Updated: Aug 31, 2021
Our son Thomas died January 13, 2019 on a beautiful Sunday morning in Palo Alto, California. His father Eric (my husband of 35 years now) found him on his patio. They were supposed to have lunch together as Eric had a work thing later in the day. I was at home in San Diego watching Sunday morning news shows and feeling anxious if I'm completely honest about it.
Our beautiful boy lived in a lovely apartment that he had skillfully and tastefully decorated himself. He had begun collecting art, had bought himself a piano, a new BMW, and he had trendy house plants that were thriving. He had a law degree from Berkeley and worked as a third year associate at a prestigious law firm. He was deeply loved by his family. He had good friends and he had dated some lovely, lovely women. There was almost nothing he wasn't interested in or couldn't do. He "had it all." And yet, he didn't live to his 31st birthday. His death was tragic and traumatic and there was trauma leading up to his death because he was suffering from substance use disorder and anxiety and quite frankly, chronic stress, largely self imposed but not entirely -- expectations at the law firm were high of course, and he was very well compensated for those expectations. He had been treated at what we all believed to be a good place for "rehab." He was in recovery. At least that's what we believed. He was taking anti-anxiety medications for generalized anxiety disorder and he appeared to have had a good doctor as well as colleagues that I believe really cared about him. Tom was also a musician and a romantic who had a deep belly laugh and a love of the English language. He loved his family. He loved his friends. He was not perfect. But this? This is not fair!
I have lost one of the most precious people ever -- one of my babies. If you have lost anyone precious, you know what I've been going through...what our entire family has been going through. I'm not sure why I'm sharing all of this other than I have to. It's something that I seem to need to do. It's been two and a half years since he left us so I've had some time to process things and I've realized that I have a desire to write about my family's trauma and perhaps to offer some small comfort to others.
you can't force an order on pain. You can't make grief tidy or predictable. Grief is as individual as love: every life, every path, is unique. There is no pattern, and no linear progression...there are no stages of grief.
-Megan Devine, It's OK That You're Not OK
I came up with this idea of myGLASS because our loss and grief is entirely ours...as unique as we are and our experiences. And a glass is simply a metaphor for our bodies, spirits, and minds...what we fill ourselves with is always so important, but especially when we're grieving.
And how many of us are dealing with grief right now? From the pandemic alone, more than 3,700,000 people have died worldwide that we know of, and in the United States, that number is more than 600,000 people according to the most recent data from Johns Hopkins. That's a lot of us who are somewhere on the spectrum of grief and loss, never mind accidents, cancer, heart disease, suicide, miscarriages, violence, our military families, and of course old age. But that's life. Death comes for us all, we just don't know when or how.
There are so many things to do when you're loved one passes. Even though our minds and bodies are throbbing with the pain of our loss, and we have no idea how we will live life without this person in it, we have to get certain things done! There are tasks that need doing and the only thing that helps with the mountain we have to climb is having people around who can help us AND the fact that initially, we're in shock. We do things that need doing simply because we're on autopilot. At least that was true for me and my husband. But as we move through the checklist of must do's, we awaken to the reality of our loss. I believe I was in shock for the better part of a year before Tom's passing seemed real and even now, I shake my head in disbelief and horror. I cry. I want to punch a wall. I have to pull over in my car so I don't cause an accident because I can't see the road for the tears. It feels like yesterday that I spoke to Tom...like yesterday that we decorated the Christmas tree together...like yesterday that he made me laugh...that he worried me too...
And so I wanted to share some ideas and feelings and thoughts not as a therapist because I'm not one. Not as a doctor because I'm not a doctor either. But as a mom and fellow traveler though the challenges of grief and loss. The unimaginable, impossible, worst thing that could have happened to me and my family has in fact happened. And if it has happened to you too, I am so very, very sorry. So sorry that you find yourself here with me, undoubtedly asking the same questions over and over and over until the inevitable question arises:
This is Tom's professional photo -- for the law firm.
This is Tom on his third birthday...I remember it as if it were yesterday!