Loss by (4 Stories)

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i think this is the space I need to write my story.  Please bear with me through it, dear reader.  It is painful for me to write, but write it I must.  For some odd reason, a personal journal does not fill my needs. I have never been good at journaling.  It feels too much like an obligation.  I need witnesses.

i married a dear, kind, wonderful, intelligent and funny man in 1975.  We waited to start our family for almost ten years because we were both the youngest children of our families, and we really thought that we should travel and study and grow up and enjoy a few years before we brought a child or two into the mix.  We did exactly that–maybe not as adventurous at traveling as some, but we did get to Europe, we did canoe on a few rivers and camp and endure the loss of my parents….certainly we came to know each other well and enjoy a life that we were committed to continuing that included children.  During that time I gained a graduate degree, we both worked full time, and we bought a house that included an acre of garden.  We grew blackberry bushes and added such perennial vegetables as asparagus and leeks, and learned that deer and crows would not allow us to grow corn and root crops of any kind.  Mother Earth News was our favorite publication and we devoured it when it arrived each month.  Dreams.

I don’t remember a time that I didn’t want children.  I’m told that since I was a tiny girl I played with baby dolls and later on, I babysat regularly for extra spending money.  I loved kids and longed for the day that our own baby or babies would lead us into our future.  This finally occurred in January of 1984 when our first son was born.  I felt so proud, naturally giving birth to a strapping 8 pound, 9 ounce baby boy whom we named Ian because his name would be in honor of my deceased father.

This boy, he was something!  Beautiful, healthy, bright, smart, watchful, alert, and later considerate, thoughtful, and also athletic which reminded me so much of my mother, who was also so athletic.  He even looked like her when he was young.  It was kind of creepy and wonderful at the same time.  Well, HE thought it was creepy, but I thought it was wonderful, as if I was given a second chance to see my Mom again.  He was such a gift in our lives!

He was a “gifted” kid, diagnosed at a young age and entered into the limited gifted program in his school.  He took his own intelligence seriously, and we tried to respect that while also giving him balance in his life with athletic outlets and humor and emotional support.  That last sentence sounds so stilted — and yet I cannot find a better way of saying it.  We did what every parent wants to do and we were fortunate to be able to provide it.

High school, sports, and college followed….and as he aged we grew increasingly worried.  It was so slow, so insidious….we allowed ourselves to think that he was okay, although we checked with him regularly.  But he was definitely NOT okay. He came home after four years, one class shy of a degree in Biology, as a different person.  It was then that we saw the mental illness that had probably been lurking–had surely been lurking–which we did not see and which he hid from us.  He hid it so, so well.

Seven years after this nightmare began, our beautiful son ended his life by suicide.  We were so fortunate to be in touch with him every day for the last three years of his life.  We got to see glimpses of the magnificent man he was, and could continue to be….  He had dreams of becoming an advocate for making better mental health policy.  He had so much to give this world, and yet an illness sidelined his—and our—best intentions.

There are few words to adequately describe the depths of panic and terror a parent feels when a child is in peril.  The feeling that culminates from that is called ‘numb’. Fewer still are the words when there is nothing that can be done, even when you know you have covered every base, called every person, talked until you have no breath left and still  it will never be enough.  I now understand the depth of feeling a parent of a dying child feels, such as one who has cancer that is incurable.  The only difference between that and our experience is that there are no compassionate doctors and nurses, support groups and 24 hour call lines.  I also understand the heights of hope against the odds.  Who knows?  Whatever you try next might help, and so you continue.

Our son died on May 30, 2016.  We got a call from a coroner’s office, asking us to come identify his body.  The detectives, officers and others with whom we spoke were far more compassionate and kind than anyone we had contact with prior to that.  I am grateful for them.

Today, I believe that I am through the worst of the panic and terror, although I still dream of my beautiful boy.  In my dreams, he smiles and laughs and wants to reach me and he does.  This grief thing, it feels as old as time and yet as new as sunrise….but beyond that, it feels familiar.  I have lost my parents and yet I believe that they are with me still.  I have lost my son but he continues to reach me.  There is hope.

Its just not as shiny and new as it seemed back in 1975.  But it’s there.


Profile photo of Pam Edwards-Hoffmann Pam Edwards-Hoffmann
Grew up in Royal Oak, MI, graduated 1971 from RODHS, graduated 1975 from Oakland University (Rochester, MI), married a wonderful man in 1975 in MI and haven't lived there since. Lived in Ohio for 25 years, during which time I got my MSSA (masters in social science application) from Case Western Reserve University, had two beautiful sons, and moved to Columbia, SC in 2000.

Characterizations: moving


  1. John Zussman says:

    What a beautiful, moving tribute. Pam, I’m so, so sorry. I can’t imagine the pain you must feel. Thanks for sharing this story and letting us get to know Ian. I wish you and your family comfort.

  2. Thank you, John. Your words and your effort in responding are the things that help. It almost doesn’t matter what you say….rather, it is the effort to let someone else know that you are moved that helps.
    It is the first time I have written out this part of our story and I am grateful for this site that you have helped to create. I am not surprised that you resurfaced in my life in such a way.
    I would like to say here that, while I’m certain you do not remember me, I do remember you from Dondero. I played cello in the Orchestra, and thus attended every graduation until my own, from 1968 through 1970 from the Orchestra section of course. What I remember so well is a spoken speech, poem, song….that you were part of performing for your Commencement ceremony the day before you graduated. I remember that you conjugated the verb to love: “Amo, Amas, Amat, Amamus, Amatis,, Amant….” in the background as your fellow speakers said other words which I no longer remember. I was (ultimately) a four year Latin student, loved the study of it, won awards for it and thus your choice of words stood out among the others for me. Love continues to be the underwritten purpose for my life as I live it. I have never forgotten that lovely performance which you and two classmates preformed on that day. It was beautiful. I remember feeling mesmerized.
    I knew your sister Marci for a time in school, but never knew where she went after about sophomore year….I enjoyed her energy and her humor, and I missed her when I no longer saw her there, Perhaps I got too busy, or she left, or….or…..who knows?
    I waited a really long time to be able to tell you that I appreciated your use of an ancient and unspoken language to deliver what I’m sure was a slightly adolescent but nonetheless intelligent, thoughtful, heartfelt and well intentioned moral message. I paid attention. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was moved on that day, but I appreciated your use of Latin to aid the delivery of a modern message back in 1969. Or was it 1968? Doesn’t matter. I just wanted to tell you. And I will not be offended in the least if you do not recall it. 🙂

    • John Zussman says:

      Pam, I’m truly touched that you remember that program, and gratified that it made a difference in your life after almost fifty years. It was actually a cantata for spoken voices, performed by the five co-valedictorians of the class of ’68. Thank you so much for letting me know, and for being part of Retrospect. I hope it helps you recount some of the joys of your life as well as work through some of the pain.

  3. Susan says:

    Sincerest thanks for your candor and for letting us share both your immeasurable sorrow and your joy over Ian. His loss is still so recent and raw. We are privileged, and humbled, that you have shared this deeply personal and moving experience. Words cannot express..

  4. Thank you Susan for your kindness in responding and your supportive words. It truly is my first attempt at putting into words what our experience was. It is by no means complete, but it is from my heart and I am profoundly grateful that you read my candor without recoil or some sort of defensive reparation response. It is what it is and most times, acceptance and simple validation of another’s experience is the most profound reparation of all. I think Elie Weisel said something similar. I am by no means an essayist, but I did need to write in a safe place where there was witness but without it being the entire Internet. Facebook is not the place, and neither is a legal pad sitting on my table. I felt safe in writing here, and I thank you for your empathy. x

  5. Constance says:

    Thank you for sharing here in your time of grief. Don’t worry, you wrote about it very well. You gave a great picture of what an amazing soul he was. Hard to even imagine the pain.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Pam, your words are moving on this Memorial Day. As we say in my faith, “May his memory be a blessing.” You have read along with so many of my stories, both the highs and lows…I had no idea what you had been through. I cannot imagine, but I stand with you and offer sympathy and support. I hope that writing about this offered you an outlet from our community. I have found it to be a most caring one and hope, even though you are now a few years removed, your healing continues.

    • Thank you Betsy. Such caring, expressed so well and so welcomed at this time of year when missing my boy is at its most intense…. Parents everywhere who have lost their children will affirm that anyone who takes time to offer empathy at all is a gift beyond measure. As I reread my own words, I was astounded that I found them to write….and then again I find that when I write from my heart, the words are there to be written.
      I am always drawn to and humbled by kindness, and your comment here is a vey real example. Thank you. Ian lives on in our lives and his memory makes me smile every day. xx

  7. Suzy says:

    Pam, thank you for sharing this moving and painful story. Apparently you wrote it almost two years ago, judging by the dates on the previous comments, but I don’t remember seeing it then. If so, that must have been only months after Ian left you. I can’t begin to imagine what you have gone through. I hope that with the passage of time, your grief has or will become more tolerable. May his memory always be a blessing..

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