Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child

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The death of a child is that unimaginable loss no parent ever expects to face. In Beyond Tears, nine mothers share their individual stories of how to survive in the darkest hour. They candidly share with other bereaved parents what to expect in the first year and long beyond:

* Harmonious relationships can become strained

* There is a new definition of what one considers "normal"

* The question "how many children do you have?" can be devastating

* Mothers and fathers mourn and cope differently

* There simply is ...

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Beyond Tears: Living After Losing a Child

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The death of a child is that unimaginable loss no parent ever expects to face. In Beyond Tears, nine mothers share their individual stories of how to survive in the darkest hour. They candidly share with other bereaved parents what to expect in the first year and long beyond:

* Harmonious relationships can become strained

* There is a new definition of what one considers "normal"

* The question "how many children do you have?" can be devastating

* Mothers and fathers mourn and cope differently

* There simply is no answer to the question "why?"

This sharing in itself is a catharsis and because each of these mothers lost her child at least seven years ago, she is in a unique position to provide perspective on what newly bereaved parents can expect to feel. The mothers of Beyond Tears offer reassurance that the clouds of grief do lessen with time and that grieving parents will find a way to live, and even laugh again.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Written from the heart, the voices in this book reach out to relieve the pain of bereaved parents."

- Katherine Fair Donnelly, author of Recovering From the Loss of a Parent

Library Journal
Having lost a child, nine mothers met in a support group; now, under the direction of Newsday contributor Mitchell, they share what has helped them get up every morning and move through their grief. They discuss how relationships can be strained, why there simply is no answer to the question "why?", and what they do when a longtime acquaintance crosses the street to avoid talking to them. A chapter devoted to fathers reveals how they grieve differently than mothers. The thoughts and feelings related here are incredibly honest and courageous and would greatly assist any parent who has lost a child and feels alone. Highly recommended for all libraries. Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312328290
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 2/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.14 (h) x 0.49 (d)

Meet the Author

The book was written by bereaved mothers Carol Barkin, Audrey Cohen, Lorenza Colletti, Barbara Eisenberg, Barbara Goldstein, Madelaine Perri Kasden, Phyllis Levine, Ariella Long, and Rita Volpe in collaboration with Ellen Mitchell, a regular contributor to Newsday. Ellen lives on Long Island, New York.

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Read an Excerpt


The Mourning After: The First Year

We were studies in contrast in those early months. We were filled with rage and yet we felt hollow. Our eyes brimmed with tears and yet they were empty. We could scream but speech came rarely, if at all. We were in excruciating pain and yet we were numb. Our self-esteem was beaten down and our trust shattered, but there was no one who could console us. There was no place to feel secure. We tried to crawl inside ourselves, but even that afforded us no place to hide. It was as if our very being died along with that of our children. We were and remain forever changed.

Carol: “I had an earlier photo of myself on my driver’s license. I looked at the eyes. I was a different person before Lisa died.”

Whatever we did during that first year was done from behind a veil of shock. Indeed, if we had to pick one word, one emotion that imbued our minds, our thoughts, our very being in that horrible first year, it would be shock. In some ways it obviously insulated us because we learned later that what we thought was the worst possible pain could from time to time become even more acute as our lives unfolded.

If there was any sensation at all that permeated the cocoon of shock in which we wrapped ourselves it was exhaustion. Our bodies were encased in a relentless fatigue that left us drained of energy and debilitated during the days, but refused to allow us the luxury of restorative sleep at night.

In that first year, we all refused to accept the finality of the death of our children, and some of us never will. It seemed that our existence had become surreal; it was as if we were each having an out-of-body experience. We wanted to wake up and find it was not true … . This could not be our life.

Phyllis: “In that first year, I couldn’t bring myself to say ‘killed.’ I talked about loss. Only later could I say that Andrea was alone in the car and she was killed by an eighteen-year-old who didn’t know what he was doing. Only fifteen years later did I request a copy of the medical examiner’s report.”

We speak of the “first year” but actually attempting to define a first year is disingenuous. There is no universal calendar by which to gauge grief. With the passage of time, we have learned that the reactions of the bereaved differ from person to person depending on where they are in their grief. Medical personnel, clergy, counselors well-meaning but misguided acquaintances may tell you that you can expect to feel better by such-and-such a date, but they are wrong. No such timeline exists.

Barbara G. : “There is no schedule for when you’ll start to feel better. It’s as if a scab forms over a wound; it can be reopened by the slightest trigger.”

Barbara E.: “It took me five years to even talk to my colleagues at work about it. Five years seemed to be some kind of a milestone for me.”

Maddy: “You have reached a new level when your first thought is of your child’s life rather than a replay of their death.”

Early on you will have to fortify yourself against insensitive comments from blundering friends, relatives and acquaintances, some of whom should know better and others who have no idea that you are bereaved. Even seemingly benign questions such as “how are you?” or “how was your summer?,” or comments such as “have a good day,” will stab into you and throw you off balance.

There is a cold chill that goes through your body each time some unthinking acquaintance tells you “it’s time to get over it.” There is no “getting over it.” You will carry every detail of what happened throughout every day of your life, and you will forevermore categorize all events as occurring either “before” or “after” your child’s death. The memory of your son or daughter is all that remains of them here on earth, and certainly if they were still alive you would think of them each day and worry about their well-being.

Audrey: “In fact, when your children are here you tend to take them for granted. When they are gone you think of them twenty-four hours a day.”

Ariella: “You almost expect your child to call you and awaken you from the nightmare.”

Each of us has had to find our own way to accept the reality of our child’s death. The best hope is that you will be able to hold close the beautiful recollections and let go of some of the dreadfulness.

In the first months, the pain is raw and there is no escaping it. There are a couple of unlikely places, however, where we all were able to achieve some small measure of release. Surprisingly, we took to the car and to the shower for refuge. Both were hideaways where we could scream out loud.

Rita: “In my car, I screamed at the top of my lungs with hair-raising shrieks. At the end of the school day, I looked forward to that moment. People would look at me and think I was singing to my car radio.”

Lorenza: “It was like an explosion, that moment, that privacy.”

Phyllis: “My tears made me drive blind.”

Ariella: “I screamed in agony in the shower and in the car. I couldn’t comprehend that Michael was really gone. I kept crying out, ‘This can’t be happening.’”

Barbara G. : “I felt free to stand in the shower and say whatever I wanted. The water would drown me out.”

Some of us drove recklessly. We raced red lights. We felt no fear; why should we—we had already experienced the worst that could happen. We drove as if on autopilot, not cognizant of where we were going or how we got there. We were never fully aware of the moment. As we drove, our minds raced to thoughts of our children and our pain. Sometimes our imaginations took over completely, and we thought we saw our children driving by. We saw them everywhere, but found them nowhere.

Ariella: “I remember sitting in the car and seeing someone who looked exactly like Michael, his hair, his hand movements. I didn’t want the light to change. I just kept staring at him. In my head it was Michael. I followed him for a while thinking if I could just stop him and convince him to go to a diner and talk to me I would have some connection to Michael. And then I thought to myself, ‘You’re crazy. Let it go.’”

Searching for our children, or for some indication of their existence, consumed much of our time in those early days and months. We heard their voices in our heads. We wanted to be able to reach out and touch them. We ached to feel their physical presence.

Lorenza: “I needed to hear Marc say Ma just the way he always did. I’d go to sleep at night hearing him say that.”

Rita: “I needed to touch my son. It was a universal feeling. We all constantly looked for our children, as if they were misplaced somewhere.”

Audrey: “We looked for signs. If a light flickered, it meant Jess was there. She was always there. She followed me.”

Ariella: “We all still believe they exist. I have to have a place where my child is. They don’t cease to exist. We need to know our kids are okay.”

Maddy: “One evening, my husband and I saw a young man who resembled Neill. He sat like Neill. He moved like Neill. I couldn’t take my eyes off him.”

We sought help in places we would never even have considered in our previous lives.

Lorenza: “I had never heard of a psychic before. But in the first year we all went to psychics.”

Audrey: “I think there is always the hope that the psychic will connect you to your child.”

Ariella: “I didn’t focus on what the psychic got wrong. I focused on what she got right. And some of it was quite amazing. I was able to cry, and had a feeling I was really talking to Michael. It was cathartic, like a telephone call.”

Rita: “Whether it was true or not, it helped.”

Laughter was gone from our world. Now, years later, we laugh … mostly when we are with each other. The fact that we are able to laugh at all can oftentimes shock “the civilian world”—those who are not bereaved parents.

Listening to music was unbearable.

Lorenza: “In the car I would listen to talk radio. Talk radio saved me. To this day, at home I fall asleep with my talk radio. Never any music.”

Maddy: “Music became an emotional trigger. In that first year, most love songs and songs about breakups and broken hearts seemed to fit our lives and the loss of our children, and they still do.”

Ariella: “The words will get you and cut you to pieces. You’ll hear your child’s favorite song, or the words take you to a place that is just too painful. You don’t want the joy of music. You deny yourself.”

Euphemisms that we once took with a grain of salt became watchwords during those early months. We’d all heard the expression “your skin crawls”; ours did. We’d all used the phrase “with a heavy heart” or “a hole in the heart.” These things became all too true.

Rita: “I could not deal with the fact that my son was under the ground. It made my skin crawl.”

Audrey: “My body would crawl. I’d pull off my clothes, my shoes.”

Lorenza: “The heavy heart was like a heavy coat. It was always there. It never lifted.”

The pain we felt was actual physical pain, made all the worse by the mental anguish and oppressive and constant exhaustion. We were subject to panic attacks, headaches, bouts of piercing stomach pain and changed eating habits.

Carol: “I had difficulty breathing. I was constantly sighing out loud. There’s no refuge from the pain. You crave peace and there is none. It’s an awful place to be. The pain is unrelenting.”

Phyllis: “I was so exhausted; it was an effort to live.”

Barbara E.: “For the first few months, my husband and I didn’t leave the house. It was difficult to even sit up. We spent our days and nights sleeping on the family room couches. When I returned to work after three months, I didn’t have the energy or concentration to finish the day. At lunchtime, I would race home and collapse on the sofa. After sleeping awhile, I would return to work and count the minutes until I could return to the sofa.”

Audrey: “I forced myself to go to work. Then I would leave abruptly in midday and go home. I would read and fall asleep on the sofa. Then I’d wake up and go back to work, forcing myself to finish out the day.”

Rita: “I’d fall asleep and wake up with a jolt. I’d wake up five or six times, and each time it kept coming back to me as a brand-new shock. It would always be new.”

Barbara G. : “One of the things that made me so tired was just going through the motions of living out the day. I felt so tired. But the nights were even worse.”

Audrey: “I’d lie there and relive what happened … like a tape in my mind.”

Barbara G. : “The tape would play over and over. We were always waiting for a different ending.”

Lorenza: “It was like wearing a heavy mask all day, knowing I had to pretend. I think just carrying around that mask made me tired.”

Rita: “I’d have panic attacks at the supermarket whenever something triggered a thought of Michael when I wasn’t expecting it. We all thought we were going crazy. We were bombarded with feelings we couldn’t even name. We couldn’t get our right foot in front of our left.”

Barbara G. : “It was difficult to swallow food and I lost much too much weight. It seemed as though my muscles had collapsed. My acute vision suffered. The shock to the physical body is very real. I was told that whenever I see a new doctor, I should tell him or her that I am a bereaved mother. It is a part of my medical history.”

Indeed, the ground beneath our feet took on new meaning, especially the hallowed ground in which we had just buried our children. Some of us were obsessed with going to the cemetery, others were obsessed with staying away. One of us still has not been able to visit her child’s grave. Snow and rain falling on our children’s graves was almost too much to bear.

Barbara G. : “Oh God, the first time it rained, Bruce had to pull me into the house. I said, ‘I can’t be here. I have to go and hold an umbrella over Howie. It’s raining outside and my son is in the ground.’”

Phyllis: “I couldn’t walk on the grass for that same reason.”

Lorenza: “When there was no stone at the cemetery, I could almost deal with it, but when the stone was put up and his name was engraved there, then it was written in stone.”

Phyllis: “I had just the opposite reaction. When Andrea’s gravestone was set in place, I felt as though I was visiting her there at her place.”

Barbara E.: “Cemeteries close to the public at night. We broke in. One night our need was so great that my husband climbed a ten-foot fence to water the flowers on Brian’s gravesite.”

Ariella: “I have never been to the cemetery. I do not believe Michael is there. I believe his soul is free and his body is not there. If I really thought Michael was there, I could not live.”

The seasons changed and we resented it. Our surroundings and our lives, which had always existed in living color, became drab and gray.

Carol: “I didn’t care about anything. All the things that once seemed so important were no longer important.”

We neglected ourselves, we wore no makeup and lost all concern for personal appearance. We refused to pose for photographs. We wore the same clothing day after day. The only clothing that mattered to us was that of our dead children. We could not bring ourselves to clean the dirty laundry we found in their bedrooms. We needed to keep some vestige of their smells, their looks, their existence.

Barbara E.: “I slept with the pillow Brian died on for a short while and then put it on the chair in my bedroom. I was afraid to get it dirty and have to wash away his smell.”

Rita: “I could not wash Michael’s smell out of my life. I hugged his bed, his clothes. I kept his worn clothes in the hamper and refused to empty it.”

Maddy: “I have the pajamas Neill slept in the night before he died.”

Barbara G.: “I never wear happy colors … no reds, no yellows, no more. How did the sun come up the next day?”

Lorenza: “How dare the tulips grow?”

Ariella: “Spring hurt that first year and it still hurts, but not as much. Now I love the winter when it’s rainy and dreary.”

While we ignored most of our surroundings in that first year, we became obsessive about certain routines. Of course, family rituals we had cherished in the past that marked birthdays, anniversaries and holidays were completely torn apart and discarded. In that first year, we could not bring ourselves to even think about celebrating anything. Eventually, we found new and extremely different ways to commemorate special days, holidays and family occasions. Meanwhile, we obsessed over daily routines as a way of getting through each day.

Rita: “We ate too much. We ate too little. We spent hours trying to get order back in our lives.”

Phyllis: “We obsessed about everything. I obsessed about photographs. I told the cleaning lady not to touch any one of them.”

Rita: “I went crazy looking everywhere for pictures of Michael.”

Barbara G. : “I went around cleaning and then cleaning again. I think it was an attempt to bring some degree of control to my environment. I couldn’t control what happened to my child, but I could control my surroundings.”

A number of us felt hostility to people who grew old. It is embarrassing to admit that one of us was actually embittered that her own parents were alive and well and in their eighties. We all experienced anguish about people who we felt were less deserving of life than our children.

Rita: “When somebody elderly died, we not only didn’t care about them, we resented them. They had so much more time than my son had.”

Ariella: “I saw an old couple walking to the movies. My twenty-year-old son should have been able to go the movies.”

We grew resentful not only of the seasons, the elderly and the colors of the rainbow, but also of our religious beliefs. We are Jews and Christians, and each of us has questioned our God and asked why we have been punished in this way. In the first year, we turned to our religious leaders and, unfortunately, a number of us found them lacking in insight, with little to offer in the way of solace. While some of us were comforted by a positive response from our religious leaders, more of us were not. We asked our clerics if they had lost a child, feeling that unless they had experienced such a loss themselves, they could not fully understand the depths of our grief.

Lorenza: “I wrote a letter to my priest and he sent me a poinsettia plant in response.”

Barbara G. : “My rabbi asked me to come back to my Torah study group. I had always been spiritual and religious, and I really believed that if I was a good person a higher being would take care of my family. I kept my end of the bargain, but that higher being did not. When the rabbi asked me to come back, he said they missed me. Missed me? None of them even called up to see if I was alive or dead. They did meet Bruce in the supermarket one day and asked if we go out to dinner or anything. He said, ‘Yes, we still eat.’ They said they’d give us a call; they never did.”

Maddy: “When Neill was alive, I always believed you don’t pray to ask for things, you pray to give thanks. After Neill died, I thought I should have said, ‘Don’t kill my child.’ That’s when my anger really began and I never lost it.”

Rita: “We all thought we did something wrong.”

Audrey: “We searched our souls. Could we have been so evil that our children were punished for what we did.”

Barbara G. : “When you were a child, your mother always told you that bad things would happen if you were bad. Why were our children punished instead of us?”

Rita: “I did have one priest tell me two words that helped. He said Michael ‘is fine.’ That helped me. And the principal of the school where I worked was a nun. She was so kind. She always remembered the anniversary of Michael’s death. Eventually, she started a bereavement group at the school, and I know she did that because of me.”

Barbara E.: “The rabbi from my temple, who’d known Brian from the time he was a little boy, came to our home to comfort us. He continued to phone us on a weekly basis. The temple started a bereavement group after that.”

At the time of our children’s deaths, some of us lost respect for the hospital personnel with whom we came in contact. Sadly, that was sometimes true during our children’s terminal illnesses, and also in emergency rooms following their accidental deaths. It is our fervent hope that people whose job is to deal with those experiencing tragedy will learn to grasp the depth of what bereaved parents are feeling at that terrible time and act accordingly.

Maddy: “When we arrived at the hospital in New Jersey where they had taken Neill, we were told, ‘The morgue is closed for the night. Come back in the morning.’ Of course, we refused to take that for an answer, and eventually they did take us down to the morgue.”

Audrey: “I insisted on riding in the ambulance, up front with the driver. Then the ambulance driver got lost on the way to the hospital. He kept telling me, ‘Calm down, Mrs. Cohen.’ How could I calm down with my daughter dying in the back of the ambulance?”

Lorenza: “I had to take my father to the hospital on the very day of my son’s funeral. I spoke to the social worker at the hospital and told her of my grief. I was totally unable to function; I was distraught and needed help. She wasn’t even listening to me. She was on the phone. She told me she’d be back in a few minutes. That was the social worker.”

Barbara E.: “It seemed like everyone disappeared when my son died. We were left on our own to make contacts about where to turn for help. The hospital gave us no information.”

Ariella: “The nurses and doctors turned their backs on us just before Michael died. No one came to assist us.”

Carol: “Lisa’s doctors couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge me in the hospital elevator.”

On the other hand, some of us found hospital personnel to be helpful.

Phyllis: “The social worker who met us at the hospital was kind.”

Barbara G.: “The hospital where Howie was dying was in Virginia. A nurse came and gave me information. She brought me soup. She said, ‘You have to sleep and you have to eat … . You’re going to have decisions to make.’ She meant decisions about life support, organ transplants and an autopsy. Questions were all thrown at me within minutes of one another.”

In that first year, we learned that many of our social and professional relationships would change drastically, and not necessarily for the better. Of course, the opposite was also true, and sometimes comfort and genuinely warm friendship and understanding came from quarters where we least expected it.

Barbara G. : “None of us would have known any of this if we were still in the civilian world. I have a friend who lost a child thirty-four years ago. I was her friend then, but I didn’t know what to say to her. She had to phone all her friends and tell them that what she had wasn’t catching, and that they could still come and visit her. She was one of the first people to appear at my door when my son was killed.”

Lorenza: “I would teach one class, and then run into the corner and cry and let it all out. Some of the teachers would stop by and comfort me. I owe them a lot. Then I would go and teach the next class.”

Barbara G. : “A colleague of mine would come to me at the end of each day and say, ‘Put lipstick on, you’re going home to your family. They worry about you.’”

Most people who have not experienced a devastating loss mistakenly believe they should try to distract the newly bereaved and avoid talking about their grief. For the most part, we found that the world outside—the civilian world of intact families who have never lost a child—can be a terribly unsympathetic place. Of course, we ourselves had no understanding of any of this until we suffered our own losses. And while we should have been willing to tolerate the clumsiness and thoughtlessness of others, our rage refused to allow us that grace. In general, we couldn’t even bring ourselves to inquire about the well-being of others. We just didn’t care.

Maddy: “They want to talk about what they saw at the movies, and all we want to talk about is our children and our pain.”

Carol: “They ask, ‘How are you?’ That becomes a problem.”

Phyllis: “We pick on different people at whom to direct our anger and our rage. It might be the doctor, it might be God, it might be the checkout girl at the supermarket.”

Barbara E.: “I didn’t want anybody from my previous life to come with me into this life because my connection to them was usually through our children, and I didn’t want to hear about their children.”

Carol: “I found it painful to get together with family. It was easier to be with friends and to go places where Lisa didn’t go. If it was a family gathering or a place where she should have been, that was very hard to take.”

Ariella: “My family wouldn’t talk about Michael. It was as though he never existed. It was and remains very painful.”

Rita: “I couldn’t stand being around intact families, only fractured families. Their wholeness brought me pain. What they had was taken from me.”

Lorenza: “Some of my old friends stayed away and I can’t forgive them for that. Others became my best friends at that time. I wanted to say to them, ‘If you really love me, mention my child’s name.’”

Phyllis: “Wherever I went, I told people about Andrea’s death. It was my badge; it became my identity.”

Barbara G. : “People would say, ‘Have a good day,’ and I wanted to hit them.”

Audrey: “I would pray people wouldn’t say good morning to me. I didn’t know how to respond.”

Rita: “Physical contact like hugs seemed more appropriate than conversation.”

Our closest relationships, those with our husbands and our other children, underwent drastic changes in that first year, and those changes continue to happen, even as the years accumulate. No matter how long they have been married to one another, no two individuals grieve in the same way. With both partners so vulnerable and busy dealing with their own misery, it was difficult to lend support to one another. Marriages were stretched to the very limits. In our cases, all nine marriages survived, though we know of others that did not. Then, too, our relationships with our surviving children underwent earthshaking changes that we never would or could have foreseen in our “before” life. Both of these areas—marriage and surviving children—are discussed at length in subsequent chapters.

In that first year, we were consumed with the need to read about death. However, we all know of bereaved parents who could not muster enough concentration to read anything at all in those early months. As for us, we read, no matter how maudlin the material we chose.

Barbara E.: “I read the obituaries every day; maybe I was looking for young people who died as Brian had died. I searched for books with unhappy endings; they seemed truer to life.”

We spent a great deal of time reading about NDEs—near-death experiences—in hopes that they’d shed some light on how our children felt in their last moments of life and how they are faring in the afterlife … if there is such a thing. We thrive on descriptions written by people who came close to dying, and who describe entering a tunnel and meeting family and friends who have already died. We need to know how our children felt in those last moments, and we need to know that they are okay.

We hold fast to the recollections of our children’s last moments on earth. From the day they died, we have searched for the true meaning of those extraordinary moments. We will continue to do so until we meet them again and have the answers we seek. Meanwhile, we read and we keep our own journals, hoping in some way that our writings will connect us to our children.

Ariella: “Our children have experienced something we have yet to experience. They died before us. We have a need to know what they now know.”

Lorenza: “I call it an ‘umbilical cord reaction.’ I want to know: What was he thinking? Did he see it coming? Was he aware? The pain he felt was connected to my body.”

Barbara E.: “I was with Brian in those moments of his death. I had a sense he was someplace else. It was comforting. It stopped me from becoming hysterical. Now, years later, I want to know where he is.”

Phyllis: “Andrea was still alive when we got to the hospital. I held her hand. I think she waited for me to come.”

Rita: “I didn’t want Michael to be afraid. He was out of control, driving toward a pole. I belonged there. I didn’t want him to feel that fear alone and die alone.”

Lorenza: “Reading helped me a lot, but only books about the loss of a child. I was always looking for answers and for people who expressed their pain in a sensitive manner. I looked for words that really meant something to me. I carry those words with me still.”

Barbara G. : “I copied those sentences down. Words to live by.”

Ariella: “I read a book written by a mother telling of her son’s illness and of her conversations with him about death and dying. And that helped me because I’d never had that conversation with Michael. It was a way of understanding what he might have felt.”

Perhaps the most cathartic thing we all did in the weeks and months following the deaths of our children was to return to work, albeit in most cases we returned in an almost zombie-like state. We hoped work would be a distraction, although we felt enormous anxiety and our energy level was zero. Fortunately, each of us was employed outside the home and it proved to be, without exaggeration, life saving.

Carol: “I couldn’t spend two minutes by myself. I couldn’t go home alone.”

Rita: “As soon as you were left alone, it went to the very core of you.”

Barbara E.: “I went back to work after three months. I kept to myself, preferring not to talk to anyone; instead I cried. I think most people were glad to avoid me.”

Maddy: “Neill died in June and I went back to work after the summer. People asked me, ‘How was your summer?’”

Ariella: “We have our own business. My husband got me there. I’d sit and read and cry. He’d try to work. At noon, he took my hand and took me to lunch. We’d get home at two or three o’clock … and repeat the same thing the next day. We did that for two months.”

Lorenza: “I went back to teaching in November. Marc died in September. As a dedicated teacher, I couldn’t tell the kids to study and they would succeed. Look what happened to my son.”

Phyllis: “I went back after a week. I went into the lady’s room. I was a basket case. One of my coworkers was so thoughtful. She asked if I would mind if her daughter phoned her at work, knowing I would never again hear my daughter’s voice on the phone.”

Barbara G. : “My father drove me back to work. My hands shook too much to drive. He stayed there and waited. As the day went on, he knew when it was time for me to leave. He could tell when I needed to get away from everyone.”

Rita: “I taught science and some of the kids were in my class the year before as well. They came to Michael’s funeral. The kids took care of me. When they left my class, I fell apart.”

Audrey: “Like a robot, I got up every morning and went to work. Several times a day, I would feel a jolt in the back of my head, the sudden realization that Jessie was really gone.”

From the very outset of our grief, there was an enormous need to form bonds with other bereaved parents. It took us a while to understand the importance of that connection and what it would mean to our lives forever after.

Ariella: “You gravitate to those people who lost children in the same way you did. You understand each other.”

Was the first year the worst? We sat and dissected that question and we cannot agree on one definitive answer. We do concur that we were in shock throughout those first twelve months and it cushioned some of the pain, which we later felt more acutely. However, we also know that eventually the horrific pain began to ebb for most although not all of us. Over time, we have been able to cast off some of the agony and disbelief and accept the fact that our lives continue, although in a vastly altered state.

Phyllis: “We were looking for normal. What was normal? We can never know normal again.”


Marc loved the water. Before he ever bought a car, he bought a boat. Any free time he had he spent outdoors, exploring and observing nature. But always he was drawn to the ocean, to smell the salt air and listen to the breaking of the waves. He would say to me, “Ma, come and sit here while I fish. Just enjoy the sunset and the beauty all around.”

Those quiet times are among my most precious memories. I can no longer sit by the water and think it is beautiful. It has taken my only son.

I remember when Marc was only two years old. My husband Joe and I had gone on vacation in Mexico while my mother babysat. We returned late one night and the entire house was lit up. There was Marc at the window waiting. He was all dressed up and wearing a tiny bow tie. He wanted to look nice for us.

We could always depend upon Marc to do the right thing. He was self-disciplined beyond his years and he never asked for much. We even entrusted him with the key to the house at a young age.

As he grew older, he was the kid in ripped jeans before it became the fashion; let his classmates wear the designer labels. He played touch football wearing his father’s old college sweatpants. Joe cherishes those frayed old pants to this day. Marc arrived home from the University of Massachusetts one day sporting an earring. He smiled at our disapproving reaction and pulled it off; it had been glued on. In fact, Marc thoroughly enjoyed shocking us. He stood out at his college graduation: the kid with a tee shirt peeking out from under his graduation robe that read, “My parents think I went to college.”

Marc was filled with spirit and compassion. He was sensitive, spirited and thoughtful, loving and loyal, and always he made us laugh with his biting and self-deprecating sense of humor. After he died, a coworker would describe him as having “a gleam in his eye and laughter in his voice.”

Over the years, his pets included a menagerie of birds, a dog, several cats, a chick, a turtle, a newt and countless fish. When our cat was gravely ill, Marc was ready to foot the bill of more than one thousand dollars to save him. He shared in the expense but later he mercifully took the cat to be put to sleep, and wrote a touching note of appreciation to the veterinarian.

Marc’s love for fishing bordered on the obsessive. He kept diaries of the fish he caught and where and when he caught them. By 1995, Marc was twenty-five and a marine biologist working with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Earlier he had worked at a fish hatchery, a bird sanctuary and the zoo.

The year 1995 held such promise. Marc got married. He and his bride Kate were settling into their new home. Joe had recently retired. He and Marc were bonding as two grown men, looking forward to different projects such as working on Marc’s house. Joe and I made plans to travel to Arizona.

It seemed as though we were flying on a carpet when suddenly the carpet was pulled from beneath us.

Joe and I had been to Marc and Kate’s house for a barbecue. Marc proudly showed us his first vegetable garden. It was a visual cornucopia of cucumbers, yellow squash, purple eggplant, tomatoes, peppers and basil. Seeds we later harvested from that garden still continue to give us tomatoes and peppers.

As we left that day, we talked of how much we enjoyed being with them both. Marc happily replied, “We’ll do it again.” Again never came.

Because I was still teaching that year, Joe usually did the grocery shopping. One day in late September, I decided to tag along with him. As we went through the aisles, I was amazed at the high cost of food. At about 5 P.M., while still in the store, I felt a spontaneous, jarring pain, an emotional rush. Instantly, I thought of Marc and his new bride, Kate. I commented to Joe that I wondered how they could afford such exorbitant food prices.

We would later learn that it was at that very time … 5 P.M … . that the sea took Marc away.

Several hours later, I sat reading in the kitchen while Joe was upstairs. The doorbell rang. Two policemen. One said something about Marc’s driver’s license having our address and that they had not been able to contact his wife. They were having difficulty telling us that our son had died in a fishing accident. They told us Marc had been taken to a local hospital. We drove there; we cried out, praying it had all been a horrid mistake.

At the hospital, a social worker met us and coldly informed us that our son had been taken to the morgue. He had no idea how to direct us there, however, and we waited for half an hour to learn the location. We then stumbled in the dark from building to building seeking out the morgue. Once there, we were told we were too late and would have to wait until morning to identify the body. I screamed, I shrieked, and said I was not leaving until I had seen my son. They took us to Marc.

He looked peaceful, smiling as if he were dreaming. I wanted to reach out and touch him but he was behind a glass window. I do not know how we left him that night, but we had to go. We turned back and drove away, knowing we must then tell Marc’s bride that her husband was dead. Then we would have to phone our daughter, Allegra, who was away on business in California, and tell her that her brother was gone.

How had it all happened?

That day had been warm and sunny. Marc was working on his house when he suddenly opted to take off and go fishing instead. He wanted to try out a location on Long Island Sound, one that was unknown to him but which friends had told him about. Fishermen nearby and others sitting on the beach saw Marc from a distance as he walked into what appeared to be calm surf. He wore heavy waders, as he always did when surf casting. He apparently did not know the depth of the water there and the sand level beneath him suddenly dropped. Witnesses said they saw Marc being pulled under by a riptide. His waders filled with water and he was gone. Nobody did anything to save him; perhaps there was nothing to be done. The investigating detective said, “He never had a chance.”

Questions tormented me then and torment me still. Why couldn’t someone have saved my son? Did he see the danger he was in? What were his last thoughts? Did he suffer? Where was his guardian angel that day? Was it my son’s time? Was it his destiny?

Neither Joe nor I had ever buried anyone close to us before that time. Now we had to go and select a burial plot for our son. Kate and Allegra worked out the details of the service, selecting the prayers, the flowers and, eventually, the gravestone. The stone is engraved with two large striped bass and the words, “The Call of the Sea Could Not Be Denied.”

Later, Marc’s friends and colleagues at work would place a five-foot high stone and a plaque in his memory at one of his favorite fishing haunts. They sent us stories about Marc that we never knew. He had illuminated so many lives. We learned that his friends will always remember Marc as that unassuming, cheerful guy who wore floppy white boots when working at the zoo, stuck a garbage bag over his body to protect himself from the rain, and saw the beauty of nature wherever he went.

One of my most precious memories is a comment he made to me after his return from his two-week honeymoon in St. Lucia earlier that year. Joe and I had given them that honeymoon as a gift.

“Ma,” he said, “thanks for sending me to paradise.”

Lorenza Colletti

BEYOND TEARS, REVISED EDITION. Copyright © 2004, 2009 by Ellen Mitchel, Carol Barkin, et al. All rights reserved. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 The Mourning After: The First Year 9

2 We Are Not Alone 28

3 Intimacy 44

4 Redefining Our Existence 63

5 How We Cope 87

6 Holidays, Birthdays, Anniversaries 105

7 Love, Laughter, and Gratitude 123

8 Until We Meet Again 136

9 The Fathers Speak 152

10 The Siblings Speak 173

Where We Are Now 185

Author's Note 187

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 11 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2009

    Mom with a broken heart

    Since my son was killed in an auto accident I read every book I could looking for help. I got more help from this book than any other...It was a like a lifeline. After reading it I bought an additional copy which I actually cut up and left parts around my home for reassurance and comfort. When someone asks me what can they do for a friend who has lost a child, I recommend this book. Since it is written by nine mothers (and nine fathers) who each have a different perspective and different way their child died, this is a book for every bereaved parent, but it is also a book that should be read by everyone. This new edition also has a chapter written by siblings. The loss of a child is a loss like no other and this book is a guide for family, friends and professionals offering insight and understanding and an inside unobstructed view into the real world of the bereaved parent.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 11, 2010

    Good book

    I thought this was a good book. It was however, a bit depressing. Having lost my son only a few months ago, I was saddened to read how hard of a time I have ahead of me. As a side note which I did not realize when I purchased the book - the children in this book are all teenagers/young adults. It was nice to read the book because I could relate many of my feelings of anger/irritation with people and realize I was not a terrible person and that others thought it was not fair for someone to live to old age when our children were taken away so young. I also would reiterate one comment several of the ladies made in that the best decision they made was to go back to work. I agree 100%. It was very very hard for me to go back to work; however I feel I would be nowhere near the functioning level I am if I had stayed home. Unfortunately you have to live after this happens and that requires going out and being out in public. It is very hard at first, but does get easier. Flipping of the Easter bunny was one of my favorite parts ---- oh how I can relate to that!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 22, 2005

    Insight into the Unfathomable in this Short but Powerful Book

    Read this book. Send this book to those you care about, those who might be hurting in a similar fashion, or even those who have been touched by others they care about who have undergone the horror of losing a child. Unfolding within these scant 174 pages, nine mothers, with simple eloquence and brave generosity share with us their individual journeys into the unfathomable; a journey all parents often give thought to and quickly push from their minds - 'a parent's worst nightmare.' These are bold warriors who have put into words their common experiences before and after, and their methods of coping with and defying their pain, honoring their children and teaching others how to do the same. It may be hard to believe but I maintain that while the subject matter may be sad, this is not a sad book, but a book filled with love, hope and rememberrance. A book of instructions on how to help yourself and those family and friends who share your life. One would be remiss if they did not give credit to collaborator Ellen mitchell who presents the stories in such a page turning readable fashion that the book is very hard to put down, and last, but not least, to the fathers who get to 'speak' to us, albeit briefly in Chapter Nine, but with just as much of a powerful punch.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2005

    A must read!

    This book is a must have for any parent who has lost a child, anyone who knows someone who has lost a child and anyone in the mental health field who may come in contact with bereaved parents. Each of the nine authors gives an open and painfully honest account of her loss and journey through the grieving process. There are also sections in each chapter that explain what a bereaved parent may experience as well as what supports these authors found helpful and therapeutic. I especially liked the parts in each chapter where the women are sharing their feelings with one another because it helps to illustrate the importance of critical supports and how these women helped each other to get through the most painful loss any mother could experience. The poems these mothers wrote for their lost children moved me to tears. There is also a chapter in the book where the fathers openly share their feelings and grief with each other as well. I found this book to be extremely well written and, in spite of the difficult subject matter, I had a hard time putting it down.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2005

    A beautifully written and heartwarming book

    This is such a beautiful, heartwarming book and must be read by any parent who has lost a child, as well as anyone who knows someone who has lost one. It is so admirable that these women and their spouses have given so much of themselves to dedicate a book to help others. I have the utmost admiration for these brave individuals who have gone through one of life's most unthinkable experiences - the loss of a child.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    As a parent of a child who passed away six years ago at the age of 27 after battling cancer for four years, this book was so relatable. My husband who has never picked up a book regarding the death of child, is actually reading this book after I begged him. He has not put it down. It is helping him to understand me better. My support group moms are my friends for life... just as described by the moms in this book. This book is especially helpful for a grieving parent who's child has passed away several years ago because so many people think that after time you go on with your life as you did before the tragedy. I found this book in the library, but plan on purchasing it so that I can always refer to it.

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    Posted January 25, 2010

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    Posted February 10, 2012

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