The Hole Family

Yesterday marked six months since Holden’s gorgeous soul left his young body.  It was a hard day.  We were tidying up (in the Japanese and allegedly magically joyful way), putting away the decorations, tossing the wilted poinsettias and gathering the crackling dry boughs and pine cones from the mantle.  For some reason this was even more painful than setting them out had been.  The open, clear space created in their absence would normally have meant a fresh feeling of opportunity and potential for the new year but instead it created a powerful vacuum that squeezed my chest with a longing that has become so familiar.   I had thought perhaps the vortex was losing some of it’s pull.  I was wrong.  The inside of my ribcage felt like a chandelier in an earthquake.   Clattering and swaying.   I wasn’t sure how things would shake out.

oh how I wish these were opened

Wrapping these sentimental items in tissue and bubble wrap then packing them away in their dark blue utilitarian plastic tubs jolted me with it’s significance.   It’s heaviness.   How could we tuck him away so easily?  Put him on a shelf until next year.   The cute little teddy bear stocking with his name on it in purple glitter glue that we’ve had since he was born (which, by the way he insisted on keeping even though we offered to get him a more grown up one) and of course the unopened gifts.  Stab.  The tree ornaments that he made all through school, so achingly sweet.   I can picture his little hands working  earnestly to create them. The proud Christmas tree made of jigsaw puzzle pieces, it’s layers of glue painted dark green and zig zagged with gold twine, dotted with coloured beads.  ‘Holden – grade 1, 1999’ printed in pencil on the back in his careful hand.  The triangle  shaped reindeer head built with tongue depressors,  pipe cleaner antlers and the red pom-pom nose and my favourite, the silver clothes-peg angel.  Stab, stab, stab.  All I can say is yesterday felt like trying to walk with your shoes on the wrong feet.  It’s still possible, but doesn’t feel right at all. Something was missing or dragging behind or just simply wrong.  I hate the 3rd.  Of every month.  I seriously loath it.  But the 6 month benchmark combined with the newness of the year weighted the day more heavily than I was prepared for.    It landed on me with an unexpected thud.  I had actually begun to feel like in some ways I was emerging from the inky blackness of the tunnel.  Nope.  Get back in here lady. We’re not done with you yet.

buddha in the dark
this flame stayed up all night

I don’t mean to be overly dramatic, they haven’t all been bad days.  Lately there have been more and more lighter ones.  Or sections of days at least where I can breathe.  Though I faked my way through a lot of the holiday cheer I felt my husband and daughter deserved the effort.   Both of our Mom’s were with us for Christmas and that warmed things up considerably.  We are blessed with the gentle, patient, open hearts of Grandmas aren’t we?  One hundred and sixty three years of pumpkin pie making, turkey roasting experience to tap.   We all put on Christmas Eve pyjamas and played charades by the fire drinking hot rum.  We baked cookies.  We shopped and exchanged gifts.  We strung lights and listened to Harry Connick Jr.  See, I really tried.  Even though I could easily have skipped the whole thing.   On Christmas evening I lit a candle for Holden in his little garden outside under the big tree.  That candle stayed lit all night long and well into the next day, even with the wind.   Perhaps he wants us to look to the light?  My remarkable husband proposed a beautiful toast to Holden before we all shared a simple Christmas dinner.   He spoke of and to Holden in the present tense.  I love him  so deeply for that.  I couldn’t face the paper hats thought.  That was just too close to the bone.

Our pillar of a daughter has been surrounded by her delightful friends and the sound of their commotion and laughter in the house has elevated my spirit.  I have caught myself smiling and laughing in their presence.  Such a novel experience that I almost wrote down the time and date.  Smile – 8:30pm 04/12/15.  Laugh – 10:15am 12/12/15.  Though we skipped the parties we did appreciate the invitations.  Even though we’re lame at least we’re still on the radar.  Remember, I used to be able to party like it was my birthday, any day of the week.  Same goes for my husband.   Neither of us could  find the strength or motivation to rally.   A few friends came by for quiet visits and that has been a comforting familiar feeling.  Tiring, but a little bit more normal than the self imposed isolation we’ve been existing in for half a year.  A few brave souls  vaulted over the invisible moat to penetrate the fortifications.   I have realized that I can handle about five people  max in one place at one time.  Any more than that and I freeze with my eyes  bugging out of my head (‘owling’ my sister calls it) and I want to run for the door with sensory overload.  Big, bright rooms are bad, small and dark is better

manifesting joy. ok, faking it.

The Christmas season holds such unattainable expectations to be joyful  and put together doesn’t it?  Even under the best of circumstances, December is a minefield.   I blame stupid Hollywood and all of those shiny magazines at the checkout counter.   I couldn’t even say Merry Christmas…or Happy New Year out loud.  However, one day, after some serious nagging on the part of a dear friend, I went skiing.  I was afraid because the mountains are so immense and uncontainable and cold.   The motion of skiing so aggressive, fast and jarring.  We had been keeping life really, really (really) small.  Because of our year of travel I hadn’t skied for almost two years and am basically in the same physical condition as an astronaut who has just returned from space.  Zero muscle tone. Think veal.  But, it was so fresh and pure to be out in the wintriness of it all.  To breath that electric crystal chill deep down into the basement of my lungs.  I felt alive and dare I say, invigorated.   As he disappeared over a steep drop I recall saying to myself “fuck it, I have faced one of the worst things a person can experience and I’m still here so I can probably handle the Bagel Bowl.”  And I did.  And the fear dripped away.  Completely.  It was marvellous.

People have told me lately that I seem a little bit lighter.  I don’t really see or feel  it but I hope that’s true.  A gradual melting.  It would be so very easy to dwell forever in this place of sadness.    I heard of one woman who took to her bed for three years after her son died.   Not that far fetched a solution.  Honestly, it is a tempting option that I have seriously considered.  But I have to believe there is a reason to walk out of  this and to move along in this life.  Whatever that means.  And not just for my husband and daughter who I feel deserve it, for me too.  Some days I feel like I have passed through the worst intensity of the storm and will be able to enjoy life again, that the raging has finally begun to subside, and then, like yesterday….back it all comes.  Stab.  Squeeze.  Slash. His absence will not be concealed.  It is an unfillable hole.  I won’t even try.

I understand how difficult it is to know what to do about this situation from the outside.  How to help a person who seems helpless. Or rather un-helpable.  There is a dark and sacred intimacy around the death of someone close, especially a child, that is very difficult to navigate.  The social cues are unfamiliar and unpracticed.  This terrain is so slippery and private and delicate that we don’t want to risk stepping in to the inner chamber where we possibly don’t belong.  To breach security and be left standing exposed in the spotlight.  I am suggesting you try.  If you care at all, even a little, try.  Not right away, that’s too harsh.  Use your instincts to measure the depth of your relationship.  Maybe you have no business in there at all.  Maybe you are urgently needed. 

We really should have a class at school called ‘how to be there for a grieving friend.’  Sometimes when a person says ‘go away’ they mean ‘go away’ but sometimes they might  mean ‘I am so lonely and scared and I need your help.  I am incapable of reaching out so I need you to reach in.  Screw decorum.  I want you to talk to me about my son.  Please don’t ignore that he existed or that he died.  Please don’t talk to me about the fucking weather. There are bigger things going on here.  And even though sometimes I don’t have the strength to reply to your message I am so glad you thought to send it.’  Yet, how are you, sitting there looking at this worn  face, these desolate weepy eyes supposed to know which it is?  How best to be of service and still be polite?  Believe me, I can tell that you realllllly want to help.  Through these dark and light days I have felt a deep thoughtfulness from the outside world.  In fumbling heartfelt messages received, small sneaky gifts left on our porch and even those  ‘likes’ on Instagram.  I have reflected often and with deepest gratitude on your sincere kindnesses.  On your uncertain efforts.  They have helped me to feel less alone.  I think the most meaningful and beautiful offering is when you have told me that you don’t really know what to do or say but are willing to risk it.   We are all on quicksand here.  You have tried to tell me how you care, how you love and remember Holden, how you will continue to be there for us and hold us close to your heart.  You have shared your losses and your fears openly and honestly.  You have asked thoughtful questions.  You have revealed your humanness.  These are the messages that make me cry.  It’s a good cry though.  You have been vulnerable and that has had a levelling effect.  Now we are on a two way street.  I am no longer to be pitied.   Now we are connected through our common experience.  You are not doing me a favour or belittling my pain or comparing it to yours.  You are sharing this sordid life with me.  It’s a big difference. 

Now that six long/short months have passed, that surge and rush of emotion I feel when I receive a note or email feels like it accesses a direct pipeline to my heart.  A transfusion.  Not the heart that is valentine shaped and corny but the heart that is at the core of my being, the part that has been suctioned and scraped.  That is the part that is slowly functioning again because of your willingness to be awkward and uncomfortable.   

extraordinary gift from Cathy

I don’t know what this year will bring or what it means for our family.  The thing is, there never was any certainty, I’m just more aware of that fact now. I’m also acutely aware that anything that means anything actually means so much more.  There is a hole in me, a big one that won’t be filled.  I don’t want to fill it.  We are a hole family now.  As some wise people who have walked this road before me have advised,  I’m leaning into the pain. Fully experiencing and processing it whenever it happens to arrive.  Trying to identify and understand it all.   When I smell something earthy and grassy like him or see a young man walking down the road with his pants hung way to low and his big shoes flapping like flippers at ten and two o’clock  it rises.  I feel it all again, that crush.  Six months have passed now and I have learned. I’m letting the pain wash and surge over me when and how it decides.  I thank you for holding the lifeline as it does.  

  1. Jutta Purchase

    Dear Tara, I have been following your posts since you went on your one year trip around the world and enjoyed them very much. Your posts about your late son are so powerful, something awful must have happened to him. I think that you are giving a really good message to people who have experienced a loss. I have listened to you while you were on the radio and want to let you know that you have a gift of connecting with people.
    Regards, Jutta Purchase

  2. Ann B.

    I’m holding your hole family close to my heart.

  3. Annette Moulay

    No words (yours are so damn good what is left to say?). Hugs to you 3 !

  4. Sandy Appleby

    What can one say. I think Holden’s stocking says it all.
    And of course your eloquent words.

  5. Jeannie Moss

    It makes me want to know more about Holden. What was he like? You talk about his beautiful soul. Your love for him. Please tell me more.

  6. Lea Carpenter

    Tara, I just don’t know what to say. My heart aches for all of you. You are one of three families on the North Shore I know who have lost a young adult child this past year. May your heart continue to lighten in the New Year, as the the small flicker grows into a brighter flame. Your journey is such a personal and painful one, but thank you for sharing it with such eloquence. Your posts remind me how precious what I have is and to remember to let them know. Wishing you easier times ahead.

    • Tara McGuire

      Thanks Lea.
      It has been a brutally hard year for many people. I know other families too. Such sadness.

      We spent a week on your beach shortly after Holden’s service. Oh, he loved it there.

      Thanks for thinking of us. x

  7. Patricia lizama

    I am amazed at how connected I feel to you. It’s 4:19am and I can’t sleep again… And like so many times in the past 6 months my thoughts go to you.
    I think it’s because you are living through the most frightening, terrifying nightmare that I as a mother have ever had. I read your words and can see how for everybody else you are struggling to get out of this fog. To be happy again, to smile.
    You know what, I couldn’t do it. Maybe because I don’t have a husband or another child to have to live for. I think I would be so angry at the world. At life, at happiness, at families, at any kind of beauty. I would rather die than to live without him.
    This is my greatest fear in life and I’ve never shared it with anyone, but I know you’ll understand without saying what everyone else would say, “life goes on.”
    Having said this, I can’t tell you how comforting and therapeutic it is to read your blog.
    Sharing your feelings with us is helping me prepare, deal, understand and cope with loss. Something which should be taught to us all at a very young age.
    Sending much love beautiful Tara. Xo

    • Tara McGuire

      Thank you Patricia. For being so open. Enjoy your son. And please get some sleep! xxt

  8. E lisabeth

    Thank you Tara , as always beautiful and painful to read , big hug Tara .

  9. Robert Kwong

    Tara, the month of December is such an emotionally painful time for some people who have a loss in the family.
    We do feel your pain and as we have 22 year old Daniel, this made us hug him just a little tighter when he left to go back to school 2 days ago … ” be careful driving the Coq. … watch out for black ice!” When someone passes it is always sad and when it is a young person it’s even more tragic as all that potential goes with them. I’m sorry that we never met Holden. Time is a constant and with it I hope the pain will ease into good memories. Bob and Clare

    • Tara McGuire

      Hi Bob and hello sweet Clare,

      I’m so glad you hugged Daniel extra tightly. I wish I could. I remember so clearly when Clare couldn’t do up her ski suit because he was in there.
      It’s true, time is a constant but I don’t think it heals all. That takes work.
      Love to you both,

  10. Glen Thuncer

    Happy new year Tara, I know the holidays will never be the same for you and your family – but hopefully the worst (that first Christmas) without your son is a soon-to-be, distant memory for you. I never knew Holden as a young adult, but remember vividly your beautiful boy as a baby when you visited me in Hawaii. I still chuckle at the memory of Holden, maybe a year old, being propped up by invisible hands outside our restaurant window in Lahaina …
    dancing and giggling while you and I insufferably listened to my blowhard PD talk about how important he was. That was many years ago but I remember our visits well.
    I just finished reading a book called ‘Many Lives, Many Masters’, and believe unflinchingly in the premise of the book (non-fiction, true story), that the human soul is immortal. We never really die, and regardless of how brief your timewith Holden was in this lifetime … your souls will still have many dances together, and there is much more unconditional love for you two to share.
    Well, I stepped into the quick sand … just know that I’m thinking about you, and sending love and good thoughts your way.

    • Tara McGuire

      Hi Glen,
      Thanks so much for being in touch. All I remember about Hawaii is your remarkable tan. Thank you for your memories and for the book recommendation. I’ll check it out. I agree, our relationship isn’t over. It’ll be different but maybe it can still be rich.
      With love,

      • Glen Thuncer

        Ha! I’m pasty white and living in Bend, Oregon now … I too, have fond memories of my
        remarkable tan 🙂 Thanks for the smile Tara, hope to see you soon.

        P.S. Get the book … chicken skin true story. Some really good stuff there.

  11. Meagan

    Hi Tara. Sad and lovely to read your words. Good to know you ‘made it’ through the holidays. My sister in England has a friend who suddenly lost her 14 year old daughter last summer. I suggested your blog and she was grateful to read it. How wonderful that others can find some comfort in your writing. And thanks for the card, it made it to us!

  12. Marianne

    Dear dear Tara and your strong family, you’re words are so profound and certainly deliver a powerful message of the grief your are enduring and you’re strength. I am convinced your reaching out will help so many with similar experiences. So look forward to every time you write something new, you are very brave and we all really appreciate that honesty! remember……mi casa es tu casa

  13. Clara

    My Dear Tara,
    I’m channeling my grandparents comforting words.
    “prendere tutto il tempo del mondo, abbracci, passando del tempo, baci,
    affetto, amicizia, più tempo”
    Forza il mia amica.

  14. Paula

    Dear Tara, a mutual friend suggested I read your blog. It was difficult, and took me several attempts, and lots of tissue, to complete. This is a cruel club that I am sad to be a member of, and am sincerely sorry that you’ve been inducted as well. My beautiful daughter Cassidy passed away a little over 2 years ago. We celebrated her 20th birthday just last week. I have been struggling with writing her story…I found your words inspiring and brave. Thank you for sharing, as I know how truly difficult it is to try and put these painfully deep, dark feelings into simple words. Much empathy and healing energy being sent your way.

    • Tara McGuire

      Dear Paula,

      Thank you for being in touch. Yes, I would gladly hand back the membership card for this club. If only that were an option. But here we are. You are so kind and open to share your story with me. Those benchmark days really suck don’t they? I continue to pray for our mutual friend as well. I think/hope she’s doing great, so strong and brave.

      I have found that writing little parts of my story has helped me to organize my thoughts around what has happened. Not to put them away but just to stack them in a way that there might be room for something else …one day.

      Sending you love, peace and my deepest sorrow for the loss of your beautiful daughter.


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