“Mom, I’m fine.”

“Mom, I’m fine.”

My name is Anne Leary and on March 7, 2010 my beloved son Tom died in an accidental fall.  He fell off a fire escape in New York City where he lived and worked. He had celebrated his 28th birthday the day before. I’d called him early that day to wish him a happy birthday and he said, “Mom – I’m getting ready for my party and I’ll call you back tomorrow.” That call never came.  Instead, I received a different call – the one at four in the morning telling me that my son had died. I’d gone to a movie that evening and forgot to turn my cell phone back on. Hearing the landline ring was odd.  I remember feeling stunned, shocked, not sure I heard correctly.  Was it a dream?

The days that followed were surreal and, at times, hard to cope with – all the people coming, all the food delivered, the phone calls, the decisions that had to be made, planning a funeral FOR YOUR CHILD. Very little sleep, and nightmares when sleep arrived.  I imagined him falling.  I wondered if he was frightened when he realized what was happening. Did he feel pain – even for a moment? These thoughts and images were with me for a long time.

While I had a huge amount of support from family and friends, I found myself comforting them because everyone was so sad. It was very hard witnessing the grief of his sister and twin brother.  How is a mother supposed to provide solace to others when experiencing intense grief herself?

I remember thinking – this was not the right order of things. Children are not supposed to die before their parents.  Why would God take my child – my healthy, wonderful, renaissance man son at such a young age?  I don’t remember feeling angry, but I sure did question why this happened.  In fact, I found myself questioning many things.

  • Was he really in this place we call heaven? I’ve believed in heaven all my life but at the time, heaven did not seem logical to me.
  • People would say to me, “he is with his grandfather.” I remember thinking, “really, how do you know that?” How does someone find someone who died before them? Billions of people have died. It seemed like an impossibility to me.
  • I did not like some of the things well-meaning people said to me.  “His time on earth was done.”  Well, not for me it wasn’t.

Life returned somewhat to normal, but it took a while.  People left, food was thrown away, thank you notes got written and my heart began to heal.

From my experience I learned the importance of simply listening to someone who is experiencing profound loss rather than saying anything. Or, rather than saying, “How are you doing,” simply say how glad you are to see them.

I also took the advice of our former rector, Mark Anschutz, who, while having moved to Cape Cod, called shortly after Tom died.  He said, “you are experiencing intense grief right now and I pray that someday you can turn that grief into gratitude for having had Tom in your life.”

Indeed, I am grateful that I had a son like Tom.  Someone who will forever be 28, smart, kind, adventurous.  Someone who would have been a wonderful uncle to the three children born since he died.

I think of Tom every day.  I can still dial up his voice and fear the day that does not happen.  Every night when I take my little dog out for a walk, I look up at the sky, find a star, and ask Tom how he is doing.  He always answers, “fine, Mom, I am fine.”