Mourning Sickness

Three months have gone by since it happened.  It, being the death of our son Holden.  My amazing first born child.  It wasn’t the moment his beautiful soul left his body that changed my life forever though.  Because at that moment, I was unaware.  It was the moment the tormented looking police officer walked up our driveway and knocked on our door.  Boots heavy, eyes downcast, chin pinched to his broad chest as if bracing for a coming storm.  He didn’t want to tell me.  It was a sunny, mild afternoon.  I was happily unloading groceries and library books and bags that had been packed for nearly a year.  When those words hit my heart … the world, the universe as I knew it, shattered. And me with it. Or at least, my idea of me.  The me who once was.

Today however, with the sky so brilliantly blue and the leaves beginning to toast I actually feel a tiny sliver of solidity under my feet.  A fraction of a toe hold.  The fact that I actually noticed the sky and the trees today feels like a huge victory.  So, I will begin to try to tell you how it has been.  These long dark days of summer.  Though this is an intensely close family experience I will only write about my own struggle.  Grief is so completely different for every person.  All I can feel is my own.

The last ninety days have passed in a swirling, dense gloom. A turbulent ride I never asked to get on and have often pleaded to get off.  It has been difficult to see where I am going or find any recognizable reference points to orient myself.  Like skiing, fast, in thick fog, the drops and shocking bumps have been devastating.  The sensation of groundlessness and disconnectedness is paralyzing in a weird, numb sort of way.  The first days I tumbled and lurched and clung to the rocks gasping for air.  I curled into a ball.  Time lost it’s natural sequence.  That moment seems to have just happened and also spans an eternity.  My job, because of the deep love and patience of my husband, daughter, close family and dear friends has become simply surviving each day.  A strange sort of autopilot has taken over and operates my body while my mind wanders aimlessly down the scary uncharted paths of why?  My occupation is now simply walking, crying, whispering, sleeping, weeping, shaking, breathing.  Trying to do normal things that normal people do when this experience is anything but normal. 

The first trimester is utter brutality.  I pray you never have to feel it.  Just as, confirming you will become a mother for the first time is a total shift in your definition or idea of yourself, so is the beginning of your life without that child.  There are similarities.  You feel physically sick.  And oh so tired.  Unfathomably exhausted as if weighed down by invisible stones in all of your pockets.  But that’s where the similarities end.  There is never happiness.  If you happen to feel mistakenly happy, just for a second, you instantly feel guilty about it.  The vast crater where my heart used to be is now filled with cement.  If I fell in the ocean I would surely be dragged to the bottom by it’s weight.  The choking squeeze in my chest never, ever, goes away.  Even when I try to fake it for a while, this anguish is fucking relentless.  Unlike when I was joyfully pregnant and couldn’t wait to begin this new evolution of self as a mother, I would now do anything to make the sensation of leaden skin go away.  Make it all be untrue, a mistake.  One tap from a tiny hammer and I will disintegrate into dust and be blown away into the sea.

In the early days it’s tough to speak, god forbid smile or look anyone in the eye.  Prolonged eye contact is way too personal and intimate.  Food tastes like dirt.  Thirst is unquenchable.  Taking photos, once a joy, feels offensive.  Who would want to preserve this moment?  Singing is impossible. Singing indicates a carefree soul.  Even music is just too much.  Any social media is frivolous.  The act of lifting my face or unhunching my shoulders for a moment seems burdensome and way too vulnerable.  My memory and reflexes are shot.  When my loving and steadfast husband brought a truly stunning bouquet of flowers to me in bed one day I asked who they were from?  “Me” he smiled with a touch of sadness, “Happy Anniversary.”  I had forgotten. 

Everything orients down, toward the earth, the centre, the bottom.  It’s difficult just to stand.  Much easier to crawl under the blankets and hide.  This sadness has a pull stronger than gravity and the only place I could comfortably spend any length of time was in our bed.  It supports me like a cradle as my muscles atrophe.  Even through this long hot summer I have been chilled to the bone.  From bed I can see our big spanish chestnut tree and watch the shifting shades of green.  He loved colour.  The light subtly shifting as the day changes from bright and sharp to fuzzy pink and blurred.  I lie there for hours…and days…and weeks.  Cups of tea arrive with love.  Thank god for the love. 

From what I remember of morning sickness with pregnancy it swoops in at unpredictable times of the day or night making you nauseous.  By contrast “mourning sickness” or the phases of grief come rampaging in full throttle like daisy cutters on a midnight raid.  No warning, no reason or order.  Those 5 (or 7 depending on who you listen to) chronological ‘stages’ are bullshit by the way.  Denial and Isolation (yes always…even now), Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance.  They don’t stand in line and wait their turn to slap you around.  They gang up on you.  They are a conniving team who use chess-like tactics and strategic manoeuvres to crush you into oblivion. 

There have been many dark hours beginning uncountable sentences with ‘what if…’ and ‘why didn’t I…’  and ‘if only…’  to never come up with one single answer (bargaining) that makes any sense. That is because this question is unanswerable which keeps me stirring and roaring round and round (anger) this hollow cave. And I don’t want anyone in here with me, by the way, I want to rant alone.  Mother and son. Getting familiar with this new arrangement.

We are, by nature, problem solvers.  As humans we can’t relax until order is restored, the dishes are done and everything is stashed in its proper place. That’s why we are a culture of insomniacs.  We hate unresolved business.  It’s done, brush off your hands and crack a beer.  I used to be very good at it.  “Bring it on, I can handle it.”  But the death of my child is a rogue problem that cannot be solved.  It refuses to be manipulated revealing a valid reason or manoeuvred into submission.  No matter how many strings I used to be able to pull or favours I could call in this tragedy simply will not be neatly tucked out of sight.  There is no way to finesse this in my favour (acceptance).  He is gone. 

The service has been performed, the business tended to, the flowers are all wilted, some carefully transplanted into the garden, the banana bread long eaten and here I am.  Without him.   I have aged a century this summer.  I have become…an old woman.  Sluggish, weak and wrinkled.  I don’t give a shit about my hair, though I never much did.  I have very little stamina and get winded walking up a flight of stairs.  I still can’t stay out long, preferring the cocoon of home to the jostling of anywhere else.  Getting groceries is a major accomplishment.

In some ways I also died.  That person who was the mother of two, is now the mother on one.  It took me a long time to even want to leave the house.   Honestly, I still don’t.  In the early days the outside world became a cruel and harsh place that was too bright and loud and overwhelming.  Obviously, it could not be trusted to keep us safe.  When I finally gathered the strength to venture out on my own it did not go well.  A perky woman sitting beside me while we watched our kid’s summer  gymnastics class (in another municipality so I wouldn’t see anyone I knew) leaned over and said casually, almost flippantly,  “I have four children, how many do you have?”   I was caught unprepared and didn’t know how to respond.  Up to that point I was really unable to speak much at all, let alone to a stranger. There was only one topic after all and I didn’t want to talk about that either.  As a former broadcaster speaking had always been effortless.  Not any more. My voice had vanished with my son.  After a long awkward pause… “one” I managed to sputter in confusion and instantly felt devastated.  Why did I say that?  Of course, I didn’t want to get into it with this woman who was clearly very proud of herself for her multitude of children.   Still, I felt disloyal and traitorous to not have said “two” in that instant. But that may have lead to other questions I was not equipped to answer.   Where I was once confident and articulate I am now scared and uncertain.  This is the new me.

From the vantage point of three months, a perspective I fully expect will change and evolve, I have come to a sort of realization.  I think of this grief as a physical place.  It is a vast, bleak and horrible wasteland full of traps, snags and dead-ends.  There are also mirages and powerful understandings to be discovered.   Mercifully, there are many oases  of kindness and support or I simply could not survive. This no-man’s land exists as a bleak transition station between the woman I used to be and the one I am to become.  I don’t want to, but I have no choice.  This ground insists on be traversed.  These are the badlands between the territory of who I was before that day and the new country I must plant my flag on. I am a refugee citizen of a country I was forced to leave, dumped in a new country I don’t wish to inhabit.  I am not ready.  So, rather than stake my claim and start over in a place where I don’t speak the language or understand the customs and everything is unfamiliar, I choose to stay a little longer in this desolate zone.  For now, I’d rather be here with the bottomless sadness, than there, in a new land, without him.   

The Holden Courage Memorial Fund for Artists

  1. Joe Nickolls

    That broke my heart to read. I had no idea and there’s nothing I can say or do. Just know that you and your family are in my thoughts.

  2. Sandy Appleby

    Thank-you Tara.
    It is a privilege to read every heartfelt word you have written.

  3. Cathie borroe

    I start to write something to you but can’t find words that deserve the page. So i think of you. . . And hold thoughts of the you in all your pain, tight, tight against my heart.

  4. Cindy


    I’m so saddened to hear of your immense loss. I am touched by your courage to share through your gifted writing and feel honored to be invited in. I will use this opportunity to hold your family close in my heart and pray for the return of peace and sweetness to your life.

    Oceans of love,

  5. Karen Daniels

    I’m so terribly sorry for your loss Tara, I don’t wish this on anyone, but your honesty with your loss will certainly help and resonate with others! Big hugs!

  6. Mary Charleson

    Heartfelt and hard to read yet unbelievably beautifully written and well articulated. I am stunned by the contrasts of the journey life has taken you on this past year Tara. Thank you for sharing your words. We love you.

  7. Denise Kelly

    Tara thank you for sharing your feelings and your journey with us. You are so loved. I think the courage to write this is a new beginning . Hugs and continued strength, Love Denise XO

  8. Sherida

    I feel your pain from this amazing piece of writing. I’m so sorry for your loss, Tara.
    Your sons image on the fund link so reminds me of Kevin when he was younger. I only hope that you feel more strong and at peace very soon.

  9. Lorraine

    I am so sorry for your loss, Tara. So raw, so beautifully written. Thank you so much for sharing. Hugs, Lorraine.

  10. Brian Antonson

    Tara: My heart breaks and aches for you with this terrible loss. As I’m sure you are aware, thousands upon thousands feel the same way as me, and while the crushing sadness you bear is overwhelming, know that many love and respect you for the wonderfully positive impact you have had on their lives, as did your son. You walk this journey alone, but accompanied by many. Brian

  11. Rob Collins

    Tears flowed Tara as I read your journey these past 3 months in trying to find ” a new normal” in life.
    Prayers and thoughts are with you on this walk of life and remember, love and support from family and friends are there walking beside you for strength.
    You are truly an amazing person.

  12. Trish

    Oh Tara – indeed a journey no one would ever want to be on. You will always be the mother of two – that cannot be ripped away from you. Your words have touched me deeply.

  13. Rav

    I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Much love and peace to you and your family.

  14. Jill Macmillan

    Oh my God Tara!!!! How absolutely shattering for you. I listened to you on the radio for years, in fact, needed you to get out of bed in the morning, loved every step of all your fabulous travels with your beautiful daughter & husband and now to learn of this horrible loss, I’m saddened for you beyond description. Your words are so sad but there’s so much truth in them. Thank you for sharing this tragedy with us.

    Much love,

  15. Hermine Gegg

    Dear Tara,

    I have to write in on German. I do not have the right english words for it:

    Liebe Tara,

    ich kann mein tiefes Mitgefühl nicht auf Englisch fassen, so sehr fehlen mir die Worte.
    Mein tiefstes Mitgefühl möchte ich Dir und Deiner Familie entgegenbringen.
    Es tut mir so leid für Euch….
    Findet Kraft an den schönen Dingen die Ihr gemeinsam erleben durftet.
    Mir stehen die Tränen in den Augen während ich Dir dies schreibe.
    Ich bin der festen Überzeugung, dass alles im Leben einen Grund hat. Einmal sehen wir uns alle wieder und wir schauen allem von oben zu….

    Ich hoffe wir hören und sehen uns wieder. Es wäre mir von ganzem Herzen eine Freude.

    Ganz, ganz lieben Gruß.

  16. Chris

    My thoughts are with you ,
    hugs !

  17. Karen Hoffman

    Oh, Tara
    I am so sorry to hear this unfathomable news.
    I lost my husband 3.5 years ago and have always wanted to write about the grief but I never could. I couldn’t find the words.
    Your words are so raw and truthful and I understand as best as I can. Thank you for letting us in. To share in the pain. If we could carry it a bit for you we would.
    Writing in this way helps to move the energy to see a bit clearer each day….
    As our Jewish tradition says, ” Let his life be for a blessing.”

  18. Jeannie Moss

    The devastating loss, unimaginable. I’m so, so sorry.

  19. Tracey

    Dear Tara,

    Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. Holden will be with you forever in your memories, cherish them. You are an amazing friend, Mom and writer!

    We are so lucky to have you in our lives. Thank you for sharing yourself, you are very gifted.

    Wishing you love and peace.
    Tracey and family

  20. Tracy McIvor

    Thinking of you all everyday and sending love and light. You are very brave to share your inner most thoughts, fears, and grief. Grief and loss are numbing, life changing and nothing prepares us for the process. You are surrounded by love and Holden knew how truly blessed and loved he was being your son and in your amazing family. xx Tracy

  21. Jen

    Tara, we haven’t met but have mutual friends. I just read your post and wanted to tell you how incredibly sorry I am to hear of the loss of your dear son. What an incredible gift he had to have you as a mother for his life on earth. My heart aches for you (as a mother myself). Your words hit my core and I find myself crying as I read this post of your grief and pain. You have a beautiful heart and my hope is that little by little you can regain yourself again. My deepest condolences Tara. xo Jen

  22. Nancy Wall Mackenzie

    Tara I am so sorry for this brutal journey you are on. Your blog Tuesday was eloquent and the parallel of morning sickness and mourning sickness is apt
    My heart is with you as you come to a place of more peace than you have had.
    Nancy Wall Mackenzie

  23. Kevin Burk

    You’ve painted such a vivid picture of deep sadness … but Holden’s memorial also painted an incredibly vivid picture of a young man who lived life to the fullest, touched many, and was loved deeply by his family. Thanks for leaving me with such warm memories of Holden.

  24. Denai

    I remember when my cousin past away…he was like my brother.
    I pray you will continue to be surrounded by loved ones Tara.
    Sending so much love to you and your family.

  25. Margaret Fairbrother Garrison

    Beautiful, heart felt, it is stinging, I feel such pain, strength, sadness. I want to reach out, to erase, but can’t. I have never met you, but know you from the many years of your public life on air @ QMfm. I can only hope that you find peace, laughter and joy again. It is not your fault, you are beautiful beyond words. An incredible mother. Thank you Tara for sharing your story. Margaret Fairbrother Garrison

  26. Martha

    Tara & family…I am sooo sorry to hear of the passing of your Son,…Yes, Tara, it is true, we have never met, I did listen to you for many yrs. on qmfm, & Loved following you, also I connected with you through your Beautiful travels this last year, & Loved every post you so emotionally put on your blog, & keep going back to your posts to figure out where I will be headed to for a special birthday next yr., as I don’t travel much! Thank you for a Beautiful Journey! I know, nobody can feel your pain, empty & loneliness like you…Thank you again for being such a Beautiful Person!

  27. Mark Biech

    Hello Tara …..

    Thank you for sharing your life here for others to read. Coreen and I are so sorry to hear about the loss of you son. We are currently on the Austrian/Hungarian border helping out with the flood of Syrian war refugees making their way to safety in Western Europe. Reading your post opened my eyes to what many of them must also be going through. They have also lost sons and daughters in horrible unexpected circumstances. I have been a little overwhelmed here, somewhat on a bit of auto-pilate handing out food, helping people who speak English to understand where they should go next, where the busses are, where the toilets are, all the while trying to feel just a little more connected to them through the great cultural divide. Your post It helped me sense, if just a little, the deep sorrow of loss. No matter what the circumstances, this kind of loss shakes people to the depths of their inner core. Thank you for your openness to share this on line. It has been well received and you are giving strength to others from your place of weakness. We love you ….. Mark and Coreen

  28. Doris

    My Dear Canadian Friend, Tara,
    I was shocked and saddened in disbelief yesterday, when I read messages of condolence on your Facebook page. My heart goes out to you and your family.
    There are so many things I would like to say, but I am struggling to put the right words together.
    As a Mother of one I can imagine how deep your love for Holden is. I think we have a special bond with our sons. You’re a truly talented, vibrant, loving person, and I know you’ll find your groove to live with Holden in your heart.
    You had a massive impact on me when we met on our Contiki Tour of Europe in 1983, and I am so pleased we have reconnected via Facebook.
    Love and hugs to you and your family.
    Your Aussie Friend
    Doris xxx

  29. Paulette

    I was so saddened to hear about the loss of your son. We never met but I feel like I know you, listening to you for years on the radio while I did my long drive to work. I loved all your stories and especially the ones about your family. I also followed your blog during your year of travel. I know your heart is so broken and you are in such deep sadness and pain but things will eventually get a bit easier and you will find some peace. You will always carry a bit of your son in your heart. You have a family that loves you and together you will get through this tragedy.

    Keep up your good writing skills and please take care 🙂

  30. Karen Hoffman

    Hello, Tara;
    I sent a post a few days ago. I wanted to tell you about a book that, when the time is right and if you are searching, that this book was helpful to me in my efforts to move forward after my great loss.
    The book is “Broken Open ” by Elizabeth Lesser.
    My thoughts are with you.

  31. Dave

    Sharing in your sadness, I offer my prayers that God comforts, protects and guides you in your mourning. There is no doubt in my mind, your Angel is watching over you T, with his wings wrapped gently around you.

  32. Jeff Bobb

    Heart breaking

    Love and strength to you Tara

  33. Catherine

    I cannot imagine the pain of losing a child but I felt it through your heartfelt words…Our souls are immortal and your son is well but so very concerned for you and your family as he moves forward in the next part of his soul journey in Heaven. He sends his love and as much comfort to you as he is able…I am Sending you love and prayers…

  34. Corinne

    Air checker tweeted condolences so I checked out your blog. I don’t mean to intrude, just wanted to pass along the link of another blogger if you hadn’t seen it yet, her post went viral on Facebook. Now she started a blog. Losing a child at any age is devastating. Hugs.

  35. Celia

    Dear Tara, I am so sorry for your loss. Your broken heart will someday heal. May God’s grace embrace you and your family. Celia

  36. Meagan

    Hi Tara. It is encouraging that you are writing, and so beautifully as well. Keep it up. My favourite part of the whole piece is where you say you can feel a tiny toehold of normality. You honour Holden with your thoughts and emotions put to paper. And you may not feel it yourself, but your writing shows some amazing strength. You even find the the strength to thank those who want to help but of course, cannot. Much love from all of us.

  37. Ange Frymire Fleming

    Tara, I’ve read a few of your posts and find that the tears slide down my cheeks with your recanting of such a tragic loss. Your words are etched with such grief that a mother should not have to ever endure. Yet your grief also shows such resilience, as you share your vulnerability with the world who reads your blog. I’m touched. I’m quiet for you. And I pray that some day, somehow, you’ll make more sense of Holden’s passing by seeing how his living touched so many.
    Thank you for having the courage to write of this. Your heart is in my thoughts and prayers….Ange

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