Dear Son *

I’m still here.

In the two years, this Friday, you’ve been gone, I discovered that anyone can purchase poison on eBay, and there are companies in China that will deliver it in an unmarked package via USPS mail for exorbitant costs.

About three weeks before the unspeakable happened, I heard Britney Spears perform “Lover” for the first time on Saturday Night Live. The song was on the album released in August, ironically, a day after my birthday of that horrible year. (In fact, I believe she debuted “Lover” live on YouTube on my birthday before the album’s actual release date.)

 Can I go where you go … can we always be this close? Forever and ever, ah

So many things, like one of our final nearly two-hour conversations led me to believe we were close. I told you I was preparing to pack my personal belongings and move them to what I thought would be a second home in your home some 600 miles away.

 Can I go where you go … can we always be this close? Forever and ever, ah

That song can push me to steep cliffs where the view is not pretty. If I hear the lyrics in some random store or any other public place that I have no control over, and they start to pierce what little whole surface is left in my Swiss cheese heart that now replaces my healthy heart, like the one you were born with before it was surgically repaired, I put my hands over my ears and let out a shrill scream to cancel the sound. Bystanders simply avoid me. By the looks on their faces, they assume I am on a day’s furlough from a psychiatric special care facility.

Other songs, too, have a nails-on-a-chalkboard effect. Would you believe, thanks to you, I can’t listen to country and western music anymore? To think, you and your sister were raised on what was once my favorite genre of music. I now realize how the lyrics so often involve white, Christian heterosexual alpha male cowboys and helpless soon-to-be dependent wives and, as such, marginalize diverse populations. I feel excluded. In the same way you did, son. Instead of you growing up to be like me, I have grown up to be so much like you.

In actuality, there isn’t much music I can listen to any longer. You’ll likely be happy (or maybe not so much, because it used to irritate you!) that I do still sing dumb songs. Chock Full o’Nuts is that heavenly coffee, Heavenly coffee, heavenly coffee. Chock Full o’Nuts is that heavenly coffee, Better coffee a millionaire’s money can’t buy.

I don’t, though, sing my silly songs as often. I sure don’t pray any longer. Instead, I curse in my mind at you all day long. I’m sure people would judge me, but you know how I feel about judgment, especially watching how you deteriorated from the bullies over the years until the end when they won your soul. Let the hypocrites, the judgmental bullies spew their well-meaning sermons on forgiveness. I’ll keep my new cursing habit; thank you very much. It’s has the monotone sound of a daily prayer and is one of the few things that keeps me here.

Marshall D. Maxwell, Antigua,  Leeward Islands in the Caribbean, March 1996

When you took your life. You took mine.

I say this along with the cursing in my mind. I only wish I had conveyed these notions to you out loud and saturated you with guilt in response to the threats you made to me a million times; threats that fell on deaf ears.

I wish I could prove to you how much I have changed, and how well I can listen and engage in conversation. Without the preaching. Without the positive psychology and affirmations. Without the quick-made solutions. Without the holier-than-thou attitude and putting my ego-inflated, false pride into the equation.

I no longer, believe it or not, for the most part, attend support groups. The people in them all sound like they are on fire with miracles that don’t exist for most people in the world. It boils down to false hope and it feels as real to me as “FakeBook,” which, by the way, I’m off and don’t miss at all! Don’t even start me on any kind of religious groups and how I fear them. Thank goodness for Father Ivan. He is still a kind and compassionate man. He’s right up there with the saints. I am sorry, son, though, that he forgot to add your liturgy on the church calendar this Friday. I readily accepted his apology and told him we are human and make mistakes in the same manner you would have done. I, however, declined his offer to add your name to a later date on the church calendar to “celebrate” your life. Take the money, I insisted, and put it toward a new church roof. I don’t need any more remembrances of how marginalized and painful your existence once was.

Can you believe this is me? If anyone ever told me that my major goal for each day is to dodge songs, prayers, social media, people, group gatherings as well as ropes, strings, belts or any kind of cord or suspended pendulum that swings back and forth, I would have reacted to the thought like my old laughing hyena self. Even though we still share that goofy giggle that irritated the heck out of me when I heard it from you, most things do not strike me as funny any longer. I am trying to remove the words “kill” and “hate” from my vocabulary.

I think you would really, really like this new version of me. Once you realized who I am now, you would really, really stay. At least a little longer.

Maybe I should have told you that my greatest aspiration was to see you and E grow up. Motherhood is far greater than any other role. I should have told you the reason that I toiled on pipe dreams was because I was certain they would pay off and make it possible for me to be with you, especially since your sister was always so much more independent and resilient. They did not pay off. In the end, before the unspeakable happened, I was ripped off in trying to get that web business going. Michael B. was the perpetrator’s name. He is your age. I forgave him. Last I heard, he was still alive and living in Florida.

I should have stopped “strategizing” so much and started finding ways to be alongside you. Before you relocated to KY, you asked me to go on a hike with you to Sleepy Giant State Park. It was mid-week, and I was working with Michael.

Love is showing up. Putting down the phone. Walking through hot coals if necessary. Regardless of my intentions (intentions can’t form a hug around anyone), I should have dropped everything and joined you on the hike in Sleepy Giant. I would have appreciated the memory. Who knows, maybe if I joined you instead of being left behind sitting in the home office, I wouldn’t have been duped into the lame website.

These “new normal” days I would dedicate to taking hikes with you even in a hailstorm, because I have brand-new, excellent all-weather gear. On the hike, I would at last speak the words to acknowledge how I reveled in your development and your mind. How I appreciated your accomplishments that were done completely independent from me. How I admired that your character was so much better than mine was at that age. The person I am today would have spent the rest of her life hiking with you, Marshall. Ultimately, the canteens have run dry.

You were always quiet in a noisy world. Subdued and humble in an entitled, egotistic world. With this in mind, few, if any, care to remember you. Even Father Ivan forgot. Steve Irwin gets a day on November 15. I wish I could get a day for you every year on the universe’s calendar, but what matters, really, is how much you matter to me. I would have given my life over a zillion times to spare yours. That was always the way it was. I only wish I had let you in on my secret. Instead, I kept telling you how your brain would clear up at 26 when the “logic” center developed. How I couldn’t wait for that year to come. This was because of some dumb brain documentary that I watched in the auditorium at your genius-only high school. A “top school” that’s tops in creating equality by making perfect products out of all people who enter through the doors. I can still hear myself saying, I can’t wait until you’re 26.

Now, I can’t wait to get through all the days. I’m sure you know that Saturday through Monday are especially painful. We could have saved you in those three days if we were there. Whitney and Bradley tried on that fatal, unbearable fourth day, a Tuesday. It was, obviously, too late. I think you would be pleased to know that Whitney and Bradley have joined our incomplete family, and it doesn’t feel as miniscule in size as it really is. They are the only reason I would return to KY. We still have family graves there, too, son, don’t forget. I have discovered that six hundred miles is not far after all.

When you took your life. You took mine.

I looked outside the window the other day and imagined you jumping in complete abandon on the neighbor’s trampoline. It made me recall one of those rare times when you were the star at the middle school dance, and you let go of all your inhibitions, and you danced as if no one was watching, although the entire eighth grade class gathered around and cheered you on the dance floor. It was all for you, my boy, my son, my first born. All the worldly applause. It was all for you. For you, Marshall, who was named after an American entrepreneur who became a famous multimillionaire. Sadly, from that night forward, you stopped dancing just as you stopped crying, because, marking your adolescence, you proclaimed to me, “Real men don’t cry.”

I wish you had kept dancing. I wish you had kept crying. I wish you had allowed yourself to be comfortable with all the uncomfortable things that made you feel like you didn’t belong to us or anywhere you traveled. Shame, of course, killed you. I’d like to think you are finally at peace. Maybe even dancing or crying or, at very least, just at ease.

In your note that “fell from the sky — you know what I mean” to me and your sister and Pat, you said you hoped the next world was kinder than this one. I hope so. There are no signs. No feelings I can sink my hope into. No muscle of faith that can pull me up and inspire me to sing, “Hallelujah!”

I’m still here. Maybe that is enough of a sign for now.


*I’ll love you forever,

I’ll like you for always,

As long as I’m living

my baby you’ll be.

Faith Muscle

18 thoughts on “Dear Son *

  1. Oh Stacy, my heart aches for you 💔 … I really hope Marshall found peace and kindness in the next world …
    And thank you – your post made me realised I should do the things with my loved ones when they ask me although I’m not always “feeling” like it or because I’m too “busy” …

  2. My heart aches, it is chilling to read, “when you took your life, you took mine.” I can not imagine the depths of your anguish, but some of it comes through these inter-webs.

    I had music playing while I read this post, but I had to turn it off. Jason Isbell’s “Goddam Lonely Love” would overwhelm my empathy.

    Sending you peace.

  3. HI Stacy,
    Your love and pain is so honest and so real. I can feel it here. My heart hurts for you.
    It is heartbreaking to look at that beautiful smiling face knowing all the internal pain and turmoil he would endure.
    My heart and prayers are with you, today, and every day, and specially on Friday; I will make a point of stopping and remembering you and him with a prayer.
    Wishing you a peaceful heart and mind! Blessings! ♥♥

  4. Stancy” Motherhood is far greater than any other role”.It is universally & eternally true. Your coping is much better than mine, I was a living corpse for three years after my son shyam’s death. You are ventilating in a constructive way and all of us are solidly with you. God bless you. I assure you that you will be completely healed in due course. I am saying it with solid personal experience. Life is a learning curve.

  5. As always, Stacy, you write with gut-wrenching honesty. It’s all there – raw, aching grief that rips my heart open as I read it. I cannot imagine the depth of your sorry with Marshall’s suicide. Even though I’m a bereaved mother, our circumstances were different. Yes, the end result is the same. When my son died, I felt like I wanted to be buried with him. And I was for a very long time. That is where you are. You are a “HEART-BROKEN, SHATTERED-IN-PIECES MOTHER,” which are your own words.
    Those pieces will never go back together the same way. But I promise you, I promise you – one day you will realize that you are not quite as shattered and your broken heart will beat again. Your devastation will ease back into loving your son, despite the fact that he never lived a full life. It was not okay. But you will be okay. After all, that is why you have a faith muscle. Never lose hope.

    • Dear Stacy,

      I very much concur with Judy who has expressed herself admirably about your profound sense of loss. I am joining Judy right here in consoling and supporting you, as I also lost someone dearest to me nearly three months before your son departed from the world.

      A special acknowledgement is due to you for your writing about your son, Marshall D Maxwell, who had been featuring so much in your life during his nearly 26 years on Earth. He will definitely continue to be missed by those who knew him well. His essence will live on in his ways and charms that touched your heart and mind, never mind that both of you had not always seen eye to eye and resonated with each other.

      I hereby salute and embrace you in your commendable effort towards paying your deep respect for and introspective reminiscence of Marshall who had ceased being the person whom you had loved dearly and are now missing so much.

      Oh, Stacy, what a moving account and posthumous correspondence you have composed here regarding Marshall with respect to your anguish, regret, growth and insight!

      I would like to convey a special condolence to you for your profound loss of your beloved son as follows:

      SoundEagle in Birch Forest Landscape with Mushrooms is thinking of you and sending you all of the Love, Peace, Empathy and Positive Thoughts that one can muster……….

      Yours sincerely,

      • I have made your photo my screensaver. I hope that is okay. It reminds me of the stronghold of my blogging community, especially during times of unsurmountable hardship. Thank you for your helpful comments too! 🤍

      • Dear Stacy,

        You are very welcome. I feel very honoured that you have chosen the picture of SoundEagle in Birch Forest Landscape with Mushrooms as a screensaver.

        Moreover, hearing from you gives me the comfort of knowing that you are managing reasonably well and that I have been of some help to you in such trying times.

        I can empathize with you and your trials and tribulations not only because slightly more than two years ago, I have had to deal with the passing of someone dearest to me, someone whom I have cared for many years, but also because I know what it takes to write such a heart-wrenching and detailed post, for I have also written one in the form of a special multimedia eulogy-cum-memoir-cum-biography entitled “Khai & Khim: For Always and Beyond Goodbye“. Therefore, we are indeed both in the same or similar boat, so to speak.

        In addition, I would like to invite you over to experience a special meditative journey of creative visualization and mind-body intervention, available to you at my newest post entitled “🦅 SoundEagle Guided Imagery ⋆*ࣰ☀̤̣̈̇🏝*ࣰ˜҈”˜҈░*ࣰණි

        🦅 SoundEagle Guided Imagery ⋆*ࣰ☀̤̣̈̇🏝*ࣰ˜҈”˜҈░*ࣰණි

        This new post of mine not only features the same picture of SoundEagle in Birch Forest Landscape with Mushrooms but also two clips of my musical composition as well as various animations. May you find this post helpful and satisfying to you in multiple ways, and I look forward to reading your feedback over there.

        Wishing you a productive week doing or enjoying whatever that satisfies you the most!

        Yours sincerely,

  6. a very moving piece, both in content and style. To say I enjoyed it is perhaps the wrong word but I appreciated the care you took in writing this as though your son were reading it and perhaps he was. hugs from me 🙂

  7. Stancy you said ” When you took your life. You took mine.”This is also universally true and it is a earth shattering shock to even a strongest person . Emotions are beyond logic and cannot be discussed but accepted specially in the initial stage so mourning. Our prayers are with you

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