Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Time Has Come

"The time has come," the Walrus said, 
"To talk of many things."
"Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing wax --
of cabbages and kings.
And why the sea is boiling hot --
and whether pigs have wings."

Excerpt - The Walrus and The Carpenter
Lewis Carroll
from "Through the Looking Glass"

July 3, 2005, our youngest son, James Stephen Brown, was killed in an auto accident; he was 12 years old. In many ways, my life stopped that day and I've spent the years since trying to pull together the parts of me that are left and move forward. I've never written about J.S. or my feelings of grief and loss and it has become clear to me that at some point, I must. So friends, the time has come.

I have faced grief before, having lost both of my parents. But the loss of your child is different. It's against the natural order of things and nothing prepares you deal with it. No one 's last look at their child should be of him in a body bag, partially unzipped for your private farewell. Some images never leave you.

Other memories of the early days surrounding his death span a broad spectrum. Some are muddled, fuzzy or completely lost, while others are as clear and sharp as if they just happened. Especially the ones that are particularly painful. Pain charges memories with energy and keeps them bright and vivid in your mind, hard to escape, impossible to let go. 

I remember the look on the faces of the mothers of J.S.'s friends. Amid the expressions of sympathy and platitudes that came from everyone around me, it was clear that they, these mothers, were the only ones who understood. Our eyes locked in something akin to panic. No words were exchanged or necessary; every beat of their hearts screamed, "Please don't let this happen to me."

All our friends and family members scrambled to find some way to be with us through the crisis. Food and help appeared from everywhere, people struggling to know what to do. Little things made a big difference. My sister stayed at our house, answering the phone so that we would not have to, dutifully noting each caller and message. I learned that nothing anyone says brings relief or comfort. "I am sorry for your loss," is about the best one can do. "He's in a better place," or "God works in mysterious ways," were enough to make me want to shoot the messenger. If I thought this were anything other than a tragic accident, if somehow some god said, "Kill this boy," I would have lost my sanity. If this is ever what you want to say to a grieving mother, keep your mouth shut.

The rest of 2005, 2006 and 2007 are still mostly a blur. I continued to work, bolstered by my co-workers at The University of Texas, who looked after me, covered my mistakes and led me around when I was pretty much a zombie. I remember that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005 but I can't tell you much about anything else that happened in the world during those years. In 2007 we sold our family home, our dream house on the hill of our 120 acre ranch that we had designed and built when the boys were young. There was just too much pain there. My world had shrunk to our bedroom, the kitchen and my office at work. I think my husband was afraid I would finally slip too far away to come back. Ben had graduated from high school by then and was away at college, so Scott and our good friend, Ardis, searched for a home they thought I would like that would not remind me of the one I was leaving. We have a lovely home now, but that is its main attraction -- the fact that it is so different than the ranch. 

At some point, somewhere in 2009, I decided that I needed to rejoin my life. It was a struggle, but I think that what finally "did me in" was exhaustion. Up to then, with the help of anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, sleeping and help for digestion medications, I kept working at an accelerated pace. After leaving UT,  I became president of our local Chamber of Commerce and found myself involved in everything in town. I worked or volunteered constantly, knowing that if I just stayed really busy, I wouldn't have time to think about James Stephen. But he was always there. It took complete exhaustion and a four month illness for me to stop frantically avoiding him. 

So this is where I sit now. The last six months of 2011 were pretty hard. In May his classmates graduated from high school. All around me, there they were - sacking at the grocery store, waitressing at the cafe - saving money for their college accounts, full of energy and anticipation for the next stage of their lives. But he's not here. November 23 was his birthday, Thanksgiving time (ha!) He would have been 19, but he's not here. His brother got married, Christmas rolled around, life goes on. But he's not here. Most days I am alright, but some I'm not. I know that I'll never be whole again and that my life will forever be divided into "before" and "after" his death.

I made a conscious choice to rejoin the living and get involved in my life again. I quit my job and most of my volunteer work. I now do only the things that make me feel like I'm contributing something good to the world. I started this blog and the writing really helps. When I finish my infamous novel, that will help, too. I guess that is the biggest goal looming ahead of me. One of the main characters is a woman who lost both her husband and her son in an accident, so the writing of those sections is very cathartic for me. This month I will finally be off my prescriptions for anti-depression and sleeping. I had to go through a slow, weaning-off process, but it is time. 

You may hear more from me than you have in the last few months. Needing to write this column has kept me from writing anything else; every time I tried a lighter subject it just seemed trivial and mocking. But now that I've taken the leap I feel better. You may read something funny about the dogs again soon. 

Thanks for stopping by. It really helps to know you're out there.


  1. Annette, I am so glad you're doing this. I think it will be cathartic for you, and I think other mothers who find themselves in a similarly tragic situation will be helped by reading your words and knowing that somehow, some way, you survived it. The worst pain imaginable didn't kill you after all. I applaud you for being courageous enough to start down this path. Your words on this subject will matter.

  2. Been thru a lots of pain in my life but never the loss of a child....but...I have been told it is the worst pain in a mother's or father's life....I am soo glad to see you begining to get better.....sooo glad that you had Scott and your sisters to help you thru this....keep looking up....still saying prayers for you.....we love you much!