When the loss is forever


I haven’t written much about the transition of my son J to our new life and existence after Joan’s death. He lost his mother when he was 12; it is something that will shape him for the rest of his life. He stood by her, holding her hand as she gulped her last breaths, he wept inconsolably as she faded and grew cold. I wonder what the impact of that will be as he grows into manhood. It will have an impact; there is a huge crater in his life.

My first action after the funeral and all the emotions that came immediately afterwards was to do……nothing. I decided to change nothing. It was dislocating enough to come home to a home devoid of the person you love deeply, without also uprooting the rest of our lives.

So we made our way back into our familiar routines. Up early on mornings for the long drive to school. Once there, the teachers made sure J was occupied with work or activities. I picked him up at the same time I always had, and dropped him at music lessons before returning home to make dinner. J would then do his homework and after that, we got some father-son time in the evening before he went to bed.

It’s been a year since Joan passed away. This year, we’re making changes. J seems as excited as I am at the prospect of a new home, new adventures. But through it all, I worry about him. He has always been very loving and open with his emotions. That hasn’t changed as he has moved into puberty, though it has moderated a bit. But his essential goodness and decency have remained. Sometimes, though, I catch him staring into space and I know there is a dark corner of his being where I cannot reach him. I recognize it because that dark corner exists in me too. And, I worry: will he let that darkness encompass him one day once he has left my love and protection?

Other changes are more subtle. J has been fascinated by ships and shipwrecks since he was seven-years-old. He decided when he was 11 that he was going to be a naval architect – not building military ships, but commercial ones. He got online and looked up the countries with the most shipbuilding expertise and even looked up universities that would help him get there.

Since my wife died, he still is interested in the subject, but the joy and drive seem to have left him. He now seems unsure if that is what he really wants to do. I realize he is only 13 and changing perspectives and desires are normal…but I worry that he is burying a dream because of the hole he now carries within him. I carry it too, and it effects me in profound ways from one day to the next.

I focus a lot of attention on our conversations now. Asking him his thoughts on a variety of subjects from the inane to the profound. I lavish attention on him, yet work hard not to smother him.

I am trying to “reboot” my life right now – I am finally open to maybe meeting someone new. But what does that mean for him? I have talked to him about it and he is supportive, but there is a big leap from a hypothetical to its reality.

I have survived years of illness and the horrors of caring for someone dying of cancer. I can weather this transition. I recognize it is another trial.

But J is all I have left of my beautiful wife. I must focus my love on him while moving forward with the other things that matter.

Related posts: Time for Changes, Time for Life and Love in the Time of Cancer

This piece was originally posted at Alan’s blog.

Alan Howard is an Engineer and Operations Manager at Cisco Systems Inc., where he has worked for the past 15 years.  He lives in Atlanta, GA and enjoys kayaking, hiking and writing when he has the time and energy. You can read more of his writing at his blog Get Busy with Life and in the upcoming anthology Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy.

One Comment on “When the loss is forever”

  1. It’s clear that you’re a loving and caring father. I’ve been in J’s shoes. I suspect he will change a lot in the next 5-10 years – girls, college, career, etc. Just continue to make sure he knows that you “got his back” – unconditionally and whenever he needs it.