This Life...

An Elegant Mourning

Today’s post is a repeat of one that I did for the Bettyverse back in the summer. I’m repeating it now in honor of my nephew, Kyle Alexander, who died ten years ago today.  God bless you, Kyle, and peace be with you, my dear sister.

“We find a place for what we lose. Although we know that after such a loss, the acute stage of mourning will subside, we also know that we shall remain inconsolable and will never find a substitute. No matter what may fill the gap, even if it be filled completely, it nevertheless remains something else.” —Sigmund Freud (1961)

Ten years ago, my dear sister, PJ, lost her son, Kyle, to a terrible automobile accident. He was riding in the back seat with two other young men, and the driver, who was drunk, hit a tree—all three young men died, and the three others in the car were injured. The story of the accident and its aftermath is long and arduous, but the nutshell  version is that the citizens of the small town where PJ and her family lived were devastated. In one week, they attended three funerals for three good young men whose lives were cut short by one bad decision. And although the young woman who drove the car spent time in prison, she still suffers everyday, knowing her choices caused the deaths of her dear friends and left their families destroyed.

My sister, PJ, is a remarkable woman. I know she misses Kyle endlessly, that not a day goes by when he isn’t her first thought upon waking and the last when she lays her head on the pillow to go to sleep. She could have wallowed in her grief, spent months, even years, suffering the misery of losing her son and who would’ve blamed her? I remember the agony of our Son’s move across country—I miss him every day. Yet I know my pain isn’t even one one thousandth of the anguish PJ feels at the loss of her child. I didn’t really lose my child—I see him often and talk to him almost daily.

When people offer tired platitudes that it was God’s will for Kyle to die or that he’s in a better place or that it was his time to go to heaven, she bristles. “No,” she replies. “It wasn’t God’s will, it’s never God’s will for anyone to die, least of all a 22-year-old young man with his whole life ahead of him.” Or she says, “A better place is here with me and his family. He’s not in a better place,” and I see her anguish all over again—how much she misses him, how much she longs for him to be with her.

She could have been eternally angry and resentful of the young woman who was driving the car—how could she not be? Yet, she isn’t. Rather, she chose to forgive her, to visit her and help her while she was in prison, and to remain a friend to her to this day. I’m amazed. PJ tells the people who wonder at her graciousness, “It’s not graciousness. It’s what Kyle would expect of me. He had the biggest heart in the world. How could I do anything less?”

What makes her mourning elegant is her ability to forgive so completely—something I’m not at all sure I’m capable of doing. PJ’s love of her son shows in all she does for others, in how she gives of herself, and in how she keeps her son’s light burning bright—not as a shrine, but rather as a graceful memorial.

Forgiveness is hard—could you be so forgiving?


  • Kate George

    No. I couldn’t forgive like that. I would drown my pain in endless gallons of ice cream, and never forgive.

    Unless, of course, I did forgive. I’m often surprised at my own ability to rebound and respond. By my capacity for compassion. We don’t know for sure how we will respond to tragedy until it happens to us.

  • CatScott

    I remember reading this over the summer. Something similar happened in our family. My nephew got into a terrible accident on his way home from school one day. His passenger was his cousin, they were actually more like his brothers than cousins. His cousin was killed instantly.

    It was thoroughly investigated and there wasn’t anything my nephew had done wrong. It wasn’t speed or reckless in nature. It was just a senseless, tragic accident.

    My nephew wears that day on him, I see it every time I see him. I wish he could find a way to forgive himself like I KNOW his cousin would have forgiven him.

    That day left it’s mark with all of us. The irony of it all is that tragic death taught me that life goes on. No matter what. That lesson was as kind as it was cruel.

    You, your sister and family are in my thoughts today. XOXO