Grief: How Long Will It Take?

Time: How Long Will It Take?
by Charlotte M. Mathes, LCSW, Ph.D.
Author of And a Sword Shall Pierce Your Heart

Waiting? OK. But will a lightness of heart ever come? Does time really heal all wounds? Mothers who have experienced child death assure us that “it will get better.” Friends and loved ones may tell us that “it is time to get over it and get on with life.” We hear about closure, but researchers say that a mother never ceases mourning the death of her child. The truth is that there is no set chronology for mourning mothers.

In mythology, Father Time is sometimes depicted as helping Truth out of a cave, symbolizing that in time all things come to light. We cannot hurry Truth along. Like the ancient alchemists, we must wait for kairos, the astrologically correct time, or God’s time, for allowing things to turn out right. Our questions about how long it will take to heal may long remain unanswered.

Changes in One’s Sense of Time
The grieving process alters our personal sense of time in several ways. During the traumatic hours after the death, everything in our other life comes to a halt, and our time stops. It takes a number of days before we realize that, although our world has changed forever, the rest of the world continues its usual operations.

At my daughter’s funeral, I was amazed when a friend told me he had to get back to his office. It dawned on me that people were going about their business. The world went on, though my world had ended. ~Emily

After the service I stood at the grave site, holding a rose from the casket. Time had stopped. My sister came up and said I had to leave because other people wanted to go home. ~ Annie

For the rest of our life, however, the moment of our child’s death continues frozen in time. We remember every detail of the event as if it were yesterday, and we continue to mark the chronology of our experiences with that dreadful date. Paul Newman, whose son died of a drug overdose said that everything in his life was divided into two periods, time before his son died and afterward.

As we continue to mourn, our normal sense of time alters in another way: we mark time carefully. We count the number of months we have lived without joy, since the light of our life has been extinguished.

Dear Andrew,
It’s been nine months. It took me nine months to bring you into the world and now you have been away from this world for nine months. Today the grief washes over me and I hear myself crying ‘Mama.’ I am a child myself, and I long for comfort. I don’t know if comfort exists when you are gone. ~ Kate

Part of our altered sense of time arises from knowing that the death of our child also means the death of part of our future. Holidays and family traditions will never be the same. Now we will always remember the birthday of the one who is gone, and the anniversary of her death is forever branded in our heart, marking our time. We mourn not only losses in our own future but the unlived future of our child. When we attend a graduation or a wedding, we ache for our child who was deprived of these rites of passage. How can we attend these ceremonies without feeling victimized? The way out of victimization I know is this: we must eventually come to see our own mourning process as a personal rite of passage. We are being initiated into a different life with new perspectives.

Excerpted from And a Sword Shall Pierce Your Heart: Moving from Despair to Meaning After the Death of a Child by Charlotte M. Mathes, LCSW, Ph.D. Copyright © 2006 Charlotte Mathes. Published by Chiron Publications; September 2005;$19.95US/$23.50CAN.

Beautiful Boo

A beautiful girl’s memory: Girl’s death inspires Web site for teenagers
Wednesday February 19, 2003
By Mike Strobel, Toronto Sun

Boo MacLeod, forever 18, lies beneath a granite heart in an Orangeville graveyard. She is buried next to Lyn-Zee Kelly. I wrote last year about Lyn-Zee, whose death at 17 inspired her mom to start a home for unwed mothers. That the two young women lie side by side is pure chance. But it is as it should be.

Stephanie “Boo” MacLeod was inspiring, too. Monday was the second anniversary of her death from meningitis. Maybe you saw her smile light up our announcements page this week. You could not help but smile back.

I make my way to her mom and dad’s Rexdale bungalow, where the photos of a tight-knit family cover the walls. Where Boo’s room is as it was the day she fell into a coma at Etobicoke General. Where her parents, Ed and Enid, both 47, and sister Natalie, 22, are working on Boo’s legacy:

It is new online and will be a place for teenage girls to share stories and seek inspiration. About love. About looks. About all the dreams and demons that dwell in teenage girls.

Boo had her share of demons. After Grade 8, she drifted into depression. Her family thinks she tried to carry the problems that beset a family. Oldest brother Eddy’s marriage breakdown. Other brother Paul’s struggle to become a cop (he’s now with the Peel force). Boo couldn’t fix it all, so she went to ground, limping along at Thistletown Collegiate, taking credits here and there. She didn’t know she was beautiful and smart. She thought she was fat, ugly, stupid. After she died, her mom found a photo collage of skinny models in her room.

She was four years adrift. Sick Kids’ teen clinic finally brought her out of it the summer before she died. It was a magic summer. “She was Boo again,” says Enid. She gussied up the bridesmaids when Eddy remarried. She had a flair for makeup. She got a tattoo on the small of her back. Boo, it said, in Japanese. You can see the cloud lifted from her face in the photos from that summer. The rebel in her took over. The rebel who, after she got her tongue pierced, lived at brother Paul’s house ’til the swelling went down. So her folks wouldn’t know. She caught up on nightclubbing, using Natalie’s ID. She went back to school full-time. The world was hers again. “She was always so magnetic,” says her dad. “She would light up a room.”

Then on Valentine’s Day, 2001, she felt off. They thought it was the flu. But the next night, Enid found her in the bathtub, sick and weeping. In a cubicle at Etobicoke General, Enid tried a cold cloth on her daughter and waited for blood tests. “Then she sat up and made sounds that weren’t words. I ran for the doctor. But she just stopped breathing.”

On Feb. 17, with her room full of family, they turned off the life support. The seventeenth of the second month.

Funny thing. The MacLeods are not very religious, but after Boo died, they found a Bible she had picked up at school. She had highlighted Genesis 7:11.

In the second month, on the seventeenth day … all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.

I dunno. But I do know Boo’s family will not let her memory die. They have high hopes for It was Natalie’s idea. Her longtime beau Stanley Bergman, 24, does the tech work. Ed is a graphic designer. Enid and Natalie are spreading the word to high schools. And they all have “Boo” tattoos in Japanese. Natalie got hers on her back after the funeral. Ed got one on his shoulder last month. Enid got one over her heart on Monday. Stanley has one. So do Boo’s brothers and their wives. Her locker at Thistletown is sealed, full of notes and photos. Best friend Patricia Peatling drew a rose on the door.

On Jan. 6, the day Boo would have turned 20, a family mob gathered at the Orangeville grave. Eddy and Paul live nearby. Ed and Enid plan to move up there, too. They lighted candles and drank tequila, Boo’s club drink. They wrote messages on 18 balloons – “I miss you,” said her mom – and let them go. Then one of the closest families I ever met huddled in the cold and watched the balloons disappear in the slate-grey sky.


One and a half months before her sudden death in February 2001, Stephanie wrote this poem, the only thing that would be written in her journal of Dreams & Aspirations.

I came to realize a short while ago
that the only person that I can be is me.
I cannot please everyone,
but I can please myself.
I will not be liked by everyone,
but I can like myself.
I do not need anyones acceptance,
I just need to accept myself.
I always tried to be the best of everyone.
Then it came to me,
the people that I am taking
the pieces from are not perfect,
so then why do I expect it from myself?
All I can be is me,
and being me is just wonderful.
I am a strong young woman who is
very bright in many talented ways.
I am a person who knows how to love,
And gets love in return.
I am me.
I am beautiful.

teens, grief, memorial, inspiration, eating disorders

Dennis P. Lewis: March 11, 1972 – April 4, 2006

The advent of almost universal access to the internet has changed our world in ways most of us probably could not have imagined. One of these is that we can now form real bonds with people on the other side of the world – people we have never met and in most cases will never meet. This is how I came to know Dennis Lewis, better known to his internet friends as wclew or The Little Bogger from his posts on webmaster forums.

Dennis P. Lewis, age 34, of Elliott, Iowa passed away Tuesday, April 4, 2006 at the Nebraska Methodist Hospital in Omaha, Nebraska. Dennis Patrick Lewis was born March 11, 1972 in Red Oak, Iowa the son of Pat and Deana (Brownsberger) Lewis. Dennis was raised in Elliott graduating from the Griswold Community High School in 1990. While in high school Dennis was involved in the chorus, National Honor Society as a junior and was president as a senior, participated in the academic decathlon, and was quite an artist. He attended Iowa Western Community College for 2 years and then the Bellevue University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. Dennis loved to surf the web, design web pages, play poker, fish, wine tasting, visit with friends and family, and the Green Bay Packers. His motto was “LIVE LARGE”!

Due to his chronic health issues, Dennis was confined to a wheelchair. This may have restricted his mobility but it certainly didn’t restrict his enthusiasm for life, his humor, or his love for his country, his family, his friends, and humanity. He frequently sent little jokes, affirmations, words of wisdom or hope, etc., to an email list he had constructed which he titled “To Someone Who Is Important To Me” – periodically, one or two or three of those would appear in my Inbox and I always knew it would be something to brighten my day. I never met Dennis in person and that’s something I regret. He was a remarkable young man with a big heart and an attitude the rest of us should try to emulate. I will miss him. Dennis wrote this poem prior to his death:

“I am a Warrior”

If you look closely,
you’ll see the tiger in my eye.
But, if you also listen,
you’ll hear my roaring spirit sigh.

For, though my mind and will are strong,
my body lacks might.
Alas, I am a warrior,
Who cannot fight.

I can feel it in my soul,
my battle will come.
Not on this Earth,
but beyond the Sun.

For when God calls my name,
and my spirit is set free,
Devil be warned,
An archangel, I will surely be.

Good Night, Little Bogger. Rest easy. You made an impact on this world greater than you knew. I will remember you.