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When your son might be dead
My hold on equanimity is precarious. I’m fixated on “Jake’s totally off the grid, if he’s alive and well.”
The implication is that he probably is not alive.
This supposition does not bring closure because there’s no body.
When others suppose your son could be dead, it only just barely penetrates your awareness. You can think the thoughts, but the actual possibility sits on the periphery, like the time your mother told you her cancer had metastasized and you were surprised when she died because you had this membrane of denial protecting you.
Except that membrane now has a couple of tears in it, and images of what could have happened to your son ooze in and take root and grow until all you see in your mind are barrels of acid, withered, leathery flesh, white bones, ragged t-shirts and holey shoes, a lone skeleton propped against a tree in meager shade.
It’s not just that he is dead. It’s how he died. Where he died. If he died.
When your son might be dead, you grieve and hope simultaneously.
The boy I swore to protect, my beloved young son–vibrant, lifeless, vibrant, lifeless, vibrant, lifeless.
I saw a license plate frame two days ago that tore the membrane: The best mothers graduate to be grandmothers.
Another mom’s celebration just tore my denial veil.
And again, I’m reminded of my mother. When she wrote about my decision to give a baby up for adoption many years ago, she described “grandmother empties.” But adoption is not death.
A disappearance is not death, and neither is another person’s supposition.
This is a comfort, this tiny flickering flame.
It’s wondrous that it has not been doused. It’s like one of those unkillable candles that you hate to have on your birthday cake.
I don’t usually tell people I’m praying for them because I think practical help is a better way to show love and support. But I accept and respect that others are praying for me because I sense this. I’m a strong person, but I can’t manufacture inner peace. I can meditate, but we’ve seen where my thoughts go. I’m dealing with monstrous grief and I have questionable coping skills and I have this inextinguishable flame. If you are praying for me, thank you.
I have no idea what will transpire. I cannot affect the physical outcome. I’m helpless, and I’m a reminder that we all are. But Viktor Frankl reminds me that I have the freedom to find meaning in the midst of my suffering. He states that even in the most miserable circumstances life has meaning. And he himself lived this truth when he was in a concentration camp. I’m living it now. Just as Jake is irreplaceable, so am I.
I have found that making quilts grounds me, so that’s what I do in my spare time.
Here is one I completed for my beloved Aunt Nancy:
Today I heard from my P.I. friend that “Jake’s totally off the grid, if he’s alive and well. I remember that last year all of the P.I.s that helped us were shocked to see how nothing is current in any database, even the one a lot of us think is the best.”
If he’s alive and well.
Jake is certainly capable of going completely off-grid intentionally. Was capable?
noun, plural lim·bos.
- [not applicable]
- a place or state of oblivion to which persons or things are regarded as being relegated when cast aside,forgotten, past, or out of date: My youthful hopes are
in the limbo of lost dreams. I am in limbo.
- an intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place.
Transitional. This is a transition from…what? To what?
878 days missing
When I calculated the days for this year so far, I was surprised that it’s only been 148 days since May 1. Two years ago on this date, Jake had only been missing 148 days. That doesn’t seem very long.
I don’t really live in days, anyway. If you calculate minutes, 148 days = 213,120 minutes. Today the total is 1,264,320, and lately I’ve been feeling each one that passes like a 10lb musket ball. I’m shot clean through, and some days I feel like there’s not much left of me.
I keep finding myself humming songs from my childhood, like there’s something in them that comforts me. Today it is Mouth and MacNeal’s How Do You Do.
I re-read Day 709 today, and I think I’m doing my math wrong. Just as well I don’t really count them.
I still carry his boots in my car, and I keep in sporadic contact with his former unit now that they’ve deployed. Sending baby wipes and handmade kerchiefs comforts me, too. Doing these things are little minutes I’m able to claim for myself.
Thank you for asking about Jake, George Morgan.
And thank you, Natashia Deon, for asking the right questions.
I have Jake’s dog tags now. I’d forgotten he has O- blood. When I read that on the tag, I thought, “I can give him blood if he needs it.”
If I could find him. If he’s alive.
If he is alive, he turned 29 last week.
I put half of Jake’s belongings in storage today. I’ve been driving around with his stuff in my car since I picked it up, and I was vaguely aware that this was odd, that my car looked odd. I was indifferent to what people thought about it, but last night when my husband suggested we drive to VFW steak night together in my car, I had to tell him I had no room for him in my car.
I realized immediately that the full car was acting as my insulation, and that I’d need to do something with the stuff this weekend because I don’t want to push him away. But I really did not want to unpack the car.
In a way it was like having Jake in the car with me.
So today I went to storage to pay the bill and to get this task over with. I’d steeled myself for it, and planned to be in and out in maybe 20 minutes. This was not to be. The gate would not open to give me access to the site, and I thought it was broken, and I had a mini meltdown in my car because I couldn’t get any help for half an hour, and all I could think was that I needed to get Jake’s stuff out before I lost my nerve.
I didn’t realize till I wept that I was upset about unloading Jake’s stuff.
Like Shell Stacy is completely cut off from Inner Stacy.
It got sorted out, and I put Jake’s things into storage, and all day since I keep finding myself vaguely surprised that food is not working any magic. It does not dissolve heartache.
I did an involuntary visual inventory of his things. I didn’t want to think about the survival gear he’d collected yet left behind–a sleeping bag, a small shovel that makes me think of shallow gravesites, a two-man tent that would have kept him out of the elements this winter–and I think, oh, my God, what if he was in LA in one of the wooded areas where the fires hit?–a sturdy rucksack, boots in his actual size–and I think about his refusal to wear shoes that fit–, a huge blue tarp, a Swiss Army knife. All smart stuff for roughing it and finding yourself out in nature away from everyone, if you had it with you.
Until I found his suicide note, I was positive he had not gone to Mexico.
But it’s the perfect place to disappear, isn’t it? He could have died there and no one would catalog his bones to be put into the Unidentified Persons Database for me to ultimately find.
So now I need to go back to Semefo, where the people are kind but the surroundings are cold and silent.
I can’t bear to look at little boys now.
I love them in all their boisterousness and energy. They remind me of Jake.
In the end all I have are memories.
This is what keeps my head from spinning off, I think. You can’t make memories if you’re not present.
I regret that my youngest son lives 5 hours away, but I also see how lucky I am: he calls me several times a week, just to connect.
I never take this for granted. Each time we connect is another memory.
Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts.
I have never been able to open up those Pillsbury roll cans. I have walked outside and gone to a neighbor’s house and asked someone to open the can out of my earshot and then bring it back to me on the porch. I cannot bear not knowing when the can will pop. (I quit buying them. I’m sure the neighbors appreciate that.)
Heretofore I’ve been an eager watcher of suspense flicks, and now, if I hear the first note of tell-tale music dread marches up the skin of my arms to my throat and I have to plug my ears. I’ve been known to bolt from my seat to pace during scary parts of movies. Now I can’t bear suspenseful music, or the threat of physical violence–the threat, mind you. Not the actual violence. Once it’s happening I can relax.
I connect it to my not being able to know what has happened to my son. I have no control over that, and the longer he is missing, the worse the suspense is getting.
Today I talked with a colleague about some things I’m doing in my classes, and she said, “Oh, THAT’s why you’re here at work. You’re passionate about it.” She explained that she could see how focusing on work was helping me to deal with my ordeal.
I was relieved to hear this perspective because I’ve been feeling like there’s something wrong with me that I’m not massively depressed. I love my son, and I am fractured and fragile. I feel like a train wreck, and I think the journey’s miles are heavy on my face. I saw it today when I looked in the mirror. I’m old and gray today. You don’t get frequent flyer miles this way, but you do get some perspective.
Viktor Frankl writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms–to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Frankl’s words of wisdom have helped me to maintain perspective.
Here are some more, all from Man’s Search for Meaning:
- “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the “why” for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any “how”.”
- “Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.”
- “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.”
And I pray.
This is a hideous circumstance, but I see grace in my work, in my friends, in my beloved son, Josh, and husband, Tom.
Often I’m angry and despairing at how unfair this is. It is unfair.
But it’s also unfair for the woman whose toddler died on the beach.
It’s unfair for the woman whose daughter was killed by a hit-and-run driver.
It’s unfair for the woman whose son is suffering from neuroblastoma and may die any day now.
Viktor Frankl has this to say, too: “The truth – that Love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”
In love there is grace.
And I’m surrounded by both. Even when I can’t see it.
I’m taking care of myself by being open about my state of mind. If you ask me how I am, I will tell you the truth: not good. I am sad. And tired. I cry every day. I keep remembering all the times I could have been a better mother. No, I am not okay. But I am not depressed.
That seems oxymoronic.
Jake’s birthday is coming up. If I could take it to the neighbor’s house, I would.
“Pop this sucker open, wouldja? But wait till I’m down the block.”
27 November 2017
I found my son’s suicide note yesterday.
I have been sober 14 years and 2 days now.
My brain automatically looks for patterns. Common denominators.
My mother attempted suicide, too, and my ex ran several states to get away from me. His mental state has deteriorated, from what I’ve heard, and his family blames me for it. Course, he is still alive, albeit living in a homeless shelter in Iowa. And my mother ultimately died of cancer.
Nevertheless, I am a common denominator. I sowed something somewhere. Maybe it was born in my relationship with my mother.
Do not look for rational thinking here. This is not the time for it.
For the time being, I will ferry my son’s belongings. My car resembles a college student’s summer getaway car: stuffed to the gills with clothes and black trash bags and files and boxed food and cleaning supplies and boots that, I think, must have fit my son’s feet. Why do black trash bags make me think of dead bodies?
My car smells like the house he used to live in, and this has nudged out memories of the days we spent together before he disappeared. Boxes of tea conjure the times he asked for advice for his sore throat or for sleeplessness. The scent is not unpleasant, but the memories hurt.
I am unable to believe the suicide note. There’s no body. You can’t claim to be dead and then not show up. I won’t have it.
Brain real estate at a premium right now
I’m thinking out loud here.
I waffle about posting about what I’m thinking and feeling about my son being missing. I am not adding any new information, and much of what I share is about what I deal with emotionally day by day. It’s repetitive. The grief never subsides, although my awareness of it ebbs and flows.
I ultimately choose to post about it because I don’t have another safe outlet to talk about this ordeal. And right now I’m giving myself this little note to remind myself that I have permission to be repetitive, to grieve through the written word, to write the things that keep me up at night. I have to do this because I inevitably second-guess myself and castigate myself for not shutting up. And I’m doing this for anyone else who can relate.
So: lately I’ve been sleepless and preoccupied with questions I can’t get answers to. I cannot shut my brain down.
- Where is my son? This is an obvious, simple question, but thinking about it and trying to answer it take up much of my brain time. I still search ditch banks. This is a reflexive action; I cannot help myself. My brain says, “No, you might have missed something the last time you looked. Look again.” I drive down alleys. I scope out the local cemeteries. And I still check the unidentified persons database. I’ve managed to put some days between my searches, but for nearly a year I was checking every day. My brain says, “Many volunteers contribute to this database. You have to stay abreast of the new. Check again.” I have stopped short of volunteering to work for the database and help them add more unidentified bodies. It’s tempting to think that I would have more control over this horrible circumstance if I were helping in that way. It is not off the table.
- Is my son dead? This also takes up a lot of brain time. I’m not thinking it when I’m searching, nor when I’m teaching, nor when I’m engaged in any of the stuff I do to mute the agitated neurons. (I’ve signed up for a lot: Kiwanis activities, organizing an upcoming teacher conference, writing projects, teaching and research, enrolling in graduate classes, reading, someday-quilting, and Clash Royale.) This is also when I tap my inner tape that says, “It’s easier to disappear on purpose than by accident.” It doesn’t matter that I don’t fully believe it. It temporarily sedates.I don’t fully believe it because my son’s smart enough to do it right. The one real comfort I have is that he did not seem to be thinking clearly before he disappeared.
- Is my son homeless and helpless? In the summer I worry that he doesn’t have water or shelter to get out of the heat. I know he hates being hot as much as I do. We both have metabolisms that make us radiate heat. We are always hot, and the summer is particularly miserable for us. Is his face sunburned? Does he have athlete’s foot and jock itch? Does he have soap and toothpaste and deodorant? Is he thinking he smells like garbage, or is he past caring? Does he have coherent thoughts? When he was in high school he found errors in his calculus book, used Legos to build puzzling geometric problems, and went by the online name of 2brncells1gun. When he worked at the mine, someone asked him if they used fresh water or saltwater to excavate, and he answered, “I don’t know. I’ve never tasted it.Is that Jake apparent to anyone around him now?
I worry now that winter is at the door because toes and fingers need protecting. Heads need covering. Weak bodies suffer more.
Is he wearing a coat when it’s cold?
Does he have those cursed small boots on, still? Is he punishing himself?
Is he sleeping under a bus station bench and getting kicked by people who hate homeless people?
Does he have dirty hair and a dirty beard and grungy clothes that disgust people when they see him?
Does he get rained on and then have stiff frozen clothes when it freezes overnight?Is he wearing a trash bag over his clothes?
- Is my need to know where my son is more important than his right to be left alone? Am I invading his privacy by writing about him? Am I keeping him away because he is afraid everyone will shame him? If I shut up will he come home? If I do everything perfectly will he appear? Oh, toxic thinking.
- How can I best love my son? Am I doing it correctly now? When did I do it right? What did that look like? Is it too late?
- Do I have to parade my faith for it to be evident? I can’t make myself do that. I believe there’s a bigger picture that I can’t see. I believe I am not singled out for suffering. I believe that talking about my suffering gives others permission to talk about theirs. I think that is unconditional love in action. I believe that those pockets of indescribable peace come from trusting God. I think perhaps I don’t blurt my faith walk because I fail so much. If I trusted God more I’d have more peace, y’know? I worry about this because I think it’s built in me to worry about what people think. I need more songs to pipe into my brain to help me shed that habit.
- Today, a new question: How can I help other mothers? I grieve over suffering children, and today on Twitter I saw the link below.This is happening right now: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-11-13/yemen-blockade:-sick-and-starving-trapped/9143140
A few days ago, “…at al-Sabheen hospital in the capital, the ABC’s producer in Sanaa witnessed more than a dozen emaciated babies and toddlers receiving treatment in the
malnutrition ward. Their tiny skeletal bodies are evidence of the dire food crisis that is overwhelming this country” (Mcneill).I found this: http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/06/world/iyw-yemen-resource-list/index.html
And this: https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/nigeria-somalia-south-sudan-yemen/quick-facts-what-you-need-know-about-famine
It feels so small. I feel so small. And I wish I could see the actual help.
I hope others will join me in this.
We are small. And we matter even when it doesn’t feel like we do.
The Blog of Missing: What love looks like
*Jake has not been found. Thank you for checking.
I’ve spent the morning looking at the NamUs Unidentified Persons System.
Please understand. I don’t start my days with, “Gee, what can I do to skew my day?” I try to avoid thinking of these databases. But I got an email from the site informing me that I needed to update my user info. Trouble is when I get in there I am compelled to poke around.
I did a search with skimpy parameters so as to pull up the most unidentified bodies, and so far I’ve viewed 10-15 records. I checked the coordinates for the entry that flipped me out weeks ago, and discovered that the coordinates and the reported city don’t match. The body was found just north of the rest stop before Felicity, not in Ocotillo. This, however, still does not rule Jake out. I don’t know how they calculated the height or ethnicity. I so wish they explained the scientific process so I could determine probabilities. Hispanic? How could they know from just the bones? I understand more easily how one could extrapolate height from the femur, but I don’t know that’s what they did, and if one assumption is made, then others are likely. And I can’t tell if they made assumptions because I don’t know their processes. And this location is a little ways off the I-8, and Jake was on foot….
I’m still awaiting news regarding the DNA samples. Nothing to do but wait.
So why not look at more unidentified body records.
None of the cases I read resembled Jake, but I stayed with each record, paying homage in place of those who don’t know where their loved ones are and for the ones who had no one to mourn them. Someone must see these people besides those who have to catalog the bones and belongings. Someone has to be not detached. Sad. I’m sad anyway. I’ll weep for all of them.
I found a record for Obsbaldo Salto Martinez or for someone connected to him and I clicked over to Facebook to see if anything was there. The NamUs Unidentified Persons System is run by volunteers so it’s possible I could actually help. I thought I could also use my genealogy spook skills if I couldn’t find him or his relatives on Facebook.
But when I got to Facebook, I got sidetracked in a lovely way: I saw a message from my son, Josh. This young man FB-messages, texts, or calls me several times through the week. And I’m telling you, this guy knows how his mom ticks. He sends me think-y distracting things about science, history, or politics, or stuff that’ll get under my skin just to engage me, or something like this:
I appreciate this Italian man and his passion to help children, and I appreciate my son for knowing I would love this.
We are all fighting a hard battle.
Love looks like this man.
It looks like all of you who check on me.
It looks like my son.
Love looks like Josh.
The Blog of Missing: 346 Days
As promised: (see full poem and original post under the link)
Merrit Malloy, author of the poem, The People Who Cannot Say Goodbye, writes,
“There are people who cannot say good-bye
They are born this way/this is how they die
They are the keepers of promises/what moves them does not wear out
Their loyalty will tear apart your clocks….”
My 28-year-old son has been missing 346 days. He didn’t say goodbye, and at this point I am afraid he is dead.
I’d rather think that what moves him “does not wear out,” that his “loyalty [would] tear apart [our] clocks.”
“These are the people who can hear the music in songs
They are the Vow carriers
The grandmothers who always leave the porchlight on
No one is lost to the one who sees….”
I am the one who cannot say goodbye.
It is I “who always leaves the porchlight on.”
Is it my loyalty tearing apart clocks?
Can I tell you how much that sucks?
When I first read this poem, I thought this was about my son, but I see it is about who is left behind.
Am I not lost?
Mother don’t worry, I killed the last snake that lived in the creek bed
Mother don’t worry, I’ve got some money I saved for the weekend
Mother remember being so stern with that girl who was with me?
Mother remember the blink of an eye when I breathed through your body?
So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons are like birds, flying upward over the mountain
Mother I made it up from the bruise on the floor of this prison
Mother I lost it, all of the fear of the Lord I was given
Mother forget me now that the creek drank the cradle you sang to
Mother forgive me, I sold your car for the shoes that I gave you
So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons could be birds, taken broken up to the mountain
Mother don’t worry, I’ve got a coat and some friends on the corner
Mother don’t worry, she’s got a garden we’re planting together
Mother remember the night that the dog got her pups in the pantry?
Blood on the floor, fleas on their paws,
And you cried ’til the morning
So may the sunrise bring hope where it once was forgotten
Sons are like birds, flying always over the mountain
Written by Samuel Ervin Beam • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc
More poems from Merrit Malloy here: https://merritmalloy.wordpress.com/
*Jake has not yet been found. Thank you for checking in.
People ask me how I am, and I get stuck in a loop where I remember asking Jake the same thing when I knew he was suffering. I feel badly for the person asking me this question because I know the helplessness behind it, and I also feel badly because back then I didn’t know how to help Jake and now he’s somewhere unknown. So I have truncated my responses. When asked how I am, I answer, “I’m upright.” And thus I avoid the loop.
But truncation leads to isolation. It could be argued that this is self-imposed and all concurrent effects are my own doing. I agree. But it is infinitely easier to walk alone through the grief than to try to take care of the feelings of everyone around me. This may or may not be black-and-white thinking. At this point I can’t tell. Heck, I feel badly even posting that I don’t want to take care of people’s feelings because hey, everyone’s only concerned, right?
I could leave it at that and shrug off anyone’s hurt feelings, but I care about those who’re asking me, and I understand the weird spot everyone is in here.
I am the designated driver. Everyone takes their cue from me.
I have puzzled over how to explain what it’s like to walk this path of unknowing, and I finally found a word that encapsulates it: shrapnel. It’s right next to my heart. No explosion put it there, so shrapnel is technically incorrect, but it’s a loaded word that communicates what I feel.
Dr. Christian C. Bannerman writes, in “Wound Foreign Body Removal,” that “[i]dentification of a foreign body can be difficult, depending on the type and location of the wound and the timing and mechanism of injury. Soft tissue foreign bodies most commonly occur secondary to penetrating or abrasive trauma, and they can result in patient discomfort, deformity, delayed wound healing, localized and systemic infection, and further trauma during attempts at removal.”
Delayed wound healing. *sigh*
The fact that Jake’s missing is like a miniscule speck of glass embedded inside me. I had a tiny sliver of glass buried in my foot once. I thought I’d gotten all the wound debris out, so when I felt any pain there I assumed it was just healing. After a week I realized that the spot wasn’t healing, so I went to work on it and eventually coaxed the little piece out and my foot finally healed properly. Lesson: listen to the pain.
This shard cuts deep. I know it’s there and rooting it out is impossible. I listen to that pain and look for small things I can do to make a difference in the day for someone else because focusing outward is the only way I’ve found to legitimately lessen the ache.
I found this song via Bones:
My favorite line: Storms never come to stay.