I’ve been reflecting on my words lately. The words I’ve written about the death of my son. The words I’ve said out loud to friends, to family, about our loss. And the many, many words I’ve never spoken aloud to anyone at all, not even myself. There is power in words. Words can change the atmosphere in a room in an instant. It’s why I do not speak about our son, and his brief life, or his early death, in many settings. Start a sentence with “when our son died…” and the immediate discomfort of others is palpable.

Sometimes we members of this peculiar grief group skirt around the cold hard words. We say we “lost” our child, as if we forgot where we put him temporarily. Or we say he “passed away” like it was a natural thing, a crossing over, instead of the most unnatural thing that ever happened. I usually say “he died.” Death is a real word. With “death” you know there were tears – and not the dainty kind – and slumping on the floor, and anger, and a dreadful funeral. He died. There was an end. People need to know this, when I am brave enough to speak of my son. When I talk about him, I cannot talk about his life, without his death. I suppose this is because his birth and death were so linked, all of four days apart, and there is no separating them for me. I wonder what it is like to have a child with a real life, before facing that child’s death. With the faces of my living children before me, I try not to wonder that too frequently.

As a person of faith I affirm certain beliefs about death, and new life, and the end not being an end in some sense, and yet I am still breathless when I say “he died.” Writing about him, using words to work through the grief, finding a place for the language of loss, and sharing those words with others who also have stared down death, has been life-giving for me. All the words about my son provide a bridge past the undeniable fact of his death. My words keep him alive in a small but real way, on the page, and also, somehow, beyond. So forgive me when my written words are less than elegant, my language inappropriate, or my story a conversation-stopper. My son died. And every word about him matters. They are living words.

~Julie Hester