It has been six and a half years since our son, Mack, died suddenly on New Year’s Eve 2012, just shy of his ninth birthday. As the many of us who learn to live newly after loss, we take it on as a part of our lives and learn to carry Mack with us through life. So, as we entered this spring season of passages including a funeral, a wedding, and a handful of graduations, I was surprised by my fatigue.

I have learned enough over the years to recognize when something is calling for my attention. In some ways I think my soul knew before my brain. When I woke up on the Saturday after we returned home, I intentionally came to my morning spot with my coffee and read and prayed and wrote in my journal to tap into my feelings, but there was something stirring. So, instead of setting off with my Saturday to-do list, I sat quietly to allow room for my spirit to speak to me. After an hour or so the tears began flowing and I couldn’t turn them off, so I let them come.

It is a familiar room I entered, a room of longing. A room that I open the door and peer in every day, but this day I allowed myself to fully enter in and lament. Lament that Mack should’ve been at his grandfather’s funeral, to hear his dad preach a sermon about how we live with death that blew the doors off the church. He should’ve been at his cousins wedding to dress up in a suit and complain about his leather shoes and help us push his 100-year-old great grandmother around in her wheelchair! Yes, he should’ve been with us. He should’ve been here to wish his childhood friend well on her high school graduation. They loved to play in the backyard collecting and burying random objects and enjoying their own games.

There is a rope dangling from our back deck that Mack hung very diligently, masked by a lilac tree, in the summer of 2012 with a small plastic bucket tied to the end.

“It needs to stay there, Mom,” he said to me earnestly, “in case she leaves me a note.” It’s still there.

And so I sat on the hot coals of longing and memory and let it burn. It hurt. I cried cleansing tears. Because although it has been six and half years and we have learned to rearrange life around the amputation of Mack from our lives, it is a great gaping hole that nothing can replace. Nor should it.

I brewed another pot of coffee and gave myself time to allow the heat to subside and the grateful coolness come.

And when it comes I have found a healing balm is to act. These actions take various forms but this time I went to the store and bought some fun gifts and cards on Mack’s behalf to send to his friends with a note about how much they meant to Mack. My heart bursts with joy when I hear back from them and learn how much Mack still means to them.

The unwanted guest of grief is an ever-present shadow that demands our attention and acknowledgement. So be it. But, we must also allow the love, memory, and joy of our loved ones free from the shadows to be celebrated and cherished.

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Elizabeth Brady

Elizabeth's son Mack died suddenly on New Year's Eve 2012. Elizabeth teaches at Penn State and her essays on learning to live with loss can also be read on The Compassionate Friends (TCF), Modern Loss, She has participated on the panel "A Flower Picked Too Soon" at several national TCF conferences. Elizabeth served on the content advisory board for the Public Television documentary "Speaking Grief" that seeks to help us all get better at grief. (

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