Whitten and Me

by Gray Maher

Whitten Maher

What an easy, adorable baby.  A sensitive, angelic little boy. We tried so hard to give him siblings but they were not to be. We would do our best for our only child, and I would wait for grandchildren.

Whitten and I were very close when he was little and spent all our time together. He was my buddy.

A smart, witty teenager.  A kind and serious young man. An over-thinker. A lonely philosopher.  A gay man who came out to us at 21.

It was a nonevent in many ways. I had known since he was small. He was a beautiful writer, and very good at graphics. He was so very handsome and we were so very proud of all he accomplished.

He struggled for the first year or two in college, and after 2 years, found his place as an editor for the school newspaper. There he met many great friends and wrote many wonderful articles. I believe it was his happiest time.

After college, he struggled in New York. He was so unhappy. He had struggled with depression for a while, and he was going through some health problems and his first breakup. We did our best to help him. We tried so hard to be there, even though we were kept at arms’ length most
of the time. He was intensely private.

When he was having a particularly bad day or night, or week, he would call me, or email me. We would instant message for long stretches during the workday.

Later on, as technology changed, he would text me.

In December of 2012, I was wrapping Christmas presents–unaware my life was about to change forever.

He had been drinking a lot. He was alone in his apartment. His roommates had moved out and he was alone until he got new ones. It was Christmastime and he was miserable.

We got a call one night from his boss. He had not shown up for work.

That was very unlike him.

Whitten left us on December 20, 2012. The longest day of the year-the Winter Solstice. He was found by his cousin locked in his bedroom, in his empty apartment. He had been due home in just three days. After Christmas, we had planned to up to New York with furniture and paint.

He was found with his belt around his neck, and so we got another call. There was an hour and a half in between those two calls – an hour and a half of torture. But it was only a glimpse of the torture our life would

The next few days were spent flying his body home on a plane, identifying him, picking out his plot at Hollywood Cemetery, planning a funeral, and writing an obituary.

We were in no condition to do any of that. Who is? But we had no choice.

On Christmas Day, we sat under the tree with his little dog and unwrapped the presents that I had so carefully finished wrapping the afternoon of the 20th. We were in shock for weeks and I was in denial for a long while.

I would look for him in crowds and in cars on the road. I would look for him to walk down the front walk at night, or walk up the hill out of the woods. I would go out and sit in his car. Four months later, his little dog Toby died.

We were back to being a couple again, not really a family. Our family just disintegrated in our laps. A hole was blown into our lives and it was hard for me to see any kind of future.

For a very long time, nothing mattered to me. Even things that had nothing to do with him no longer seemed important. They all seemed tied to him in some way. He had been my purpose for so many years. I was his mom and that’s all I wanted to be.

I wanted things to matter. I tried for so long to make things matter. But they just didn’t. I plugged along until, little by little, I started to care about this or that.

For about 2 years, I really didn’t care to live. I felt obligated to live.

I didn’t want to hurt my sweet husband and my poor parents, who had now lost a grandson, and a son 18 months earlier. I had struggled with anxiety and depression for years already, just like Whitten. And we were both perfectionists, which is a deadly combination.

I must have read 20 books about losing a child, losing an only child, losing a child to suicide, transcending loss, integrating it into my life, etc. etc… I isolated myself a lot and spent a lot of time in my head, and with my grief therapist. Most people just don’t get it, nor would I want that for them. But it’s a lonely existence.

We are now five years into this journey, and I am “better.” It has softened and doesn’t take up my entire waking life. I am able to function and laugh and dance and sing. A little of my perfectionism has even returned. But I still have long periods during the week where I can’t do much, and there’s a lot of sitting and staring. The grief is always there and I think about him
every day. Some days it’s hard to realize that he was even here for that long.

Some days I’ll look at a picture of him in disbelief that he was real. And sometimes I’ll be driving and it will just hit me again like it just happened. But there are more good days than bad ones. And he would
want me to laugh and dance and sing. He would want me to work in my garden and get a new puppy. He would want me to finally write my blog post.

It’s hard to realize that I might live another 25 years missing him. That’s a long time to wait to see someone again. In fact, I will have lived most of my life without him. How is that possible?

He was here for a brief 25 years and that’s all we got. That’s all he got. I have already lived 34 years without him, but the first 29 of those were lived, oblivious to what would someday happen with dreams of how wonderful he would be.

Gray’s website: The State of Gray, Relevant and Relatable Conversation of Reinvention.

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47 thoughts on “Whitten and Me”

  1. Gray, not sure if you remember me from back in elementary school days. We had great sleepovers and had so much fun. I lived off of parham and patterson. I remember your min and dad and brothers like it was yesterday. Anyhoo, I too lost my son in 2017 at the age of 35. Time has definitely made the pain turn to cherished memories and photos are priceless now! Hope u are doing well! Pam

  2. I lost my son in October. Reading this and other moms’ accounts of the pain endured for years is so discouraging. I am in deep grief and almost unbearable pain; to know that it doesn’t really get better does not make me look forward to better days. By all accounts there will never be better days.

    1. It does get “better.” I promise. Step one is telling yourself you will survive and believing you will live again and laugh again. Those waves do shorten and they are not as intense for as long. Below are some posts to give you an idea of my process. This is so personal. But I want you to know there is some relief. Not knowing what to expect is so difficult. Here are a few posts that shed some light on things I hope. Let us know your story. How long ago it was and how it happened maybe.


    2. Julie – I am so sorry if my writing discourages you. I am not one to paint a rosy picture, even in the best of days. When I was where you are now, I was very raw, and things looked dark and desolate. Things have softened quite a bit and the despair is no longer a daily companion. Everyone’s journey through this is different and mine is definitely colored with depression.
      You will fight and plod along, and one day you will wake up and it will not be the first thing you think of in the morning and the last thing at night. Little by little, things will change. I hope you have a good support system. I read many many books and kept a journal and saw a grief therapist. Remember this thing that I wish I had told my son – “no feeling is ever final…”
      Love and peace

  3. Gray, you are a brave soul, sharing your story and the pain of losing your sweet, precious Whitten. While I didn’t know Whitten personally, I knew him from your Christmas cards, the beautiful pictures of you, Chip and Whitten. I knew him from your updates when our paths crossed. He was so loved by you and Chip. A beautiful little boy who grew to be such a handsome, talented young man. His struggles and your courage to share those struggles with others will help others. The scholarship in his name will help others and your tribute each year in his birthday help keep his spirit alive. Love you girl!!

    1. Thank you so much Terri. I hope it will help someone somewhere. And it does help me to write about it. Yes the scholarship is doing well – 6 recipients so far. And they write to us every year.
      Love you back. <3

  4. This touched my very soul, Gray, and captured so eloquently the raw and painful emotions too many parents have had to endure. But we continue on. And we somehow learn to navigate and live around the heartache, the void of not having them with us.

    Kaitlin died 19 years ago yesterday, the day of your posting. It doesn’t get easier — but, with time, it does get less difficult. Thank God for our memories.

    I’m so proud of you for so beautifully sharing your story. I know Whitten is too.

    1. Thank you so much Shelly. I can’t believe it’s been 19 years. And I can’t believe both of them are gone. I always think of her on her birthday in June.
      We do have wonderful memories of them – they were such adorable little friends.
      Love you girl. #tribeofafter

  5. Gray
    Such a beautiful tribute of your love , faith and strength to Whitten.
    There is not much to say other than the darkness does lift in each person’s own time as you are seeing

    You are amazingly strong and insightful and I appreciate your willingness to share. I know that’s not easy and something I could never openly do.

    1. Kathryn,
      Who would have ever thought when they were in 1st grade together that we would both have survived this? Love to you and Jeff, and I want you to know that I think of Brett often. God bless our sweet boys. <3

  6. Gray you are a hero for writing those words. It cannot have been easy to write this but how could you not share your love and your pain. Thank you for pouring out your heart and yourself and giving us a chanc to care for you. Your strength inspires me, to persevere, to carry on. It must be hard. I pray for you all. For Peace. Love to you, and Chip, and Whitten.

  7. Gray,
    This took enormous strength and I am so proud of you. As I have walked beside you through your horrible nightmare , I feel blessed to know you. You show me strength of character and much needed humor in the times we share together. I can only hope that I can cause a laugh or a smile when I am with you. It has taken years ,but it is so worth it when I can hear that contagious laughter than only you can do !! Love you .

  8. Gray, your words touched me to my core. You’re handsome, gifted son whose despair took over his mind. All this love, this Motherly devotion – how does this happen. I lost my son, Curt 5 years ago, to suicide. He was also my buddy, my gift from God- had him at 40. Thank you for having the courage to share your life with, and now without Whit. It takes strength to keep living.🙏

    1. Thank you so much for your comments Jan. You said it so well – “despair took over his mind.” I am so sorry you have lost your son as well. It does take strength to keep living – but we will, and we will make sure they are remembered…<3

  9. Gray,
    This was truly one of the most beautiful posts I have ever read. The depth of strength you have is immeasurable; thank you for sharing about Whitten’s life, but also about his death. To me, suicide is the hardest of all deaths. IIt helps me to think of Henry and Whitten as special angels with souls that are peaceful, calm, and happy. I know Henry and Wally are making music together for Whitten to listen to. Much love always, Lucy

    1. Thank you so much Lucy. Suicide is definitely an awful thing to survive. I was devastated to hear about sweet Henry. I was glad Wally wasn’t here to have to endure that too. They are special angels, all three. I hope you are well and love to you also! <3

  10. Thank you for your courage and eloquence in sharing more of your and Whitten’s story. You paint a picture of his beauty and complexity and it is very moving. I am so very sorry. Jayne (from Lifestarters)

    1. Hey Jayne,
      I know exactly who you are! Thank you so much, I know you lost someone (your boy?) too.
      Love and peace. <3

  11. Oh Gray, I am so moved by your writing- the honesty , love, and pain come pouring through. Your personal journey through this tragedy is amazing- I admire your strength and courage to make your way through days that were so terrible. I can’t help but think your writing will help other people who have had a similar experience and that whitten would be pleased to
    Know you were expressing your grief with such emotional honesty and love. I love you so much.

  12. As I sit here reading this Gray, I relive our beautiful son Tyler: the month of March on the 27th at 1:30 I was alone as Tom was on the road at the time, that A policeman knocked on my door.
    Tyler was home just 3 days before and I will never forget the long and such a strong hug that he gave me before he left as if he somehow knew.

    Thank you for wrttting this moving story of Whitten.
    My tears flow for both of us.
    I got the call from Seth that evening when he went by to visit and he was so distraught, he had his girlfriend call me and I mistook it for being Seth.
    For 20 minutes I had lost both my sons.
    I to, have read and read but the hole is, and never will be mended.
    I met Whitten on a number of occasions.
    Seth looked up to him so much and couldn’t believe he not only moved to NY but, was down a couple of blocks.
    Every week he would visit and they would discuss all the worlds problems.
    He was a beautiful soul.
    I would hope Tyler and Whitten are now pals in a place we’ve never been.
    And if it didnt cost so much I would, and still may, talk to Jonnathon Edwards.
    Thank Gray, I take comfort in your words.

    1. Paula,
      Thank you so for your story and your lovely comments about Whitten. He loved Seth so much and Seth was a comforting soul for him. They loved to talk and I think he finally felt understood. Seth has always meant so much to us, for his wonderful friendship to Whitten.
      I wish I had the chance to know Tyler. Another beautiful soul that made the world better. I hope they are pals too.
      Love you <3

  13. Thank you for your post. When I read your words they echo the sentiments of my heart so perfectly I feel as if I could have written them.
    I do not have as much time living without my only child, my beautiful son, who was 21 when he ended his life. He was handsome, intelligent, kind, and a perfectionist- like I used to be. He was also my best friend and my purpose for living. Largely, I’ve had to give up on the perfectionism in the last two and a half years since his passing. I search for meaning and purpose daily. I too await the day I will see him again. Until then I tread life and try hard….

    1. Betsy – we are in the same sad lifeboat. But I see hope on the horizon for us, in some form or another, and the rest of our days are not for naught. You are only 2 1/2 years into this journey, and that point, for me, was still raw and dark. I still search for meaning and purpose, but things have softened and are easier. Our boys sound similar and we will always be their moms. And as long as there is breath in us, they will not be forgotten. Love and peace to you. <3

  14. That was beautiful. What a handsome young man he was. You are very strong to write this, Gray and I am happy to read that your days are a little less dark. What a wonderful mother you were to him.

  15. Beautifully written- beautifully heartbreaking – nothing could ever be the same – how good to share the pain – how true it is he would want you to find your life again, even without him. Thank you for sharing such grief. Love you!

  16. Thank you for sharing your beautiful son with us, Gray. I cannot begin to imagine the pain you feel but so appreciate your sharing how it has affected you. I hope your writing this post will be cathartic in some way for you, too. ❤️

  17. Oh Gray. I sit in tears. I am so sorry for your loss and you have captured the heartache perfectly. But as I sit here sad I am also so immensely proud of you. I know this was a true labor of love, love for Whitten. I didn’t know you when you lost Whitten, but I vividly remember Kevin finding out and going to Whits service. I’m glad we know each other now. Thank you for sharing this. Big love to you. 💙

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