The Weight of a Life

A few days back, I actually cleaned off and polished the bookshelves in my living room. I’m good at a lot of things, but cleaning is not my jam. (Just ask my husband, God bless his patience.)

The smiley faces my kids had written in the thick dust kept leering at me. So I sighed, grabbed the can of Pledge and a rag, and got busy. Everything was dusty, including the books, electronics, photos, and aviation bric-a-brac my husband collects like squirrels burying nuts in the fall.

I usually avoid the shelf that is my son’s memorial: his urn, cleverly disguised as a mantle clock; a few memorial candles; a photo book my husband put together; and a carved wooden turtle with Kai’s name on it, a gift from one of my husband’s island friends.


As I started to move things around, and I lifted Kai’s urn/clock, I was startled by its heaviness. I had forgotten how much it weighed. I haven’t opened the back of his urn, and I really have no desire to see whatever it contains. In my mind, it’s just a bag of grey sand. Having read Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty, though, I know that cremains aren’t smooth, hourglass sand. And I don’t need to see what’s in my son’s urn.

I don’t want to peer into this small but weighty bag of chunky ash and think,

“This is all that remains.”

Because it’s not all that remains. At least, not right now. Someday, generations from now, Kai will be forgotten. I know that, and it makes me sad, but that’s the truth. He was only 12, so the only legacy Kai has is what we keep. The stories we tell, the pictures and videos we preserve, the clothes and toys and books that are still in his room … those things combined, those are the weight of a life.

I don’t know how much an eternal soul weighs. I assume it’s weightless, as a part of the ether. And my belief that an eternal soul is unchained and unburdened just confirms for me that life in the hereafter will be blissfully scale-free. But for those of us left behind, lifting urns and boxing up toys, a lost life is so heavy, it’s hard to lift.

I’ve avoided writing for almost a year now because I assumed my time was up. I had my window for grief, and at the year mark, that window closed. I assumed. A year was enough, right? A year to be sad and withdrawn and excused is sufficient, right?

What I discovered was this: the first year is about survival. It’s about white knuckling every holiday and anniversary, about gritting teeth and getting through family moments and “celebrations.” It’s about just. Getting. Through.

Year Two is a sickening gut check. It’s, “We’ve been here before, and we’re doing it again, and we’ll have to keep doing it for the rest of our time here.” It’s the realization that this (holiday/ anniversary/ first day of ___) isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s coming to accept that this backpack of grief may feel lighter at times but that we’ll never take it off, never set it down, never closely examine its contents to decide what we can jettison.

It’s the weight of a life, and I will carry it until the day I die. I will carry it sometimes gladly, sometimes resentfully, but always gratefully. Because I had the privilege of bringing this life into the world, I will carry it all the days that abide. It’s a privilege to carry what remains, because it reminds me of everything I loved, will always love. Like the heaviness of my swollen, pregnant belly; or the weight of a toddler on my hip; or of a sleepy six-year-old lifted into bed; or a snuggly 12-year-old squirming into my lap, this weight is strangely, absurdly welcome.

It reminds me of what was, and what remains, and what I must keep. I think ee cummings said it best.


[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]


i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you


here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart


i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)






6 thoughts on “The Weight of a Life

  1. Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart. And thank you for sharing what so many of us who have lost a child experience-the first year is not enough. The second year DOES usher in the “forever” of our grief. It requires it’s own adjustments. I am into the third year and have found yet another level to this lifetime of carrying my son. It is something we will do until we join them.


  2. Beautifully written Dawn…May God’s peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds. I love your family. Praying for you all 🙏


  3. …with tears, I thank you for sharing…I am so very sorry for the hurt and loss you carry in your heart ❤ You have spoken directly to where I am right now…approaching the year mark… My son, John Paul reached his 25th birthday on November 4, 2015 and a week later he was eternally home…I, too, am amazed at the weight of his 'memorial box' and after reading that you have Kai's room as it was, I am now more inclined to go ahead and finish rearranging John's room – the project we were planning to do together, that very weekend – in memory of the Sunshine he brought into our lives…

    My initial post on Facebook in the Life Event section reads:

    My First Born Son – My Blessing, My Answered Prayer arrived November 4, 1990 at 12:57 pm — and on
    November 12, 2015 at Liberty Road, Greensboro, NC
    Thursday, November 12, 2015 at 12:34 am – "I am on my way home, Mom" …he said to me in his phone call; and before he made the turn into our driveway, he was Heaven-bound, again. I treasure the 25 years I had you in my life, and within a 'hugs reach'. My heart ♥ is broken, into a million pieces, and yet I have hope…I LOVE YOU SO, MY PRECIOUS SON…and I will see you in Glory. "you will not come to me, but I shall go to you" 2 Samuel 12:23 JPS Tanakh 1917

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for writing again. You have a God-given gift to share. Praying for you always, but specifically next month!
    Love and Hugs to you, precious friend!


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