One foot in the grave

I remember coming home from school to be told my nanna was dead. I cried, more from the surprise than anything.

A long time later, my father died, the first intimation that I might be moving to the head of the queue. Then my mother. By that time I had children and so despite my grief my eyes were fixed on the road ahead.

When my dog died – is it wrong to write of a beloved animal friend in the same space as a parent – I cried more than for my father. Not that I loved him more, but the death of someone that you’re responsible for seems worse than the death of someone who’s responsible for you.

In February my son died, and when life gives me space to reflect (when I’m driving, for instance) I feel weighted towards death,. As if, increasingly, I’m more there, with those who are gone, than here, with those who are left. Thus the expression, one foot in the grave. So it must feel to people whose friends and relations have all died, and they’re sitting there like the last person in the bar while the staff are putting the tables away. My daughter and siblings, and life’s routine, keep me from sliding down. I’m not depressed. It’s just that my heart’s not in it any more.

You know the saying, ‘You had one job..’. Well, I had one job, and that was to keep my children alive, and I failed. On top of all the mistakes I’ve made in my life, and there have been a lot, this is by far the most catastrophic; I did not manage to avert this death. I was with him when he died, in his sleep, of multiple drug toxicity, and I didn’t save him, because I thought his dying breath was a snore, and I was half-asleep, and I didn’t know what he had taken could kill him. I failed, and now I feel unbelievably stupid, and worse than worthless, and at times overwhelmed with useless sorrow, and all this I can do nothing about, and it doesn’t get better, it just gets papered over.

One of the last things he said to me was, ‘You’re the best mother I could have had’, and it breaks my heart because it’s so ironic. All the things I did, and didn’t do, as a mother, ended in this; my son is dead. I refuse to forgive myself; this is irretrievable.

Someone said to me, earlier this year, ‘Why do you say you’d rather be dead? Is your son all that mattered? After all, you have a daughter.’ And that’s true, I do have a daughter, whom I dearly love, and she is a comfort. It’s not that, it’s the pain. There’s a story that Prometheus was condemned to have his liver torn out by eagles each day (and perpetually renewed), in punishment for giving fire to mankind. That’s how I feel, when I’m not preoccupied by the daily business of living. My punishment for being an idiot is having my heart wrenched from my body each day. I deserve it, and I can’t escape. People say things like ‘It’s not your fault’ and ‘remember the positive stuff’ and ‘what matters is that you loved him, and he loved you’ and while all these things are true, it’s an unpalatable fact about being human that we have to live with our shit.

I used to have a pretty cheerful approach to the future. I’d think, let’s see, I’ve probably got twenty or thirty years left, and there’s all these things I want to do…and when I run out of things, I’ll just sit in a rocking chair in the sun and think, with my children nearby (my son had elaborate plans to provide me with a luxurious old age, bless him). Now I think of the time left as a sort of prison sentence, which I have to endure. When I see my beautiful girl safe and happy with her own family and future, I’ll just put my pen down (figuratively speaking), tidy my notes and go to my son, my parents, and my canine best friend, wherever they are.

I’m writing about this because I can’t explain it to anyone in person – it would hurt too much – and so I want to at least explain it to myself. Perhaps the act of explaining will be healing. I’m not on the verge of a breakdown. There are moments – long moments – of enjoyment still to be had in life (flowers, my kelpie, the sea). I can still write, and that has meaning. Next year I want to write about grief (but not mine). My girl helps, a lot.

And, apparently, time heals. Let’s hope. In the meantime, I might as well keep busy, and then again, if I’m lucky, I might be given early parole.


  1. I agree with El Guapo about “like” not being the right thing for this, but still … I like that you shared this piece of you, Rose.

    I wish I could take your pain away from you. I wish I could take your sense of failure away. I wish I could restore your son to you. None of those things I can do. But I can relate to what you’re feeling and let you know that you are not alone in what you’re feeling … if that is any consolation at all.

    Regarding feeling like a failure as a parent … while I haven’t experienced the loss you have, I have two boys in their 20s who are struggling mightily with the process of growing into functioning, responsible adults who can take care of themselves. As I’ve said to a couple of close friends, I feel like a failure as a father. If it was just one of them, then I could blame it on the one who wasn’t doing well. But if I have two kids and both are going through the same lack of responsibility and ability to move ahead and get to a point where they can take care of themselves … isn’t that a reflection on me and how they were raised? I struggle with this thought regularly — this idea that where my boys are now suggests that I was a failure as their father.

    Meanwhile, I met my dad for a beer this afternoon. He is 88. My mother is 85. They remain married, living in the same home, and can’t stand each other. And due to their age, they are on the downhill side of things. As we parted ways in the parking lot, this moment of sadness came over me. Almost to the point of overwhelming me. At the thought of seeing both of my parents age and struggle with health and frailty and at their interactions with each other and just so much. I wanted so desperately to cry, but I was in a parking lot at a brewery. So, I didn’t. And I get what you say about your blog being a “safe place” to say these words — to let it out. I can’t talk about this on my blog because my dad reads it.

    So … you are not alone. We all carry these feelings to different degrees and based on our own experiences. Some are willing to express them. Some aren’t. Kudos to you for opening yourself up. And also know this … you still have plenty of life left, plenty of joy that you can find, while holding on to the loss you feel. I hope that you can find that joy again.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful and honest reply, Mark. I think a lot of kids are finding it difficult these days to become fully functioning adults. I don’t know why but feel it’s to do with a loss of community and perhaps that children have no real role other than to grow up. You can be anything also means that you can be nothing. Some young people cope with the idea that you drive your own future and get yourself to where you want to be. Others can’t deal with the choices and freedom, and the world view that says it’s all about you as an individual, not you as a contributor to your family and community. Well, that’s all very general but as a parent of a child who really struggled with adult life, I empathize. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I think it’s broader than us, but I hope they’ll work it out. I too was slow to grow up, but it happened eventually. As to your parents, it must be awful to be a part of that, seeing people you love making each other’s lives miserable at this late stage for no good reason.

  2. Thanks for sharing that, it was courageous. Now I understand the last several months’ silence from you. I’m so sorry that you have lost your son, and for the desolation that has descended upon you from it. As usual, the words seem weak, and there is nothing I can say that others haven’t, but the words from me are still heartfelt. Guilt is a very human emotion, I don’t think any other animal carries it. We can also feel guilty when we start healing from our loss, as though feeling less devastated all the time is betraying our loved one’s memory somehow. Even though this is your journey, I hope every little word with love from your family, friends and acquaintances helps somehow. And please keep writing 🙂

  3. I can’t even imagine. The mind skitters away from trying to picture such a terrible thing. I’m so sorry this happened and I hope the pain is lessened with the passage of time. Hugs & love ❤️

  4. I’m so moved by this, I can hardly write anything. I echo all the above, my sorrow and my admiration of your courage to write here about your loss, my wish to make it better, my incapacity. I sat in silence for some time, wanting to share an empty comment, as though that might say more than these useless words. From my experience of counselling – giving and receiving – I have confidence that sharing is healing, even if it doesn’t heal completely.

  5. So sorry that it happened to you. You have written about it with the most moving and beautiful honesty. I admire your courage in exposing your raw emotions in this way. I hope writing about it helps you in some way. Sending you hugs and warming affection.

  6. I am so sorry for all you losses! It must have been very difficult for you. It does make us stop and reassess our own situation and how close we are to our own demise!

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