The news of Tyler Skaggs, the Angels starting pitcher who was found dead last Monday in his hotel, hits a little too close to home. Tyler was 27 when he died; my son, Jonny, was 28. Tyler appeared to have died in his sleep; so did Jonny. Though there are rumors, the family will have to wait weeks to find out how he died; we heard those rumors too, as we waited months for the coroner’s report.
Maybe it is this way for all of us, the millions of parents who have lost children, but I cannot help but want to reach out to the parents and family of Tyler Skaggs and let them know that they are in my heart.
The shock they feel now will be followed by their own brand of pain. Because of the similarities, I am tempted to say that I know their pain and loss, but that is not so. It is more like an empathetic force field. What I can say is that I can empathize. Though it is unlikely that I will ever meet them, my own personal feelings of loss and grief have connected me to the Skaggs family and what they may be feeling now and for time to come. It connects me to every parent, each and every time I hear the story of loss.
If I could, I would tell them that I cannot know what they are going through. No one, not even them, should “expect” it to be any certain way. They are in their own liminal period and, by its very definition, the liminal period is undefined. My hope for them is that as that period passes, they find some peace, comfort and, eventually, even joy.
I would like to be able to tell them that life will go on, but not just now. I would like to tell them to prepare to make a new stack of life experience in which new things can happen without obscuring the stack of memoriess that Tyler’s life represented.
I would like to tell them that the waves of grief happen unexpectedly. The hole in my gut has been a bit too prominent since hearing the news of Tyler Skaggs, and I imagine that it will be a few days before I can move it back into its rightful place.
Years ago, a reddit user (https://www.reddit.com/u/GSnow/) wrote the below piece about grief. It went
viral—one of the most beautiful passages about grief that I have ever read. I
have turned to it many times.
Today, I am struck by the last paragraph: “You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. “
You can see the waves of grief coming, for the most part. Not always, though. Sometimes, you do something simple, like open up Facebook, something you have done two thousand times since your son’s death. This time, though, you are confronted with the headline: “Angels Pitcher Tyler Skaggs Found Dead at 27,” and you are unexpectedly hit by a wave.
Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.
I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out. Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.