Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Second Anniversary

Always in the deep woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feelings of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread.  It is an ancient fear of the unknown and it is your first bond with the wilderness you are going into.  What you are doing is exploring.
          Wendell Berry

Tomorrow marks the second anniversary of Matthew's death. In some ways it's hard to believe that two years have passed, and in other ways it seems like the longest two years ever. Whichever way I look at it, it doesn't seem fair. As anyone who has ever lost a child will tell you, there's no making sense of something so out of the natural order of things.

As you might imagine, October takes on a new significance for our family, and it's one I am trying to come to terms with. Two years ago when Matthew got sick, it became the longest three week journey of our lives. From two different ER's to three different hospitals, to ICU's, to a long open-heart surgery and to a week in a coma, it was beyond anything anyone could have prepared us for. Last year, as we approached the one-year anniversary, I found myself reliving each day of those difficult three weeks. At any time, I could tell you where we were a year ago, which doctors we saw, the nurses on duty and, of course, conversations with our boy. And while that reliving may have been important to do last year, I was determined not to do it again this year. It's not the way I choose to remember Matthew.

So as we entered the month of October this year, I tried to focus my energies elsewhere. In the beginning of the month, we went on a few walks and hikes in the Olympic Peninsula and on Bainbridge Island, which I found to be incredibly therapeutic. When I'm outside I am so much more able to feel a part of a larger piece of the cosmos. And in turn, I feel Matthew's presence in a way that I'm unable to in my more day-to-day routine. When I'm outside and walking in nature, it's as if the veil that separates us (the living and the dead) is lifted a bit and appears to be more translucent. Everything and everybody appears so interconnected. Life's biggest questions start to reveal themselves to me as I step out in nature.  And while I don't pretend to have any of the answers, I find that oddly comforting. I feel less alone out there. 

Further on into October I went to Estes Park, Colorado for work. I was so fortunate that my husband was able to join me for part of this, and we were able to spend time outside with the Rockies as our backdrop.  We were there during elk mating season and the sounds of their bugling reverberated over the rock outcroppings; their echoes filling the thin air with their ancient sounds. We walked amongst scenery dotted with the amber glow of the aspens and saw the first snows of the season deposited on distant peaks. Again, I felt the presence of Matthew.

So now we find ourselves in the final stretch and we are in Canada for a few days. The weather is not as cooperative as the beginning of the month, but that doesn't matter. In fact, being outside in the rain and cooler weather seems oddly appropriate. We will time it so that on the 22nd we will be with our other two children up in Bellingham, at the school that Matthew loved so dearly. The four of us will be together, well actually it will be the five of us.

In closing, I want to share a poem that a dear friend of mine wrote upon learning of Matthew's death. Parker Palmer is a founder of the organization I have worked at for the past 14 years. He was leading a retreat for us in Washington D.C. on October 22nd, 2010 and wrote these words which mean more than you can ever know. Thank you Parker.

For Matthew, in Memory and Hope
With great love to Robin, Israel, Jordan and Aviva...

I never met you, Matthew,
but still I weep for you,
knowing you as I do now
through your family's eyes of love. 

You died with so much life unlived
no words will ever do. I only want
to promise you that, as we grieve
your absence, we will do our best

to live well for you, to hold with
special care everyone who suffers,
knowing we are one with them, to
be of comfort to your family even

when there is no comfort to
be found, to live our own lives
keen-aware of the precious gift of
life we hold in trembling hands. 

—Parker J. Palmer October 23, 2010 


  1. From my friend Marcy:

    Dear Robin,
    What a beautiful post on this sad occasion - the passing years never to make it less so. I loved what you said about being in nature helping to connect you to Matthew, ease the pain and offer some larger sense of belonging. I was reminded of this poem by Rilke as I read your blog:


    The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
    as if orchards were dying high in space.
    Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

    And tonight the heavy earth is falling
    away from all the other stars in the loneliness.

    We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
    And look at the other one… It’s in them all.

    And yet there is Someone, whose hands
    infinitely calm, hold up all this falling.

    —Rainer Maria Rilke
    From The Book of Images

    You're all in my thoughts and prayers and I'll be holding you close tomorrow...

  2. oh robin. Such beautiful words. And Parker's poem is so very lovely. Two years already? That seems impossible.

    I send you love Robin. And love to Israel, Jordan and Aviva. Tomorrow I will remember Matthew, and say a prayer in his memory. I hope you find many more days outside, feeling one with the world, and connected to your perfect son. xoxoxo

  3. ...and he will be with you Robin. All five of you are forever inseparable. He is with you always, always, always. I'm so glad that you have found the natural world as a window. I am with you tomorrow and forever.

    So much love, Margaret

  4. Thank you for your open and honest sharing of this milestone. I share your sense of the natural world bringing us closer to those who have passed beyond this world. I will hold all of you in my heart tomorrow as your remember Matthew at his best.
    Much love to you all, Theresa

  5. Dear Robin, Israel, Jordan and Aviva,
    I pray for comfort for you as you gather in Bellingham. I know how hard this "anniversary" time can be.
    The quote from Wendell Berry, the poems by Parker Palmer & Rilke are all beautiful. Thank you for sharing them with us. Though we never had the privilege of knowing Matthew, we hold his memory as sacred, and send love to you.

  6. I walk with you, Robin.
    sending love and understanding across the miles

  7. Dear Robin, Israel, Jordan and Aviva: You are all in our hearts today as we remember Matthew and each of you with love. Please know that all our hopes and prayers go out to you for strength and healing during this second anniversary. Love, to you all, Judy, Marc, Emily, Joey, Markos, and Carlos

  8. Dear Robin, Israel, Matthew, and Aviva:

    We are all sending our love and prayers to each of you in memory of Matthew. We pray today brings you healing and strength. May Matthew's memory always be a blessing to you. Love, Judy, Marc, Emily, Joey, Markos, and Carlos

  9. Dear Robin,
    Thank you once again for sharing your journey with us. It is a gift that fills me with deep gratitude. I will light a candle for Matthew today and keep it burning brightly in his memory. I will hold you, Israel, Aviva, and Jordan in the light as you share this day of remembrance together. I was reminded of the homily that was preached at the memorial service for my wife, Sarah. It reminded me of your thoughts about nature bringing you solace. I share it with you as a gift from my friend and pastor, Marianne Borg. It was a gift to me and my children. May it be a gift to you. I will send it to you in a separate email as it is too long to publish here.


  10. Robin, Thank you for your courage, your depth of love, your gratitude, your open heartedness. It is amazing how nature can soak up so much grief. I am glad you have discovered solace in nature. Love, Kim

  11. Robin,
    As you posted on Facebook, you, Israel, Jordan and Aviva are held by those who love you.

    Thank you for your openness and for your willingness to share parts of this journey. Love, Bobbie

    Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.
    - Anais Nin

  12. Robin, I know exactly what you were going through. The past two years as we've approached the anniversary of our son Joey's death, I find my self reliving his diagnosis and illness and his last days. I want to remember him as he was - vivacious and sweet and always smiling and laughing. But sometimes the harder memories just creep in. The rest of the year, I remember the good, but once a year I can't help remembering the hard. I love that you did something that your son loved. Hugs to you, Mama.

    1. Kathy,
      Yes, I imagine that on each anniversary we will find ourselves honoring our children in a different manner. I will be holding you and your family tight as you enter this Christmas season.