08 August 2009

On The Ocean Voracious, Part Three

For a few degrees of arc, I thought my back was broken.

The pressure of the waves had driven me backwards, hard into the mast. The water was cold liquid lead, filling my lungs as I struggled to free myself from its grip. The howl of the wind was now lost to the gurgling shouts of the ocean. I was drowning and there was nothing, nothing I could do about it.

My limbs were cold and numb. I lay in the dark, freezing and unmoving. Unmoving of any impulse from me, mind you. The matrix in which I was embedded refused to stay still. Any motion of my limbs was purely the result of external forces. I was unsure if I had been caught in an explosion or an implosion; the net result was devastation. My eyes did not want to stay open. It hurt to look and see a tiny person-shaped void where my daughter had lain.

Nurses, family, and my son…the constellations by which I managed to navigate once I could keep my eyes open. I could see the stars occasionally through gaps in the clouds as I clung unsteadily to the mast, rocked violently by the heaving seas. Having a fixed point is of great comfort to those racked by seasickness; so it was with me. My eyes clung to this human horizon as it was the only source of strength for miles around on this desert ocean.

Her funeral another violent tempest.

If not for my journals, I’d likely not recall much of the experience. A small, precious life is gone and we are discussing music. And how to write a eulogy for a life of six days? I sat down to write, and got up from the table when I was done; the thing itself I only know from having saved a copy.

If tears had been rain, the desert of my soul would have been covered in green. The door to the hearse opened, and I wrapped my arms around her spirit resting in a box much too small to contain it. The walk to the gravesite was a long trip between points side by side. How could my arms ache so much from a burden so slight? I knelt to set my daughter down and tumbled over the gunwale into a sea the color of molten coal. Blind and unthinking, I clung to my son the life raft. He was all we had, on this violent waterscape. The source of life, light and heat. I wrapped myself around him and prayed in a fever that he, that we would free ourselves from this maelstrom. Every minute, every hour that passed was another step closer to shore. I nurtured the hope, like a tea candle in a hurricane lamp, that our son would come home with us.

I was swimming as hard as I could, pushing clawing my way to the light and the entire time I didn’t see the walls of the whirlpool growing higher and reaching deeper. A claw reached out of the gelatinous dark and sank into my heaving chest: phone calls in the sodden hours of the early morning. The first to tell us that something serious was going on, the second to tell us to come to the hospital.

If the hours of the dark and the dawn are cruel to you, how can you ever sleep again?

We dressed hurriedly and surfed to the hospital on a syrupy wave of nausea and dread. It was almost impossible to conceive that the same things were happening again. Sailing the same sea, foundering on the same rocks, sinking into the same depths. The only difference was this time it was by the light of day. Horrors do not lessen under the glare of the sun. They only become easier to see. The staff gave us the terrible, terrible news: our son was in a very bad state.

Pitchpoling. The nautical term for causing to flip end over end. The bow gets buried in the back of the wave in front of it, and over it goes the stern. Pitchpoled. We sat there on the couch in the NICU as they told us that our son was not going to make it, and I could not stop tumbling. The lights swirled over and around and I heard someone saying “No, no, no, this can’t be” and I realized with a start that it was me. My stern was in the air and I was choking on the water. I clung to the hope that they were wrong, but to no avail. The waves got higher, the wind howled faster. I walked to the phone to call my parents with the bad news. Another long walk into a bottomless pit, and the sun was not yet over the horizon. We waited, we prayed, but the ocean refused to listen. At about half past noon, on an otherwise ordinary day, the sun went out as if flicked by a switch: we had to turn off the machines.

The life raft disappeared as if it had never been. I felt myself lifted up high by a cold upwelling from the sludge at the bottom of the sea. My head barely above the waterline, I found myself at the top of a tsunami and looking down at a rapidly approaching shoreline of broken stone. My son breathed his last; the tsunami broke and I smashed headlong into the rocks, not caring if I awoke.

St. Brendan was willing to risk his life sailing into the unknown, for the sake of the Promised Land, so I suppose for him dealing with monsters and other horrors was the cost of doing business. For me, the accidental sailor, it was a price I was most unwilling to pay. I didn’t want the Promised Land, I wanted a family. I can only hope that Brendan found it worthwhile for what he learned.

But for me, if this is the price of wisdom, I prefer to remain an idiot.


  1. Pitchpoled. It was how my soul felt while reading this. How epically sad and hopeful.

  2. How do I say this?

    Horror and despair beautifully portrayed.

  3. Irish,

    You already know how highly I think of your writing. This piece will only add fuel to my argument that you sir, shine as an example of the best that is being achieved in blogging, and as an inspiration to other bloggers; me included.

    A crushing, beautiful, and terrifying story.


  4. So much contrast - beauty from despair.

  5. A terrible, beautiful story.


  6. Your pieces about your loss are incrediblly written. Not wanting to take away from the content by focusing on the writing, but you rock the extended metaphor like no one else.

    I think you should gather the pieces you have on your loss and make them into a book. Other parents who go through a tragedy such as this will find such solace in your being able to put into such articulate prose what they are feeling.

  7. Irish - this hit me in my very soul.

    You are so good.

  8. Ouch. Once again, your experience humbles me to inadequate words. I hope you are taking good care of yourself.

  9. This is one incredible piece of writing! My heart is with you, Irish. Hugs!

  10. I have toyed with the idea to do a documentary on grief, and what parents go through in their rough times...that is until my good good friend just lost her father, and somehow it seems a loss of communication has altered our friendship...but you keep me moving like the energizer bunny dude...

    Also love the comment in your previous post, about 'green'...so so so right...wrap me up, steam me in the morning hue...a dash of flower petals for fragrance, and for dinner you got some good ole E'eefy...well, hopefully not stew!

  11. This is f'ing fantastic Irish! Well good. I love the details you always use when writing your short stories.

  12. This is a tough piece to read. I felt the grief come through and the sailing analogy made it all the more real.

  13. I stumbled across your blog - not expecting what I found. I lost my stepson - he was 21 - last year. For our family, our January is your August.

    I understood this post -- and the epilogue -- and it surprised me how much I understood it.

    I heard my husband cry "no, no no!" in the other room as I sat on the phone with sheriff, clinging to hope as you put it, as if hope were the thing that would send away those words that were futilely seeking a way to penetrate my brain. I refused them entry, and it took a long, long time (blinking scenes of a seagull eating entrails - days pass with only half-moments attached to them in my memories - has it been a week already - isn't this funeral too soon?) to fully comprehend what had happened.

    That we'd been thrust by a terrible storm onto the shores of a new world. And we'd never see our son again.

    Thank you for posting this.

  14. I couldn't even comment last night when I read this. I don't have words and am amazed that you could find them.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...