Five Months

Five months ago, my son died.

As I write these words and read them over and over again, they are so incomprehensible that they might as well be in a foreign language. Again and again I read them, unable to grasp that they relate to me, that they form part of my story. These words belong in a fiction novel, or a sad news story about some poor family that I will never meet, but will take a moment to feel sorry for before going back to my life. They cannot be MY life. I cannot be the one that people look at and silently thank God that my life is not their own.

Needless to say, I am nowhere near the acceptance stage of grief. I continue to regularly flit in and out of the land of denial. Part of the challenge is the shocking way that my son Isaac died – in the Beirut blast, the biggest non-nuclear explosion in history. It all happened so quickly. One minute I was sitting with Isaac having dinner and singing nursery rhymes, the next I found myself sitting at my in-laws house in suburban Perth – about as far removed from Beirut as you can get – without him. I know there was a whole lot of stuff in-between, the explosion, the hospital, the challenge to get flights out of the country. But it is all a blur. Within seconds our whole life came tumbling down around us like a house of cards. What happened was so huge and so beyond the realm of imagination that my mind cannot compute that I lived through it. When I think of that day, and the immediate days that followed, I feel like I am watching myself in a movie, rather than remembering actual events.

The inability to wrap my head around the explosion and the way Isaac died, means I also can’t wrap my head around this new reality. I feel like an interloper in this world, an observer but not a participant. This life in suburban Perth seems surreal and unnatural. It is like I have slipped into a parallel universe and I am just waiting to slip back to the “real” one, the one where Isaac exists and our family is whole. On the occasions when it does hit me that yes, I am actually here in the suburbs of Perth and this part is real, it makes me wonder if my former life – and Isaac – were all just my imagination. Was life with Isaac simply a beautiful dream? Or am I currently in a never ending nightmare that I can’t wake up from? The contrast between my two existences is so stark, the events that led to me where I am today so surreal, the blow so cruel, that I simply cannot reconcile this new reality with my old one, so in my mind only one must be true.

The only thing connecting the two realities are the flashbacks I get while going about my day. A loud sound makes me want to duck for cover, the squeals of children playing conjures up the screams that filled the hospital corridors and a quiet moment brings to mind my last image of Isaac’s face, scared and confused. People around me go to work, attend parties and spend time with their children. They laugh, they cry and they worry about their own problems. Their lives continue as “normal”, unaware of the small things that immediately transport me back to that horrific night in Beirut. They live their lives, while I remain frozen.

Time doesn’t interact with grief the way we expect it to. Somehow the sun still rises every day. Somehow it still sets. But life as I know it stopped at 6:08 pm on 4 August and that is where part of me remains. The idea that five whole months have passed is as incomprehensible to me as the explosion itself. How have I survived five months without my little boy? Before his death, I spent a total of three nights away from Isaac. The first night, when he was eight months old, I was hospitalised with a bad stomach virus. I remember sitting up in that hospital bed at NYU, breast pump attached because I was still breastfeeding, and crying my eyes out. Isaac was no more than a kilometre away, safe at home with his Dad, and yet it felt like he was a million miles away. The second time was when he was 18 months old and I travelled to Kuwait for two nights for work. I cried all the way to the airport and vowed then and there – before I had even left the country – that I would not travel for work again unless I could take Isaac with me.

Each of those three nights away from Isaac felt like torture and yet I have now spent 154 nights without him and I have a lifetime to go. How have I gone 154 nights without reading Isaac his bedtime story? 154 nights without having him give me a big bear hug and saying “bonne nuit Mama”? 154 nights without sneaking into his room late at night just to double check he is ok? How have I survived 154 nights? I don’t want to move forward – each step forward in time is a step away from Isaac and our life with him – but going backwards is impossible. And so I am stuck. Life moves on around me, but I am stuck at 6:08pm.

The horror of what happened to Isaac, the grief that I feel, permeates every aspect of my being. It is all encompassing, suffocating even. I live in a permanent state of cognitive dissonance, on the one hand fully aware of what happened, on the other, unable to believe or accept it. Time and space do not mean the same thing anymore. Grief is not only dealing with the loss of my son, but coming to grips with the fact that our lives have fundamentally changed, and try as we might, time marches on whether we like it or not.


30 thoughts on “Five Months

  1. So beautifully written essay. I truly encourage you to daily and breath. I still cannot fathom what happened on August 4 but I know many are hurting. I am far away from Beirut but my heart is there.. In Isaac name fight for justice by keeping his name and picture front and center.

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      1. I’m so sorry for the loss of your beautiful boy .
        My words won’t change anything but your words have changed me. Thank you for sharing your family’s story. You are in my thoughts and prayers.
        Dink

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  2. I’m left with no words after reading this.You are incredibly brave for letting us try to understand how you are experiencing it to this day. Thank you, Sarah.

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  3. So eloquently put Sarah. I’m so so so very sorry for what has happened to you and Craig. I cannot imagine what you two are going through. I am so very sorry that Issac was so cruelly taken from you and Craig. As I write to you, I can’t control my tears from falling down my cheeks. My heart breaks every time I read yours or Craig’s post. To say it affects me a little is an understatement. I was extremely affected and still am about Isaac’s death that I had to take some time off work. The memories, of seeing others post images of their children Isaac’s age must haunt both you and Craig. I’m sorry. I know it’s the third time I have said I’m sorry but I don’t know what else to say. I think part of you has died when Isaac passed. Same for Craig. It’s hard to stop time from moving but it still runs. Your words of 154 nights wout Isaac and how you don’t understand how you keep going breaks my heart ❤️. It really does. I emphatise and feel your pain and I can’t stop crying… I want to hug both you and Craig and cry with you. I never met Isaac but I feel I know him from your lovely eulogy I saw online and how both you and Craig describe this beautiful loving boy. That was hard to see both of you suffering and your families as well. I love you Sarah. I love Craig too. And I’m truly sorry. Keep writing, you write so beautifully from your heart. I will keep reading although it pains me so to see you suffer.

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    1. From my mom to you:
      Extreme loss that nothing can erase. God help you and his dad. I share your grief in my heart🙏❤️😭
      Your colleague Kamal AL-KHATIB.
      From me, I believe that a Human Life is a Heart Beat in Heaven where baby angel Isaac belongs with all the loved ones lost on Earth until we all meet again🙏

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  4. The depths of grief are unfathomable. My daughter’s best friend spent all his high school years at our house. We joked about how he was my “other” son. He was tall and blonde and used to stand on our porch line Peter Pan. He was always helping out. A year after my daughter left for college, he took his life due to depression. His suicide included the following harsh words of wisdom: “For years you all told me to get over it, my depression. And I tried to but I couldn’t. Now I’m dead ~ and you’re depressed. Hey, get over it!” I will never tell anyone to get over anything ever again. It’s been more than 2 years now and I still cry everyday about him. My grief is my last connection to him and I just can’t give it up. So know that we are with you sister ~ you are not alone. There are millions of us suspended in time wishing we had just one more chance to hold the one we lost to fate.
    Grief is like the ocean, it comes in waves only to recede. Memories are like the stars; they fall to Earth and wash ashore.

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  5. What happened to your family is numbing and unthinkable. Personally I would find it hard to find a way forward. People who have several children and lose one have no choice of course. And I hope you find a way. He was a beautiful child.

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  6. Keep writing. We’re here to listen, to support, and to remember little Isaac as you bring him to us. He is a beautiful energy.

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  7. Beautifully written Sarah… It’s is unfathomable that this is the reality you and Craig have been propelled into. No parent should have to experience this level of loss and I am sorry of all people it’s you and Craig enduring this pain and grief and that your beautiful Isaac was lost. My heart broke for you on that dreadful day and continues to mourn with you everyday. Not a day goes by where I don’t think of the 4 of you. Thank you for sharing this intimate look in to the alternate reality you face everyday. Here for you always my dear friend.

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  8. God bless you! I am Lebanese and I feel for your pain. No one, let alone a parent or a mother, should ever go through this. The most dreadful experience no parent should live. We also almost lost our cherished kids in this criminal blast, yet I feel more ashamed of being Lebanese because of what happened (and what they did) to you . God gives you strength to live and celebrate in the memory of little Isaac. Be blessed Sarah! Will pay for little Isaac, an Angel from above.

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  9. My heart hurts so much for you. I don’t know what to say other than that your words about Isaac are lovely and heartfelt. I can hear his goggles while you are reading to home. What a precious gift that is.

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  10. Powerful, eloquent words. Thank you for sharing. I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope you find memoir writing healing.

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  11. hello sarah. thank you fot the courage and strength to write about your unfathomable pain. i was there during the Beirut explosion and i have left Beirut since. when 4 corners put your story up, i could not get myself to watch it. today, i worked up the courage to read your words. i know nothing i say can really make a difference but i want you to know that even though i do not know you, i think of you often and feel connected somehow to part of your pain. on Christmas i thought of you and every now and then i think of you and feel a tightness in my chest. please know that i am another individual who supports you in your difficult journey and i want to continue to hear yout thoughts and feelings that are so paifully eloquent.

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  12. Your pain weighs heavy on my heart. Your words echo in every soul shattered on that day. One cannot walk from such events unscarred as nothing hurts more than a heart left wondering why.

    I pray for strength for you and your husband.

    Whilst, nothing will bring back your beautiful Issac, I would recommend your defer that energy into something more positive, like writing, and something more gratifying like community service.

    The people deserve so much more, and even though hearts can be filled with hatred, our humanity conquers it all.

    I don’t want you to hate or blame the world for what happened.

    Life can still have meaning, if you give meaning to others.

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  13. Sarah,
    There are so many days I wish I could just text you a heart, a smile, tell you that Ayla still tells stories about Isaac… Then I think you probably don’t want to hear about any of us living here, us who have failed for generations to hold those in power accountable for their crimes, us who have been spared when Isaac and your family are a victim because we, the Lebanese people, gave up a long time ago. I promise you we will never forget, though I know this will not bring back our beloved Isaac, his smile, his big eyes. Isaac now guides my husband and I’s every choice, be it political, logistical, educational. Your little boy has been having this extraordinary power to guide us and so many others to fight for truth, justice, peace. I know that this is no consolation, that this does not bring him back, that all you want is to sing those rhymes again, simply, safely. My whole heart is always with you, and I’m so sorry you have to go through all this. Just please rest assured that our thoughts and prayers are and will always be with you.

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  14. No words left to say .. it’s just unbearable to loose a child hoping from the bottom of my heart that little Isaac is giving u the strength needed to go on.. my sincere condolences Sara ..

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  15. I’m so sorry for your loss Sarah.
    Just yesterday I wrote in my journal that every step forward feels like a step away from my dead son. It’s horrible. Today my partner asked me when I opened the tofu in the fridge and I had no idea. It could be two days ago, two hours ago, two weeks ago – it’s all the same and time is mostly meaningless now, except in relation to how many days since Jin died.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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  16. God bless you and your family. We lost our 11 year old daughter to a brain stem tumour last Dec 2019. Been a brutal year but some bizarre supernatural experiences have since occurred which has strangely helped up through the dark days and offered hope for the future. Happy to chat anytime. Please never hesitate to reach out. Kieran and Faye Mervynhttp://www.ismisecara.com

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  17. Heartbreaking as I read your words, I had not heard your story, this tragedy before now. I am here in Beirut, I was here on Aug 4, 6:08 pm -as our home trembled a first time, then a second time, then suddenly a burst of wind rolls thru our home and the walls literally trembled. We are about 6 miles from the port. How many lives lost, lives ruined when that big evil cloud of wind rolled thru the city. I pray you and your family find some sort of patience, peace and knowing your son is an angel in heaven is somewhat comforting.

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  18. Dear dear Sarah
    Since hearing of your beautiful Isaac’s tragic death in August, I have wanted to write to you personally on SO many occasions. Words have escaped me again and again. I have thought of you often and wanted to find an avenue to “speak” with you. I am happy in knowing that you’re writing again – a true gift of self-expression of and for yourself.
    I found this beautiful poem which helped me out in August (and one that Craig responded to), in an effort to express and to be alongside you as much as I possibly can – from afar.
    “Fingerprints” by Tom Krause (below) expressed so eloquently the words I could not find.
    I trust that on some level it will speak to you.

    Fingerprints

    Your fingerprints are on my heart.
    Fingerprints that teach me about caring.
    Fingerprints that teach me about love.
    Fingerprints that teach me about courage.
    Fingerprints that teach me about hope.
    Fingerprints that bring me closer to my loved ones.
    Fingerprints that bring me closer to myself.
    In the time I cared for you my whole life changed —
    never to be the same again
    All this from tiny fingerprints that touch my heart.
    You will live in my heart forever – never to be forgotten.
    I will always love you.
    You are my child.
     
    — Copyright © 2001 by Tom Krause

    5 months later since your loss of Isaac, my life has continued, with my own degree of loses and bereavements. I don’t want to understate my losses for myself at all, but the term “unimaginable loss” comes up for me when I reflect on your loss of Isaac – for you and Craig.

    Not having my own biological children, I do not know your absolute pain, I do not know the trauma of your day (August 4, 2020) and the endless days that have followed, I do not know how you continue to get up every day and survive the magnitude of your loss, I cannot imagine your mixed emotions, your love and heartache on the arrival of your beautiful Ethan.
    Through your writing, whether it’s “not pretty, not eloquent or whether it makes no sense” I have a deep sense of how your world has changed so dramatically, in these early days of your grief. My heart to yours and in this, I see you.

    What I do know is that I have wanted to hear you and in your written word, I want to reach out to you, not to be silent, to offer you my deepest and on-going condolences for the loss of your most precious little boy, to let you know that I support you in your writing, however you may feel in your expression of heart wrenching grief.

    For your love of Isaac, I love knowing and seeing him through you. What an amazing little guy, who knew he was loved so deeply by you and Craig.
    What an amazing woman you are, to be open and honest to your ever present complexities of grief and bereavement in honor of Isaac, you and your family.
    As in Fingerprints, he speaks of so many things that I trust will resonate within you, knowing that Isaac “will live in my (your) heart for ever – never to be forgotten…”

    With love, care and compassion

    Susie

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  19. A country of thieves and assassins, not assuming responsability for any of their actions.
    August 4th was a day of grieving for those who lost a loved one and a day of awakening for those who are still alive.
    A country with a lost cause, that’s what Lebanon is today.
    But in the meantime, who will console a mother for the loss of her son?
    No one can.
    All we can do is provide our support, not sure how much this can help.
    I’m angry, angry for the useless loss of lives, as if they have no value, and angry cause nothing’s done about it, not sure if anything will ever be done…
    Just know that a chain of love and prayer is accompanying you and that love is stronger than hate.

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  20. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I am very sorry to hear this. I was in Beirut the night of the blast, and know personally some of the long-term effects of this.

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  21. So heartbreaking especially for parents like us…
    I encourage you to go to Church, pray for Jesus and you will feel his presence, he can help you and comfort you… He’ll be talking to you when you read the New Testament…
    Don’t worry for Isaac, he is surely in a better place, where we are all going at the end… It’s just a matter of time… Life on earth is just a chapter of our existence… You will reunite with Isaac at the end.
    “انا لا اموت، انا ادخل ملكوت الله”

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  22. We hold you, Isaac and Craig very dear in our hearts.
    We extend our love from near and far and all our wishes and compassion as you make your steps…
    Always guided by Isaac’s light at the very center of your heart and spirit.

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  23. Grief has no sense of time or place. I so relate to this. We come out of this experience a new version of ourselves. Way after we navigate the stages of grief. Way after we weep, and die a little inside. We come out trying to make sense of the loss. Meanwhile all we can do, is sit back, and embrace the wave, even if it hits us in the face. One day, you will wake up, and once the wave comes closer, you will get on your surfing board and push through it. So much love to you, and Isaac.

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  24. Dear Sarah,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I don’t know what to say but I want to extend my love and support for you and your family. May Isaac rest in peace.

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