got to know about this from Jeffrey Zeldman’s blog.

    I am so sorry for your loss. Read this post and had tears in my eyes. God bless the soul.

  22. Eric, you are grieving. In time when the shock and the numbness subside the tears will come…

    Will never understand people who ask ‘How are you?’ in times like these. It would be better if they would ask if they can do anything for you…

    How are the kids holding up?

  23. I clicked the link after reading your post, eager to provide advice based on my own experiences with loss and trauma. I was happy and relieved to see that many others had come before me and offered good, helpful suggestions. Dude, you are loved.

    My only addition is this: grief is a process, so work the process. Face the emotions and the pain. It’s the only way to work through them. If you’re feeling especially lost, seek counseling. This is one of the most traumatic things you can experience. Sometimes a little help is just the thing to get through it.

    Best wishes to you and yours, always.

  24. Eric, I met you briefly heading back to Cleveland from An Event Apart in Atlanta a couple years ago. I believe I told you at the time that my wife had passed in 2010. And I just want to first say how sorry I am for your loss. One thing I’ve learned about grief is that every story is unique, and how we grieve depends on that; but, grief also has similarities across every situation. I can’t imagine losing a child, and my heart breaks for you. But I can imagine losing my best friend, lover and mother of my children.

    As I read your words, I remember so much of my own experience. I had/have a love-hate relationship with time. I knew it was the one thing that would bring healing, but it was also the one thing taking me further and further from my wife. But as much as I hate the words, “time heals all wounds,” it’s still true. The memories that now soak your eyes will slowly become the memories that curl the corners of your mouth and may even cause you to burst into laughter.

    I have to echo pixelsrzen, and encourage you not to avoid the grief. Let yourself feel and sink into the deep beautiful melancholy of everything that’s happened. Avoiding the feelings now will only bring them back later and more painfully.

    There is a great not-for-profit grief center called Cornerstone of Hope in Independence. It was founded by a couple who’s son died at 3 years old. They have a fabulous staff and were an immense help to me. I’m so glad you have such a wonderful community around you. That is truly value that cannot be measured in times like these.

    You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers.

  25. Eric,
    One of the best artistic expressions of loss, and specifically the loss of a child, is this little album: http://www.amazon.com/Beauty-Will-Steven-Curtis-Chapman/dp/B002O5Y25I. Read a little bit about the background of the album before listening to it. It will break you and build you simultaneously, but I think you will be blessed by it.

  26. I found you because a mutual friend/reader reposted your FB post about the end of the year algorithm and the unexpected pain it caused. Because of that, I have sat here for an hour reading your family’s story, Rebecca’s story. Thank you for sharing her spark with the world. I am crying for your loss and for the beauty in the words you wrote for your beloved daughter. Thank you & I’m so very sorry.

  27. Sometimes there are no words. Four years later, there are still no words.

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