by Gray 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.