Issue #151 / June 2021

I’m writing to you on behalf of my Aunt Marnie as she can’t. She’s consumed by grief. She lost her only child, Tristan, to a stroke, aged 49. We’re all consumed by sadness and mourn for the loss of her son, however hers is another thing altogether. She can’t bring herself to see anyone. I can’t reach her. Her laugh that brought smiles to all of us is gone. What can I do? What can I say? We all love her but feel so powerless. How can we start to bring our Aunt Marnie back?


Dear Ian,

In my experience, there is a special place reserved for mothers who have lost their sons.  Theirs is a singular and complex order of torture, unlike any other grief, and the fundamental need to lock oneself away from the world is natural, perhaps necessary.  It is a form of self-imposed entombment, adjacent to eternity, where they can better be with the one they have lost. Aunt Marnie is spending time with the retreating image of her departed son and perhaps there is no room for you at this moment. Perhaps now is not the time she needs you, but you can be sure, in time, she will.

I am reminded, yet again, of Mary Magdalene’s vigil at the mouth of Jesus’ tomb. After Jesus had been laid to rest, the stone had been rolled across the entrance of the cave, and the twelve apostles had fled, Mary Magdalene remained ‘standing there in front of the tomb.’ This silent, helpless vigil is, for me, the single most moving moment of the New Testament. This is where you stand now, Ian, having lost not only your cousin, but your beloved Aunt Marnie too.

Eventually, your aunt will come back to you. It may be soon, or it may take some time. This feat will be achieved through astonishing courage and will most likely be tentative and gradual. She will look around to see who is there. Some may have drifted away, the reach of their compassion unable to match the magnitude of your aunt’s despair, but let me just say this—those who persisted, she will never forget, for to remain steadfast on the borders of another’s grief may be the greatest, most holy act of love one can perform. Be patient with Aunt Marnie.

I read your question to Susie this morning. She sits in a stream of sunlight that pours through the window of our kitchen, her psychotic little dog, Nosferatu, on her lap.

“All in good time,” she asked me to tell you.

Love, Nick


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