Monday, April 30, 2012


You lose track of what other people see in your grief. The basic human cues designed notify you of strangeness, oddness, or different behaviors in others turn off completely. You draw inside yourself, unable to look far enough past your own eyes to see what the rest of the world might. You do not see what they see in you, or how they perceive what you go through. In the first month or two after we lost James, I seriously doubt that I ever thought for one minute about what the world might think of me, or noticed how people acted around me. That filter was entirely removed.

Lately though, the social part of my brain that picks up on these things is coming back. I'm noticing a new phenomenon. The most common encounter involves someone I have not seen in a while. An acquaintance of some kind, someone whom I would say I know of, but do not necessarily know. They would likely say the same thing about me. Someone perhaps three degrees of Kevin Bacon away from me.

First, a glint of recognition. Law function? Someone's birthday party? I know you from somewhere. Names filter in. Next, greetings. Hello, how are you, how have you been? This sometimes continues for a while, and then it starts. A slowly dawning recognition in them. It starts in the eyes, slightly wider, now with some insight. Their posture shifts slightly, they become more attentive. Ah, I think to myself- they know. Then, out of nowhere, regardless of what we're talking about, they interject "I'm so sorry about what happened to your son." Pity frames their eyes now, the tone of voice softens. I never know what to say, and usually settle on thank you. It seems polite. The conversation usually ends shortly thereafter.

When James was sick, I wrote about "cancer eyes." These were the eyes people, from hospital staff to strangers, would give us when they found out James had brain cancer. Pity, mostly. The looks I get from these acquaintances are very similar "condolence eyes." Like cancer eyes, I have little patience for them. That's not to say I do not appreciate people feeling bad about what happened to James. Of course I do. but pity does not interest me. To me, that undermines the experience, it defines James only by how he died and ignores the rest of his life. I prefer sympathy, or empathy. If people want to talk about James, I'm happy to do so. People have told me they were sorry and added something, talked about it. Told me what he meant to them, or about themselves. I like to hear that. If they're just going to say the words for the sake of saying them though, I'd rather we skipped the formality.

I know this may sound harsh, that people just want to be kind. I know they're trying and do not mean anything by it. Still, I think it's important to recognize what's good to say and what's not. So I suppose I'm trying to say that. I am glad when people talk about James. I like to remember him. I love him. What I am not interested in is people saying something just for the sake of saying it. I did not notice it before, but I do now.

Thank all of you for your continued thoughts and prayers.


  1. james has had such an amazing impact on my life. i love reading about him and your life with him. what a lucky dad you are to have him as your son. thank you for sharing him with us. (((hugs))) to you and kara.

  2. well said!
    thanks for putting words to what I've been thinking since Jack died. James' face is in my mind forever! I hope you and Kara are doing well.

  3. I am continuing to think of you and pray for you and Kara. I check back here frequently. I don't know you or Kara, but my heart aches for you. Just reading your words makes me feel like I knew little Jamesie. His bright, beautiful face will always stay with me. Thank you for sharing his short but impactful life with us. Sending hugs.

  4. I don't think you sounded harsh. I, for one, am glad you are able to educate me. I would never, ever want to cause a grieving parent more grief by something I said. You are making me think and that is always a good thing! ;) I want you to know I read your blog not out of pity, but to support you in prayer through this most difficult time.

    I don't post often, but I read every one of your posts (and Kara's) and I pray for you like you're my close friends. May God continue to heal your broken hearts.

  5. I often refer to "dead kid cooties' - make of that what you will, for me it's that sense that people just don't really know what to do with me - though they want to do the right thing, whatever they think that it.

    And truthfully, for so long, I have been so self absorbed I hadn't noticed that I either talk way too much, or not at all - no in between.

    Not sure when or if any of this will go away - probably I will have dead kid cooties and a total lack of self awareness always. Whatever, it's fine.