I am actively avoiding the news these days and I suppose that sounds kind of bad considering the work I do, but word of airstrikes in Iraq in the middle of August makes me want to cover my eyes. Comfort never finds its way in through avoidance, but I am haunted by the knowledge that innocent people will die. They always do.

Just a few days ago I received a note from a woman who lives in Pakistan, a mother who has buried two of her babies and who discovered a blog about my own infant son Dylan, who died in 1998, back when August became the meanest month on record. She wrote that my words were helping her cope with the overwhelming feelings of such great loss and asked if she could use them and share Dylan’s story.

“Yes, please do,” I said, as I acknowledged her pain and that those words belong to mothers and grandmothers around the world, each of us connected by the lonely and invisible threads of grief and loss. Such loss changes the way we look at everything as the lens becomes clearer and as we hopefully steer towards trying to always do what’s right and and good and kind.

I remember the first months and years after Dylan’s death, when I, too, searched for words that would help me heal; words that would somehow help form bridges between me and other people, even as I was pushing them away from that private world I was existing in — that in-between place.

I don’t think it’s any different for mothers on the other side of the world. I think we share similar experiences, even though the landscapes in our neighborhoods are different.

Grief work demands that we sit still and look deeply within ourselves, and in that sacred space we discover that we aren’t, in fact, as alone as we might lead ourselves to believe. And that tiny, priceless gifts — kindness, love, a sense of peace — are hiding in the darkest corners of that grief.

Still, it’s uncomfortable to talk about grief. Even all these years later, family and friends don’t know what to say to me, they don’t know what I need and don’t understand that, more than anything else, just like the Pakistani mother and the mothers in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, what’s needed is just to be listened to.

Being heard, all by itself, is enough. Being able to tell you about a small boy who never got to see the moon or pause at the troll bridge in Lithia Park on the way to see the Japanese Garden or roll down the top of the hill next to the playground at Briscoe School.

Being allowed to acknowledge that this ancient pain nudges against me with a long sigh like the wind makes and sits down and makes itself comfortable in the middle of my own heartache and stays for a long while, especially in the meanest month of the year.

I come back to it again every August. It’s part of my story. It’s become who I am.

And it dawns on me that everyone shares a part of it, whether we know each other or not, because those threads are interwoven all through this beautiful valley and across oceans and distant lands. We’ve all been touched by it, this loss, grief and pain.

And its biggest gift is that it tries to teach us to be kind and compassionate people, all the world over.


Ashland resident and social activist Vanessa Houk is editor-in-chief of the Rogue Valley Community Press. Email your Community Contribution to betling@dailytidings.com.