Grief Playbook
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Grief Playbook

I thought I had at least one more year

What I‘m learning while staring at our unfinished Scrabble games

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every mother in the world occasionally feels utterly cursed. If you’re a mother, you know. If you’re not a mother, you don’t know. Don’t argue with me.

I’m not even talking about the bearing phase…that period of rent-free human occupation in your belly — while compromising your diaphragm, bladder and general gung-ho, sparky go-get-’em attitude in life. Aforementioned personal pre-mama ‘spark’ perhaps dulled — in part — by lack of sleep and the self-imposed abstinence from alcohol and copious amounts of coffee. I’m also not referring to the mini-sacrifices, like choosing to carpool a bunch of noisy boogery kid friends, rather than whiling time away at a Spa or reading a book in peace.

Frankly, I loved all that. Hate me now if you must, but I absolutely loved being pregnant. I had relatively easy child birthing experiences. Being one of the moms that didn’t lose their shit (or so it seemed) was my jam.

I’m talking about the whole ‘…raise them, love them, and teach them to be strong and kind while encouraging awesomeness…’ Mom-Thing; only to be left by said awesome human when it was time to leave. That is the curse of which I speak. Stupid Nature. We didn’t raise molly-coddled boys who we wish to be living with us forever. That’s not the goal. But equally, they are so fun to have around. Raising three sons to have dinner and conversations with us every evening has been one of the happiest highlights of my life.

Growing up with them before the fact

I had the kids when I was pretty young. What’s great is that the generational gap between us isn’t some wide impossible chasm to cross.

He looked at everyone intently from a young age. He always really listened.

What’s not so great about having had them when I was young is that their absence is compounded by the fact that I intend to be alive for at least 2 more decades. That’s an awfully long time, when you think about it, for real live epic hugs — previously felt every day — to only be experienced on vacation trips, dinners out, birthdays and Christmases.

It’s almost cruel that mothers must swallow the fact that at some point in time — after years of baby massage, story time, fixing cuts or bruises; and dinner conversations about school, sports, girls and the what’s-the-best-part-of-your-day quips…One day, most certainly, the conversation segues to: “I’m moving, Mum. Love you.”

All that being said, ‘the teenager years’ that everyone warned us about, didn’t live up to the stereotype: Whenever we’d chance upon them in the park or the mall, I’d always get a big hug (in front of friends) and introduced as “…oh this is my mom,” or “…my parents!” Lucky us. Watching them grow up to be beautiful young men and accepting they will move on from the nest has been something I’ve accepted as a proud mama milestone. I just think it’s unnecessary to deny the pain that comes with that.

…Having them leave one by one was an unspoken dread, but I have grown up a fair bit.

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” -penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson and loved by Tiernan since he was 13.

Tiernan in 60 seconds

The names I chose for him means “wise king” and “conscious ruler”. His older brothers Liam Sean Cloud and Dylan Kyle Cloud bore Irish-Gaelic names chosen meticulously as well; but Tiernan Quinn being the third and youngest Cloud bore the name that wouldn’t be overshadowed by the bigger boys. I thought it was pretty funny at the time.

All 3 of my boys were born at 10:30, but both Liam and Dylan were born at 10:30 pm, and Tiernan was born at 10:30 am. In itself a seemingly odd coincidence, but contextually a source of amusement when we stop to consider how jam-packed his life was, by his own choice, like he always felt compelled to do so much in what would generally be considered a short life of 20 years. It’s as if he just wanted to get this life started already. Seize the morning!

On his first day of Primary School, a faint knock on our door at 5:30 am made me jump straight out of bed, like something must be wrong. But it was just Tiernan, dressed for school, asking if he may have breakfast as he doesn’t want to be late. School, might I add, is a 2-minute walk away and starts in 3 hours. Years later: First day of Secondary School…a similar eerie knock at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am as he was far too excited to get to his new school in London.

Kids in the UK were required to take 6 GCSEs in their final year before College. Tiernan took 11 (without us realizing it) and got 9 As. This helped secure a place at Geneva Business School in Barcelona when he decided he wanted to go to University. He was still living with us during his first day of Uni and did he do the same early-morning thing? No knocks on our door (I mean — he was 17 at the time and made his own breakfast), but I won a bet against my husband as I knew he would wake up at least 2 hours too early on the day of the show.

He was always surrounded by friends, had a boisterous voice, and a big laugh, much like his Grandpa. He lived large, had beautiful girlfriends and excelled at rollerblading, basketball, project management, being a goofball, skateboards and pretty much everything he decided to do. He smiled a lot and gave epic hugs. I always knew that Tiernan achieved so much, pretty much all the time, and still managed to foster deep loving relationships and friendships around the world.

…I only learned just how deep some of his relationships went, spanning 8 years or more, as a fact that was made painfully clear when he passed.

Moving around the world and moving away

We traveled a lot as a family. We also lived across 3 different continents, which has given us plenty of experiences together, both crazy and cultural. This did make it a little complicated to define Home and Origin. People have found it rather amusing that if you ask our three boys separately about this, at different times…

“Where are you from?”

Liam would say he is from the Philippines;
Dylan would say he is from New Zealand;
Tiernan would say he’s from here, Barcelona…But that he grew up in London and that he is part-Filipino, part-Spanish, part-Kiwi. (His answer changed and would morph around the asker and the circumstance)

We prepared a lot for the idea that our kids will grow up very different from each other; and that they sometimes needed space to breathe without ‘Jungle Law’ in effect, raising voices over their brothers’. We also knew they would very possibly pursue unique paths and so for these reasons and more, I invented SMTP before they were teenagers, aka Solo Mum Time Project.

In said SMTP Sessions, I would spend time with 1 of the kids, solo, no Dad, no brothers, and we would do whatever struck our fancy that day and for that time period: shopping, rollerblading, hiking, coffee, mojitos…It was really more about time for words to flow freely. It was different every time and each session came with a Fight Club-ish proviso that “what happens in SMTP time, stays in SMTP time,” They aren’t meant to compare notes with their brothers, nor divulge any unique-to-each-kid SMTP purchases during their special day.

I’ve prepared myself plenty for a lot of events and changes in circumstances — having done so as a working mom for more than 2 decades. My husband taunts me about how all the moving has not made me a better packer, and that I remain the sole recipient of The Worst Mover in the Family Award every single year. I also have multiple Best Mom Awards, so I don’t care too much about the blemish on my family reputation.

In my defence, I am the worst packer and mover across houses and countries because I always inevitably come across kids’ art, kids’ photos, family mementos — and those don’t just go from a hidey hole and into a moving box to get taped up and labelled, oh no no no…I must sit down in between boxes and go down memory lane, take pictures of old dusty photos and message them to the grandparents and recently, to the kids. Every single time. Even when they didn’t live here anymore.

We promised each other vacations and road trips and SMTPs and I struggle to recall broken promises, as there were none, which is a blessing to my
grief-addled brain.

…I’ve learned from everything in the past, from baby books and thousands of photos to gifts and mementos. Nostalgia could feed my raging grief right now, but it seems that they have instead allowed me to recall how loved the kids are, and how much fun we’ve had.

The Little Prince, The Alchemist and potent words

Tiernan has been telling me I’m a superhero since he was 5. Sometimes I think that this belief in me probably fed the notion that prepared me for the various villains, protagonists and antagonistic anarchists who dared to fuck with my peace of mind while working in London and Manila.

He read all my favourite books and many books I’ve never read. I love that we both love words.

My beautiful son Tiernan Quinn Cloud

One Springtime day last year, he asked us what we thought about him moving out and living with his best friends, not far from where his brother and girlfriend live. Not too far away from me, either, so Selfish-Mum-feelings at bay. I started writing this blog then, as I taunted him about how I’m winning at Fridge Scrabble since he will miss making turns (don’t make me explain the rules, it’s impossible). I thought I had one more year before that conversation. Life is ironic.

He graduated with distinction from University last year, the youngest graduate of Geneva Business School — who the Valedictorian thanked in her speech. She was one of many he helped through some of the most high-pressure moments of their adolescent lives.

He decided to move further away: for a job in Madrid. The Lockdown started and he came back to Barcelona, happily only 20 minutes away

A Lockdown Playlist built with some of the most beautiful people in the world
And we built a playlist of songs we all listened to in our collective isolation days.

My beautiful son was so happy the week before the accident, petulantly disobeying Spain’s draconian lockdown and was in the same space as his brothers for the first time in almost a year. They started planning a trip to Australia and other fun shenanigans in the future. He added songs to our shared playlist a few hours before it happened.

We have friends and family all over the world. The world lost thousands to coronavirus, and one particular soul to an accident during quarantine.
A stupid senseless accident. And I’ve been devastated.

What no one prepares you for is the abject necessity to accept the reality of someone’s death. With that comes a deep sorrow and a constant grief that comes in waves, all day every day. A few times every few days, taking a break from your own feelings would mean becoming able enough for yet another necessity: Breaking the bad news that your son has had an accident and didn’t make it, and that you’ve lost him…to everyone he loves and all who love him. This next-level grief meant different heartbreak levels in different time zones for days. Writing the words is surreal. Saying it out loud still makes me cry.

Bizarrely, his early house move gave me practice. I tried to pretend he was in Australia for a spell, but the notion didn’t take. Music is something at the core of our times together as a family, so for awhile we couldn’t play any. After awhile, I’ve become strangely comforted by the songs we shared and am oddly relieved that he managed to graduate while working on side projects, saw a lot of the world, helped build an artist collective in Barcelona, got a job he loved, got to move out, got to move away and helped build an online community for students to connect with lessons (and each other) during covid19 lockdown.

…Through it all, I’ve been learning on a deeper level that it’s a known fact his family adores him, and he got to experience love and friendship with many friends…which is more than many 40-year olds can say they have.

Making Deals with The Universe

I discovered that you find yourself making all sorts of “deals” with the universe when you’re grieving for your dead son.
Deals with what, or whom?
Object unknown. Objective untenable.

Mine went a little something like this:
“…come on, please…I’d trade 20 years of my life for him to have 10 more,” or “couldn’t this just happen when I’m 86 and he’s 60. 60 is a perfectly reasonable time to pass…your family would feel much better about it then…”

Another sordid “deal with the unknown” is taken from science fiction novels and movies, naturally. We’re that kind of family. In this one, my moot negotiation goes a little something like this: “If I magically wake up in the past, at the most difficult and poorest point of my life in the past, and it meant my kids and family are all alive and well…I’d be super happy forever. Please please please?”

Both are, of course, just forms of grieving. And grieving with an over-active imagination like mine has been a little Jean-Paul-Sartre -ish— it hasn’t been fun. Both are also incredibly pointless and irrational for more reasons than one.

Sometimes I’m so numb I feel nothing.
Most of the time my chest hurts.
Many many times I think: I wouldn’t wish my pain on anyone.
(…Nope not THAT guy)
(…nope NOT that girl)
(…nope not EVEN Trump)

It’s just one of those thought patterns.

My heart — it’s like someone carved out a piece of it and put it back in my chest. “This is your new heart now,” the universe says plainly.
I have to walk around, do yoga, work, cry, laugh and live with this imperfect heart.

I cry a little. Or I cry a lot.
Every day is different.
Something always makes me stop crying. Eventually.
This thought has stopped me crying today:
I wish on anyone, parent or otherwise, that they had at least one relationship in their life as beautiful as mine with Tiernan.

The thing is, I do. I have more than one beautiful relationship — I know for a fact that this is rare, some people don’t have even one…and so I just have to live with an imperfect heart now.

My beautiful son who always knew that words were potent, but also fun.

We have an unfinished Scrabble Game and I’ll win it if I make the move, but without the trash-talking jokes it’s pretty pointless. One day I might just finish it, or I may never do so. Today is not the day to make that decision.

Today, as I’m beginning to learn, is about today. It’s about loving life the way we always have as a family — in whatever home, restaurant, city, vacation spot, or music event where together we live, laugh and love each other.

Goodbye my beautiful son. I miss you.
I love you always, my personal angel.

Everyone keeps saying time will heal this pain. I don’t know — Seems about right. But I do know that I’ll stop talking to you; I’ll stop thinking about your amazingness and will stop holding you in my imperfect heart someday; one day in the beginning of never ever.

Dear Reader: If you have come this far, I can only imagine what instances have driven you to read this piece. I’ve left you something in the comments:

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Kristina M.

Kristina M.

668 Followers

Enthusiast. Strategist. Part-time Ninja. Happy to have blown bubbles in front of Earth’s ancient ruins. Navigating a sea of grief.