People sometimes ask Pauline and me how we are coping with losing Sean, and we answer as best we can. Words are inadequate. We are glad that they ask, though. We have sometimes wished that more people would ask, even if we can’t answer properly. It’s not that we want sympathy; it’s that we are still a family of four, and always will be. We like to speak about both of our children.

I have often said that one deals with something like this on different levels. Just a few hours after I had found Sean’s body, I was able to show something to a visitor to our house that I knew would surprise and amuse him, and we laughed about it. I was on that level at that moment. I was also operating on deeper levels at which I was no doubt trying to process, unconsciously, the awful thing that had happened.

I remember that within a week or so of Sean’s death, an online acquaintance became slightly impatient at the fact that I was still talking about it on my blog (in fact I talked a lot about it there for a couple of years). This person saw himself as spiritual, and knew that I saw myself the same way. As far as he was concerned, Sean was in a better place, all was right with the world and the universe, and I really ought to get over it already. I was polite, but I knew that the person in question was being naïve. I could adopt his attitude at one level, but not at all the others. People are not so simple. The online acquaintance stopped commenting on my blog.

On some levels we move on. We are happy and optimistic. We enjoy life, and the people and experiences it sends our way. We are conscious of a process, of ‘becoming ourselves’. On other levels we do not move on, never will, and would not want to. A bereavement like this is a vacuum that defies nature in that nothing rushes in to fill it. The 16 years and 11 months for which both our children were in this world were the happiest time of our lives. We will never be so happy again, because of the void that Sean has left. We miss him.

(I can use ‘we’ above because Pauline and I speak of these matters often and I know that she feels that way too. But we are not the same person; in some respects, naturally, we think and feel differently.)

In grieving, one moves constantly between levels, and runs on different tracks, as thoughts and feelings come and go: longing; peace; acceptance; desolation; hope; doubt; joy and striving; pride … love, always. In some ways Sean walks with us still; is still present in the air we move through. As William Faulkner wrote, ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’

Right from the first day, many aspects of his life caused us to believe that on some level he had known of his impending death, and that we had too. Of course this can be seen as rationalization after the fact, but to me it seems real and compelling. As ever, I have nothing to prove and nothing to justify. I am not seeking to convert anyone to my worldview.

Loss is part of life, but what is life? We wake up and find that we are human minds/bodies in this world, temporarily. Everybody grapples with the limiting fact of humanity. I am certain that there is more than what we see – that the human project is a constituent of something bigger and greater; that death is a transition, not a terminus. Yet on another level, I may simultaneously doubt that.

The world at large operates at different levels too, including levels of timelessness and interconnectedness. People are a microcosm of the world, all the way down to the depths of our unconscious minds, where we are no longer discrete organisms (if we ever were): our roots are entangled, in the same soil. Nowadays, with the movement against religion and in favour of science/atheism/humanism, we are encouraged to believe that everything runs on deterministic ‘scientific’ principles: that there is no mystery; merely facts that humans haven’t discovered yet. But that is just one level – the level of logic- and ‘evidence’-bound reason. It has its place, but it is a wilfully blinkered state when it refuses to countenance levels of which people have been intuitively, and sometimes directly, aware over the entire course of humanity. Ultimately it is as simplistic as the attitude of the online acquaintance I mention above.

Meanwhile, we are in the same place, back where we started … dealing with the privilege and predicament of being a part of not-knowing humanity. Pauline said to me in the early days that she no longer fears death, and I know what she means. Sooner or later we’ll be following Sean through that exit. In the meantime we will do our best, and will be as happy as we can be.



Filed under Death, Ireland, Philosophy of life, Psychology, Religion

8 responses to “Levels

  1. Elaine robinson

    It’s not easy to reply to such an eloquent insight into the depths of grief and the natural state of living, feeling , moving on . I won t say death, but rather grief of the movement from one transition to another, and the grief of those who are left behind. It gives a glimpse just a glimpse of the loss and how it changes our perspectives forever . Even that glimpse hurts and it’s too hard to stay with for long , maybe the difficulty your acquaintance had.
    To have to live with a loss of a child every minute of each day takes strength and yet you share your insight not out of sympathy seeking but out of knowledge and the great skill you have in exploring and explaining the human condition . Sharing this knowledge will undoubtedly plant some understanding , make sense of , give perspective to all of us or our families when our time of loss comes which it will in some shape or form.
    I feel honoured to have met all your family x

    • Thanks, Elaine – it’s very kind of you to say that. It’s different for all of us and we all handle things differently, but I do hope that someone somewhere will find that this resonates with their own experience, and maybe will draw some comfort from it. I hope you and the kids are well.

  2. Ike Jakson

    Good day Brendan

    I enjoyed this; wish I could show and tell you how much.

    Do go on following your gut feeling. Our experiences are not identical; they never are but yours and mine are both grounded in bereavement. There they differ but our memories are also both grounded in joy, faith and our humanity.

    It’s a joy to read you every time; it floods me with more than ordinary joys of our nostalgic senses.

    Go on as long as the urge is there; wish I could share mine with you one day. You probably know we have a daughter in the UK; so wish she could meet you and Jamie MacNab.

    May all four of you have the blessings of He who cares for us?


  3. helpmaboab

    Hi, Brendan.

    Just wanted to say that I could identify with what you relate.

    My life experience was not as tragic as yours, but I well understand that such a burden of grief is and must be carried at levels that are not readily shared or expressed, especially when other relationships and responsibilities continue.


  4. Rainer the cabbie

    Hey Brendano, just cruising your site again. I hope the above comment wasn’t directed at me ( ….get over it…, he is in a good place) from memory that was Levent.

    But still, I remember leaving a comment similar, years after, of the same make. Let go was my advise at the time.

    Since I made this comment I have to admit feeling uncompfortable about it as firstly it wasn’t my place to do so and secondly I had no right to make it, being childless and not fully comprehending the pain inflicted on you and Pauline.
    If it offended you, please take my belated apology.

    Anyway, looking at this blog it does feel like you are getting on top of it and I hope you and your family keep living a good life, filled with love, health, peace and happiness.


    • Hi Rainer: good to see you here, and I hope you’re well. My remarks aren’t directed at anybody in particular. Things were said back then, it was no big deal, and ultimately it doesn’t matter who said what. They illustrate a particular mindset that definitely exists.

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