beyond words (even though i’m trying to use a few).

It’s been 21 days since the police showed up at my door to tell me our 5th child and twin brother, Jared, died in his dorm room as a college sophomore exactly two weeks short of his 20th birthday. 

21 days without his bright light, his “I love you, Mom” texts, his wild and beautiful life on this earth. 

21 days of unbearable grief. 

21 days of barely being able to breathe. 

21 days of finding no apparent clues what took him under that deeply that morning when everything in his life was forward-looking, connected, and living and leading in his areas of passion. 

21 days of “WTF, Jared!” 

21 days of hearing hundreds and hundreds of stories of the way he impacted people’s lives in profound ways even though he was only 19 years old. 

21 days of despair. 

21 days of “how in the *$^!&$(!(! will we ever be able to live again?” 

21 days of worrying about our other 4 young adult kids who live in other states and the hard work of healing they are having to do to grieve the loss of their beloved brother. 

21 days of wave after wave after wave of too many emotions to count. 

21 days of feeling so deeply held and supported by an incredible network of people who know pain and are acquainted with grief. 

21 days of somehow God being with us in unexplainable and simple ways that defy language and remind me of how grateful I am to have untangled myself and my family from so much harmful theology over the years. 

21 days that are beyond words.

Yet, here I am today trying to use a few.

Because there are a few words swirling around and I wanted to share them today, to help me, to help people who are reading near and far know about what’s happening with me, with us, in the midst of the darkest season of our story.

Two hours before my doorbell rang on October 28th I had a wonderful conference call about the launch of my newest book—Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World—releasing February 18th 2020. I was feeling so thankful and had a day of quiet and administrative work ahead of me. Right before my doorbell rang, I was working on the finishing touches of a blog post I’d been working on for a few months called “The Pervasive Patriarchy Problem.” The last blog I had posted was months ago and was called mortality, with the reminder that “life is fragile, people.” All of the irony is just too painful. I haven’t thought about patriarchy once in the past 21 days. 

However, I have thought a lot about what a gift it is to be part of my beautiful eclectic egalitarian faith community, The Refuge, who have carried and will carry Jose and I and our family so well and pulled together the most lovely celebration of Jared’s life on November 3rd.  People from all areas of our lives came to share amazing, funny, tender, transforming stories about our baby. Standing-room only, overflowing outside, it was full of tie-dye, rainbows, all his favorite foods, his phenomenal music playlist, kendamas, and so many incredible young people who give me hope for the future. We laughed, sobbed, swore, created beauty, and experienced healing that comes from collective and raw vulnerable grief. That gathering embodied the paradox of Jared, of life, of my heart, in countless ways.

It was holy ground. 

Three days before October 28th I told two of my dearest friends and Refuge teammates that the past 18 months have been the first time in 27 years of parenting that we could breathe a little easier. That empty nesting was so sweet, that all the kids were in fairly stable places and super connected to us, but because we are parents we never knew when a new wave might crash in. 

This tsunami was the last thing I expected. That kid falling off a mountain while he was climbing or hiking or getting eaten by a bear because he forgot his tent on a solo overnight, sure. Killing himself on a Monday morning after a normal “have a good day” to his roommate, no. We are left with no note, no clues–only connected, forward-looking texts and emails to his classmates, us, his siblings, and friends, planning his Halloween costume and a birthday trip with his brothers and sister a few days later and how good it felt to declare his double major and minor in all his areas of passion.

And yes, we talked regularly about mental health, about real struggles and pain, all.the.fucking.things that my husband and I know how to do as people who have worked in hard places for over two decades. 

If you knew Jared in real life, you also knew that he somehow wasn’t “of this world”, either. That the systems, “the Man”, the inequality and the ugly, was something that Jared could never accept and was always pushing against in such brave ways. That he was paradoxical, with a bright light that shined wherever he went and challenging philosophical ideas that mesmerized and engaged others around campfires, under the stars, and in his brilliant journals. Freedom was Jared’s highest value, basic dignity and care for all humans and the earth his passion. 

Now we are left with wrestling with three of Jared’s favorite words that were tattooed on his leg (and now on my husband’s)—“I don’t know.” 

I don’t know.

We don’t know.

We’ll never know.

We.will.never.know. 

But we do know this: Grief has no rules.

As we crawl our way forward we will just do what we can how we can when we can the ways we can.

We will learn to live with “I don’t know.” 

We will hold our heads high. 

We will lay on the floor in a crumpled mess. 

We will move forward on bringing Practicing into the world in a few months.

We will go to work when we can and skip things when we can’t. 

We will sometimes have words and often times have none.

Grief has no rules.

And, damn, I desperately miss that wild and beautiful kid more than a lifetime of words could express.

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life and online. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

30 Comments

    • …so, the Emojis didn’t show, but they were heart, praying hands, and streaming tears.

      The wisdom of “I don’t know” is profound.

      The grief of “we will never know” is sharp.

      The truth that “Jesus gently carries that knowledge” must suffice.

      Thanks for sharing this with us, sister. Taking baby steps with you all from afar, your wee Purple Abbess holds you up to the light that is Jesus.

      Reply
      • I cried ….I cry… I will continue to cry… thank you for grieving out loud. Love you and yours beyond words.

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  • Words seem so inadequate at times like these. Sorrow, loss, pain never ending. Love supporting, holding, embracing.

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    • Kathy & Jose,
      This is such a heartfelt read! Thank you for sharing! Praying and loving on your whole family at this time.

      Reply
  • Dear Kathy,
    I am still and stunned by your life journey and what your heart and mind and soul and body are wrestling with moment by moment…breath by breath. I don’t know you, but now do. I now know the newest you and I am praying from another town for your heart and family heart to heal and always remember. Breathing for you and with you with God, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    Reply
  • Kathy, you are on my heart much. There us no label or box for this. Hmm….if you find that you want to talk to someone who has been on the other end of this (tried to exit), I am available. Another friend who experienced this loss found it helpful to ask me questions…
    You may never care to do so, but if you come to a place where you think it might help, shoot me and email and I’ll give you my number.
    I love you much.

    Reply
  • My tears flow with you. My heart breaks with you. My hope rises for you. May courage and strength be with you and each member of your family. ❤

    Reply
  • All the cusses and all the love and all the amens. Ironically this whole, grief has no rules thing, is the working title of my tongue in cheek, smartass short book on grief. And I’m just so sorry, friend. I was praying for you and the family this am as I made my bed. You’re never far from my thoughts! I love you.

    Reply
  • I can’t imagine what it took you to write this, and then to share it with us.
    For what it’s worth, count me as one who is grateful you did.
    These words brought you, Jared, and your whole family closer to my heart — which in turn, brought my own family closer as well, so thank you.
    I am so, so sorry this happened.
    Sending you love and light for the journey ahead.

    Reply
  • Kathy … your words, and groaning of your heart was so guttural and cutting… They come at a time when our family is going through the same Idiotic, and crazed pain of losing my nephew by his own hand just a little less than 2 weeks ago. We are at a complete loss…. with the realized terror that this horror is real, and not a nightmare… I’m so deeply sorry for your loss.. it is way too much, and “ I don’t know …. either.”

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  • Kathy,
    Remain so very sorry.
    Too much messed up on way too many levels in our far from Eden world. Our internal systems are jammed… more hours of the day then not from trying to live in our very very inhumane communities. Too easy to get caught in a very strong undertow.
    Gentle hugs….
    Nita

    Reply
  • Like so many, my heart and prayers have been with you and your family. Comfort and peace be with you.

    Reply
  • Kath- this is so beautifully written….. your eloquent words fill my heart…. Karl, Lexie and I read it aloud together and are praying for you, Jose, and all the kids.
    I am so sorry that you have to experience this kind of heartache… there truly are no words to adequately express our sadness for you all.. but I know without a shadow of a doubt that God will keep you enveloped in his arms… just hold onto Him tightly~ We love you so much.

    Reply
  • That was beautiful, and heartbreaking – all at the same time. I’m struggling with the no note, no signs or hints of anything other than looking forward. It doesn’t make sense, not to our limited brains. God knows the why. God understands. Someday you will too. Praying God holds you close – and then even closer – so you can feel some of His overflowing peace and love. Hugs and shared tears…

    Reply
  • Beautiful words that tear at my heart. I am well aware my own man child is exactly the same age as your Jared, over a thousand miles away, navigating a hard season of life. All I know is that as a mom we do the very best we know how to do. It is all a struggle and I am feeling broken on your behalf, imploring the creator of the Universe to cradle you close. I am sorry.

    Reply
  • I love you Kathy. We have been nonstop thinking of you all in your grief.

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  • Your last line left my heart aching, for a moment with you in some way, beyond words. A number of years ago, an unthinkable thing happened to me and I had no answers and for all the ways people tried to comfort, it was often difficult. One of your gifts has been putting words to things others wanted to say, wanted to ask and maybe dared to even think. So thank you for seeking to put words out here, and allowing some of us who are so far away in a bit. In my story, God came in waves of healing, different people, places, different healing times and I pray that God will continue to show his hand of love in the midst of the unknowns. Much love.

    Reply
  • Kathy, my heart ached for you as I read about your son. It is so hard to live with any uncertainty but especially when it is around the loss of a child. Grief is such a complicated, tangled journey. Praying for you as you take each step in this incredibly hard season.

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  • Even in grief, your words minister to others. Heartbroken with you. Leaning in with you, too.

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  • My tears continue to flow with you. Thank you for these brave and powerful words. So much love to you.

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  • Kathy, thank you for continuing to be an example of mercy and grace even through your darkest hour. You have touched my heart often over the years. Know that you and your family remain in my heart daily. Peace to you …

    Reply
  • Kathy, you don’t know me, I’m Eric Mann’s wife. Just want you to know that you and Jared and your family are in our prayers. We lost our son nine years ago. He was 24. I get I don’t know! I can certainly relate to your thoughts and feelings. It just doesn’t make sense. The first year is the hardest by far. Seemed like so many things unraveled after the two marines showed up at our door. I’m sharing that message in hopes of preparing you that there may be some new challenges in your future that you won’t even see coming. The day the Marines showed up at our door, I was flooded with so many emotions, but I felt this tremendous peace in my heart. Eric and I pray that you feel it too! We believe in our hearts that Brad is with Jesus, and Jesus is with us! That really helps make Brad feel not so far away! Anyway, you don’t know me, but from one grieving mother to another, you will get through another 21 days, and another, and another. The pain will never leave completely, and “I don’t know” will be incorporated into your new normal. In the meantime, we will continue to pray for you.

    Reply
  • I’m deeply sorry. My family lost my brother in January and your words of grief resonate. I’m not a writer so I appreciate those who verbalize better to help me process. So sorry it required your loss and experience to share that with me and others in this way. I took me a month before I didn’t cry every single day and not a day goes by without some type of thought. Your openness here is so loving to the rest of us even in tour tsunami. Prayers for tour family.

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  • Thank you for sharing your raw emotions. Mental health is real. On my knees.

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  • Oh, Kathy. OH, KATHY!! I am so very sorry for all of this – the searing pain of loss and shock, the unanswerable questions, the terrifying irreversibility of what must have been a sudden and confused decision. Oh, Lord – have mercy, have mercy.

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  • Thank you for this. All of it. The acknowledgement of the roller coaster of emotions and how you and your family did “all the right things” and still, this happened. Thank you for the “I don’t know.” It is comforting to me, and I imagine to others in these places we never imagined ourselves in. Much peace to you and your family.

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  • Kathy:
    I wish there were words that could effectively alleviate the pain of losing a child. Sadly, there are none.
    We lost our 21-year old son 4-1/2 years ago, in a stupid accident, after a marvelous day of celebration with friends and family. He was so happy that day and I said to many of my friends, “Gosh he has turned into such a fun guy to be around…I’m so proud of him.” Later that night, his best friend witnessed the accident and rushed back to us to give us the terrible news – what an awful thing for another young man to witness, feel responsible for, and be crushed by.
    Similarly to your situation, we found ourselves completely embraced and supported by friends, family, coworkers and clients. Our faith family also created an amazing celebration of life ceremony and over 300 people packed into our teeny church – you couldn’t have squeezed a Tic-Tac into the building!
    I am finding that there is no “getting through” this kind of grief. You absorb it and you become something else. You will still be recognizable – even to yourself – but just a bit different, sporting a child-shaped hole in your heart. Your priorities will realign, you’ll get rid of unnecessary things, you might be less tolerant of intolerant people, and you might be kinder to those same people as you recognize they might be nursing hidden wounds, too.
    I don’t believe that God has a purpose for taking my son (or yours, or anyone’s), but I very much believe that all things are used for good. My husband and I took comfort in purposely looking for – and finding – the blessings in this tragedy. Certainly, we’d trade every one of them to have Gunnar back with us, but since that isn’t possible we take what we can get.
    We have also met some amazing people – also grieving the loss of a child(ren) – who have helped guide us through this journey. Find people who will cry with you, without making you feel ashamed for doing so. Find people who will listen to every memory you have of your beloved Jared, without feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed. I don’t know you and I don’t know which way this Path will take you, but you are welcome to contact me as you go on your journey. I don’t know all the answers, but “I don’t know” is a very good place to start.

    Reply
  • I can’t imagine…. Holding you close in my heart this very moment in solidarity as one mom with another. The grief…. I am thanking The Great Arms of Love tonight that you and yours will get just what you need every moment that you need it.

    Reply

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