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Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing, and she works full time in digital media with a large cable network. When she isn't at work, blogging, or washing someone's socks, Katie enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large and totally impractical, 113-year-old Victorian house.

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Emerging Into the Sunlight

By Katie Allison Granju |

C and G out on our walk today, along with our neighbor K on her bike

When I was a little girl, my grandmother told me lots of different stories. One of her tales that had the greatest emotional impact on me was the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone.

In the story, Persephone, adolescent daughter of Demeter and Zeus, is abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. Once Demeter realizes that her beloved daughter has been snatched from her, removed from life in the light, and taken to a place Demeter cannot reach, the mother becomes inconsolable, roaming the earth, consumed with equal parts grief and rage.

In that first year after the tragic and sudden loss of her child, Demeter – goddess of the harvest – neglects herself, and also neglects the crops and flowers and trees that need her touch to bloom and grow. The world becomes bleak, cold and lifeless. The grieving mother, formerly healthy and full of energy, ages quickly and loses her previous vitality. She is old before her time.

Eventually, a compromise is struck between Hades and Zeus, who is troubled to see Demeter so despondent and lifeless as she pines for her missing child. The deal allows Persephone to leave the underworld for part of each year, during which mother and child are reunited, and the world comes back to life. But inevitably, Persephone is called back to Hades, and her mother is left behind, broken and grieving.

I’ve been thinking of Demeter ever since my son Henry died, my beautiful, beloved, adolescent child, stolen away from me to a place I cannot go. Since that day nine months ago when Henry disappeared from my ability to see or touch him, I have experienced the deep freeze of Demeter’s long winter. If I could roam the entire earth, seeking a way back to my child, I would. Given that I am a mere mortal, however, I spend long nights alone, sequestered in our house, pacing, unable to sleep. While the rest of my family sleeps, I clutch Henry’s shoe, or his sweater, and I beg the universe to give him back to me. When it becomes clear that the begging gets me nowhere, I offer to make a deal – any kind of deal – and sometimes I rage and threaten. But still, my child is kept from me.

Like Demeter, winter has descended on me and my world since my son died. It’s equal parts emotional, physical and spiritual. Since that day, I am rarely able to get completely warm. I shiver with cold, even when sitting next to the fire. I have aged radically and quickly. My hair wants to turn gray, and I am physically diminished. I feel smaller and weaker. My previous natural playfulness has been smothered, quieted, and I feel at least a decade older than I am. All of my senses are dulled; the music that I once loved often sounds like so much meaningless noise, and I no longer find even the most delicious food anything more than something meaningless that my body requires to remain functional.

Another aspect of the deep freeze that has enveloped me since Henry died has been an involuntary turning inward, a need for solitude and hibernation. Henry’s death came at the very beginning of summer, normally a season when I am outside in the sunshine as much as possible, playing with my children, taking long walks, visiting with family and friends… But when I try to remember last summer, I don’t remember anything about it. Did I go outside? I must have at some point, but I don’t remember doing it. Was there sunshine or was it perpetually gray through that first season? Surely there was blue sky and warmth, but on the rare occasions I ventured outside our house, all I can remember is a colorless landscape. How could there be flowers or music or sunshine in a world suddenly without my beautiful boy?

Then fall and winter came after the summer, and my perception of a cold, gray, sun-less world became reality. With the exception of going to work each day, along with a few attempts in the past six months at regaining my bearings by having friends over to our house, I have continued to mostly remain indoors and keep to myself during these darker, shorter days of this first year. I declined all invitations to holiday gatherings, and I have continued to guiltily fail to return many emails, calls and texts from people I care about, people who want to see me.

I know that I will eventually have to re-emerge from this long winter. IHenry would not want me to remain joyless and without sunshine, and his little brother and sisters need me to eventually come completely back into the light.

Today, it was warmer outside than it has been in a long time. Or, at least, it was the first time I can recall noticing any change in the temperature. When I stepped out onto my front porch and felt the balmier air, I knew that I needed to make an effort to leave my cocoon, even if only for a little while. So this afternoon, for the first time since my son died, I went outdoors – for real. J and E are with their father this weekend, and Jon was busy with work he had brought home from his office, so I got out the double stroller we’ve now had for months but never used a single time, I got C and Baby G settled into it, took a deep breath. and pushed forward, out our front gate.

The little girls and I strolled down our street and then went into the park, enjoying the rare winter warmth, and chatting with neighbors who were also out biking and walking. I realized as we went along that this was the very first time ever - ever – that I’ve taken 7 month old Baby G, born only three weeks after her big brother died, outdoors for a walk or stroll of any kind.

The walk was so successful that I was encouraged to next head over to a nearby playground to meet a friend and her children. I stayed for several hours, holding G on my lap, chatting with my sweet friend, and watching C play with the other kids. All of it outdoors, in the open, under the blue-gray sky –  a world without Henry, but a world that seems intent on continuing to turn on its axis, with winter soon turning to spring, marking a complete year since my child was taken  from me.

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About Katie Allison Granju

katie-allison-granju

Katie Allison Granju

Katie Allison Granju is the married mother of five children, ranging in age from toddler to teenager. In addition to blogging for Babble Voices, she also publishes her own blog, Big Good Thing. Katie also enjoys working in her flower garden, riding her bike, and feeding the chickens she keeps in the backyard of her family's large Victorian house. Read bio and latest posts → Read Katie Allison's latest posts →

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27 thoughts on “Emerging Into the Sunlight

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I love this! Beautiful post and so meaningful to all of us reading… Maybe excruciatingly so to those of us who have also experienced profound loss. Glad for you to have enjoyed the day. Love and light to you and yours.

  2. 100 Days In Bed says:

    You are an amazing writer. This post makes me cry. I felt so much the same way after my cousin was killed. (Murdered). And it was my cousin, not my child. But I fell into an incredible, incredible depression. I understand every thing from the hibernating to pushing people away to being dumbfounded (and for me, very angry) that the world still moves on.

    One thing I did relate to and it’s what forced me to really look at my depression was knowing my cousin would not want me to live like this – which is what you say about your beloved Henry.

    That feeling put a determination of living (among the living) into focus for me. And I started to slowly push myself out of bed.

    Thinking of you and your family often. xoxoxo

  3. Claire R says:

    Katie, this is so beautifully written and paints such a vivid picture of your pain and re-emergence. It’s good that you and the girls got out. I’m sure C and G both soaked it in and came home tired and satisfied.

    Wishing you-all of you-much peace.

  4. Lola says:

    This is achingly beautiful and strong.

  5. Naomi says:

    Thank you for sharing these beautiful and painful thoughts. I wish you more days in which you are able to feel what warmth remains in the world. And I remain profoundly sorry for all the heartache your family has endured.

  6. Katy says:

    Katie,
    So moving.
    Good on you for taking a step outside. You can take this as slow as you need to.

  7. Noelle says:

    Henry was also lost to you by doing something without thinking about the consequences, like Persephone eating the pommegranate pips. Demeter was willing to allow humans to suffer as she was suffering, to die as she wanted to die; without humans and their devotions, the gods themselves would not survive. But you – unlike Demeter – are not willing to let others suffer BECAUSE you are suffering. You have other children who you know need your warmth to survive; for them, you have dragged yourself out of your winter and given what you have to allow them to blossom. That is something Demeter she couldn’t do. And by doing so, they have reflected that life-giving warmth back to you.

    Demeter agreed that some plants and trees would stay green in the winter to remind humans of her promise that life-giving warmth would return with Persephone. Even in the depths of your despair, your dreams and hopes to help others outside of your family circle keep Henry’s spirit alive, like the evergreens in winter. Nothing will take away these bleak moments completely, but your garden will never be so gray as hers because of the warmth and generosity of your spirit . Henry will never be as lost to you as Persephone was to Demeter because of your capacity for unconditional love.

  8. Melissa says:

    Oh, Katie. Such a special, moving post. I can almost see you as you had both girls in their stroller, taking a deep breath, and consciously making that first step of your walk.From what we all know of Henry – he was with you, and very pleased his sisters (and his mama) were outside. Much love, respect and prayers to you, Katie.

  9. Eclecta says:

    A beautiful, moving post, Katie, that shows such strength and resilience though unimaginable suffering.

    I can so easily imagine Henry there yesterday, unseen but in spirit, and how incredibly proud of and relieved for you he would be.

  10. Keritha says:

    As I read, with tears welling in my eyes, lines from a James Taylor song floated through my mind: “Love must find her / Love must find her a way.” Dear Katie. Like the spring, like colors and music, love is finding you slowly and surely. Nothing will ever be the same, but there will be good changes.

  11. Jody says:

    Katie your words are beautiful. I just lost my father 3 weeks ago after a 16 month battle with brain cancer. He never remarried (and was only 62) so he has been my life since diagnosis. I am slowly easing back into my old life and am experiencing more and more everyday with my 4 year old son. Sometimes when I am having fun I immediately stop and feel guilty but then remember that my sweet Daddio is looking down on me and is happy to see me smiling again.

    I love your blog, Katie, and I thank you for sharing your life with us. I was in Italy for work in October and took a picture for Henry on the grand canal but it ddn’t turn out very well so I didn’t send it.

  12. nancy glessner says:

    Katie, I started following your blog while at home recovering from surgery. You have a beautiful way of writing. Never give up the fight to find justice for Henry.
    Alot of people are praying for you and your family. Take care and God Bless You.

  13. Carol S says:

    From the start of this post to the end of this post, things changed. Some things remain unchanged…and I’m very sad Henry is not here with you on earth. But I am hopeful that your stroll and awareness that the world is still turning, brings you some comfort. Take care.

  14. Sarah says:

    What a beautiful post. I hope this spring and summer are good to you.

  15. Jenny says:

    Good for you. You know you have to do it. Be well.

  16. Kristin says:

    This is so moving and beautiful. Simultaneously crying with you and cheering for you!

  17. Globe trottin' mama says:

    mythology was an important part of my education growing up. i most certainly remember the story of persephone. the parallels between your life and that story are striking.

    i am proud of you for getting out and experiencing the sun and the wind and time with your friends again. i’m sure your children also loved it. one step at a time.

    my best to you!

  18. Suzanne says:

    POEM
    Alas, Kind Element!

    BY LÉONIE ADAMS

    Then I was sealed, and like the wintering tree   
    I stood me locked upon a summer core;
    Living, had died a death, and asked no more.   
    And I lived then, but as enduringly,
    And my heart beat, but only as to be.
    Ill weathers well, hail, gust and cold I bore,   
    I held my life as hid, at root, in store:
    Thus I lived then, till this air breathed on me.   
    Till this kind air breathed kindness everywhere,   
    There where my times had left me I would stay.   
    Then I was staunch, I knew nor yes nor no;
    But now the wishful leaves have thronged the air.   
    My every leaf leans forth upon the day;
    Alas, kind element! which comes to go.

    Léonie Adams, “Alas, Kind Element!” from Poems: A Selection

  19. Elizabeth H. says:

    Some day, Katie, that dark cloud that follows over you so heavily will lessen … and you will breathe in even more sunshine.

    Love you!

  20. wb says:

    You are an inspiration with each step towards the sunshine.

  21. Kata says:

    Well done. Big step. And I’m sure the girls loved it.

  22. anonymouse says:

    What a beautiful piece of writing! Wishing you peace and many many healing walks in the sunshine with your beautiful family. You carry Henry in your heart, so he is always with you no matter where you go.

  23. jzzy55 says:

    You’re depressed. Have you sought professional help?

  24. kgranju says:

    Yes, I am depressed. I can’t imagine that anyone who had a child die suddenly within the past 12 months would not be depressed. And yes, I am definitely getting the support and care I need. But the kind of depressed I am is not the kind that is an organic brain dysfunction, it’s the kind that is also defined as profound, heartwrenching grief, which, in my opinion, is a normal and healthy human response for a mother dealing with the loss of a child. So while I am indeed very, very sad, and you will certainly sense that if you read my writing, I am okay. I really am :-)

  25. jzzy55 says:

    I don’t disagree and I’m glad to hear that you are getting help. However — while grief has its natural course — there is no need to suffer sleepless nights, lack of appetite, a sense that you are aging at a profoundly cellular level. Depression has organic brain effects over time that aren’t good. It can cause new neurological pathways in your brain that you really, really don’t want.

    Also — having a depressed mother is not good for children, especially young children. The long-term effects of having a depressed mother on young children are a lot more significant than cloth vs disposable, breast-feeding, etc. Look it up.

    Yeah, I’m not always nice. But that’s because I care. Really. I’ve been depressed for situational reasons (not as extreme as yours but not great for me) and I so wish I had sought effective help earlier.

  26. Kate says:

    Katie, I felt this same experience of awakening about 12 years ago. More than a year after a good friend died (we were both 19 at the time), I walked out of class one day and felt the sun shining on my face. In that moment I realized it was the first time since her death that I’d noticed the sun shining. My first instinct was to dive back into the darkness, and I realized it was time to make a conscious decision to live in the light.

    I am so impressed that you are able to recognize the light after such a profound loss and grateful that you wrote about the experience for others to share. We are in your corner, cheering for you.

  27. Joan says:

    As I read this, it was as if you knew exactly how I feel. I didn’t think “anyone” knew how I felt or what it was like. Dec. 15th my son died. It was sudden, he died from cardiovascular disease which we didn’t know he had it. Its so hard to get through each day without looking into his picture and staring into his eyes, wondering why….why him…. why did it have to be him to go?? I have two other son’s. They also are trying very hard to carry on for the lost one. They included him on my birthday card yesterday. I cryed but I think I would have cried harder if they would have excluded him.
    I loved your story. You confirmed in my heart that I’m not crazy and I can feel as you described, because we and only we know what it feels like to loose a child.

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