I’ve learned to listen differently

A few weeks ago I was with a colleague, Sara (not her real name) who lost an employee in a car accident. This employee and Sara had grown pretty close over the few years he worked for her, and she was understandably pretty upset when he passed.  We were talking for a few minutes when she said that she knew how I felt losing Andrew, and went on to tell me about the death of her employee, and how it was similar to me losing Andrew.  She told me how he called her mom sometimes because she had taken him in and taught him so much.  I just smiled, wished her a lovely day and left, as my business was done.

I was pretty freakin livid.  I think you can understand why.  She compared her employee of three years, no relationship, not family, nothing, and losing him in a car crash, to the loss of my son, my only son, of twenty one years.  Was she that disingenuous, that much removed, that much of the lack of understanding to make this comparison?  I went across the street to another client, who happens to be a very close friend and told him what had happened.  He was as upset as I was, he stood in the same corner as I in thinking how could she possibly be so removed from reality to make this comparison.  It took a few weeks to get this out of the front of my mind, but I eventually moved on, until I told the story to Rich, a coach who I have been friends and a teammate with for many years.

He heard a different conversation with Sara that I had heard.  And he expressed it to me, he told me what he thought of what she said.  He actually made me think about not what she said, but why she said it.  Not about the content, but the cause.  And it hit me, maybe I was just not listening the right way.

Sara was reaching out to me in any way she can.  She had not experienced the loss of her own child, thankfully.  But she wanted to say something and connect to me in some way, and this was her attempt to do it.  She meant no ill will by it, didn’t mean to hurt me or compare herself to me, and more importantly, didn’t mean to minimize my loss.  It was just a way of her reaching out to me in my grief and connecting to me in some way.

I look at that conversation very differently now.  Although it still hurts when people compare their loss of a cousin, or their parent, or a young friend, to the loss of my son, I now realize that it is done innocently and they are attempting to help me, Thank you.


In the same vein as this, there is also the times I have to hear people say we are strong.  And that we are strong to survive this tragedy.  And the same lesson I have learned above helps us get through that comment.  If you have made that comment to us, please do not be offended, we so much appreciate hearing that, and we really appreciate that you are reaching out to us.

But…we are not that strong.  We cry every day.  We find it hard to eat a meal and enjoy it because we feel guilty.  We don’t ever feel like going out and just want to stay home and be with each other, and Nicole.  Some of our friends are taking us out for lunch or dinner, and that is really good for us and we so much enjoy going out with them.  We get to talk to them about life and have a nice meal with them. Not because we are strong, but because we need to.  Not because we are strong, but because we need to live and talk about Andrew, and remember him with others.  Not because we are strong, but because we have no choice.

We are still here, Nicole is still here, Our mothers and nephews and niece are still here.  We need to work and eat and live some sort of life.  Yes, it probably takes strength to get out of bed every morning, and some days we just can’t.  Some days after work we go to bed after dinner, turn off the phones, shut down e-mail, and leave everyone alone because we just don’t have the strength to do anything or talk to anyone.  But we know there is tomorrow, and we have to get up, go to work, talk to people and, as I hate to say it, be strong.

Are we strong?  Is everyone who has lost a child and is  still functioning, strong?  Or are we just surviving, and the strength that we get from our lost children to continue living our lives make us appear to be strong.

I know I find strength to keep going from Andrew and Nicole and Dorothy.  I know my son wants me to live my life and to enjoy life, and do the things he and I never got to do together, even as he has left me. I know that Nicole brings me strength and love every single day by being there for me, by telling me how much she enjoys life and college, and how much she is looking forward to things in the future.  Events that I want to and need to be here for.  And I find strength from Dorothy seeing how she is handling this day by day, how she still manages to go to work every day and function, and how she still cares for her mom all the time.  I also find strength in writing my journal, that I hope is helping people, not just those of us who have suffered the worst loss imaginable, but those of you who try to relate to us, try to reach out to us and be our friends – hopefully my journal opens your eyes as to what we are going through and how much you are helping us.  That is where my strength comes from.



Andrew playing with Peanut at CU Boulder


He actually let me take these pictures while he was relaxing and chasing Peanut


He found great joy in animals, and loved the unconditional love Peanut provided


10 thoughts on “I’ve learned to listen differently

  1. Susan Wallace

    Hi Perry, listening differently is a very powerful way to think. Maybe if we all did that more often, we wouldn’t jump to the negative so quickly. I understand your friend’s explanation of what the woman was doing – trying to connect in some way. I too have compared the loss of my mom and dad to your loss of Andrew as a way to connect, realizing there is actually no equality in the connection. But it is true… I am at a loss for words. I find myself more worried about Nick and the group of boys. I have been trying to talk with him more, relate to his thoughts in new ways, etc. Your entries help me to realize that we need to live in the here and now. And although I find you to be “strong”, I believe that right now you are simply existing. Know that we all care deeply, but are often at a loss of words to comfort you in any way. Keep writing.

  2. Janie

    Perry, I read your writings when you post them and empathize with you, having lost my dad three weeks ago. it is a loss, yet it’s not the same. your colleague was empathizing with you, to show she understood. you and Dorothy and Nicole are in our prayers.

  3. AMY

    Perry, I also read your blogs. They are beautiful and so well written. My heart breaks for you and Dorothy. But the truth is I don’t usually comment because I don’t know what to say to you. I am afraid of saying the wrong thing. I don’t think anything I say would make a difference to the unbearable pain that you are going through. I think about you constantly and hope that the pain is easing up a bit. But this is not the usual kind of pain from the loss of a parent or a friend. This is the worst loss that anyone could feel. I just always want you to know that people are listening to you and your feelings but might not want to approach you with their thoughts in fear of hurting you even more. If that’s possible?

  4. Maria

    You are a strong man Perry. NO ONE CAN understand your loss or your pain. When my husband died people said, what I thought were the stupidest things, but like you said, what are the right words to say to someone who just lost a loved one? Especially unexpected. Life is short and precious. It can be taken away in the blink of an eye. Love the ones your are with, don’t sweat the small stuff and keep the memory alive of loved ones you miss until you are reunited again. xoxox

  5. joanne

    Hi Perry, I just finished reading your post and it brought to mind feelings I had experienced with losses in my life. It’s never about the comparisons, because it’s so personal. In my case, the passing of my sister was unbearable. Since I have no children, this loss of a 50 some odd years relationship was devastating and the greatest loss I have had. When people made comments, which were meant to be comforting, I had pings of resentment. But now I know it was just their way of showing they care and let’s just leave it at that.

  6. Ned

    Perry, very powerful thoughts and experiences…yes, the comparison was wrong, but in your own grief you saw where she was coming from and accepted her. And keeping on, and holding on, are not, as you say, so much strength, but doing the best you can do…and I wish you much courage and tenacity as you do so, in spite of your indescribable loss.

  7. Mandy

    Perry. This is a beautiful statement. And a wonderful illustration of your sensitivity. Each of experiences each loss in our lives differently. No one can truly understand anyone else’s feeling of loss. Even when you have both had what seems like the same loss, it is so different for each person. No one can ever tell anyone else how to grieve, or when or how to carry on.
    That said, I do believe that there is nothing quite so unnaturally horrible as a parent losing a child- for any reason. Since I don’t have children of my own, I can’t even imagine your loss. I can only offer love and support.
    You are wonderful to understand that sometimes our awkward attempts at understanding and empathy are just that. A sincere attempt to reach out and offer comfort. XOX

  8. Sally

    Wow, Perry,

    So many of those words in your last 5 paragraphs could almost exactly be my own. I am amazed that an entirely different person could express aloud how I have been feeling but not told anyone. Done what I have done, like just heading to bed as soon as I get home after dealing with “keeping it together” while being at work all day. As painful as they are, your words bring me comfort so thanks for taking the time to say what needs to be said. I look forward to reading your ongoing posts.

  9. Pat

    Thank you for sharing. We all need to hear this. I tell myself “Father forgive them for they know not what they say.”


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