I Feel Your Hand on My Shoulder: a Letter of Loss

7eb0df26cc911751300538c25ebf9653Author’s Note: On September 11, 2006, we lost my stepson Brody to SUDEP (sudden unexplained death in epilepsy patients) just 6 weeks shy of his 10th birthday. A bright, hilarious, and incredibly loving little boy, he left a hole in the lives of all who loved him.

Sitting at my dining room table and trying to find the words to start writing about you is the hardest thing about my day, today.

It isn’t bearing up under the weight of your little sister’s temper tantrums, or the screaming fits that come more frequently now that she is two; or the pressure at work or a fight with your dad or financial obligations. It’s having to face your absence head on and unflinching – something that I don’t know how to do.

I need to write the words; words that I want to be all about you. I don’t now, nor have I ever, spent enough time on words just for you. Your death is still so raw, but I am coming to understand it always will be.

I feel you here, you know. I say hello to you in the darkness of your sister’s room at 3 a.m. I feel your hand on my shoulder sometimes, like when we are rocking in her chair or reading your books that are now hers. I felt you when I finally managed to make it through I’ll Love You Forever without sobbing.

I feel both a heaviness in my heart and a joy I can’t describe when we take her to your park, and walk with her along your path where she rushes down to the beach to throw your stones.

When I am unsure of my steps with your sister, I know you are there pulling me along, reminding me that it doesn’t matter if I make a mistake – because, holy hell, didn’t I make more than a million with you? On days when I feel the often overwhelming stress of being a mother and a partner and a daughter and a friend and a boss, your gentle reminders of what is really important sing out in the back of my mind.

I spend a lot of time walking behind your sister. I want to see the world through her eyes; your absence has taught me that I can have joy again through her perspectives.

For all of the times I feel your presence, there are countless others that pronounce your absence.

While we keep you close to our hearts through our memories and our adoration of your sister, living with the constant undercurrent of sadness is so hard.  There is no silver-lining, there is no lesson to be learned from your loss, there is no reason.dsc01553

It’s tough, keeping all of these balls in the air. All of these balls juggle together to form the routine of our lives now and if one were to fall it would have a devastating effect on the others. If we dropped the ball of our sadness it would mean we had forgotten you – because I don’t know yet how to remember you without that sadness. If we dropped the ball of our happiness it would mean that we have allowed the grief to take over and put your sister’s well-being on the back burner. If we dropped the ball of our relationship, then your dad and I have failed each other.

The raw, tender, and very necessary act of keeping this routine going is never going to go away. It may change slightly, or become a little scarred, but it will always be there.

For all of us that have lost you: me, your dad, your mom, your sister, and for the little sister and the nephews who will never know you, it will always be there.

Your sister is awake now, and I am certain you have been whispering in her ear to come down and chase away my sadness. I know that because I feel you over my shoulder, always.


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Jennifer lives in Toronto, Ontario with her husband and 2 yr-old daughter. When not working in civil service or ranting about motherhood on her blog Mommies Drink, she is making a mean vodka tonic, but don’t ask her to share. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


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