The Rock of Permanence

I had someone tell me that the second year of loss is harder than the first. Naturally, I was dubious. After all, our first year without Kylie was devastating from every conceivable angle. What could possibly be more difficult than living in the recent aftermath of the loss of a child? Wouldn’t you assume that things would get a little better with the passage of time? I certainly did.

But there are stark differences between year one and year two.

In year one, you realize what a powerful thing delusion can be. The grieving mind plays tricks and dreams up scenarios where life is impossibly restored and you believe it simply because you want to – it is easier to believe than to live in reality. Memories pull you back to simpler times before the loss as a coping mechanism. Additionally, the tremendous shock of the loss serves as a numbing agent to the depth of pain and longing involved in the tragedy. I don’t know how long experts would say that shock lasts after such an event, but it slowly peters away.

In year two, the shock and delusion give way to a mechanical rhythm of life – a forced carrying on. The mind is more balanced yet still somewhat addled. In year two you are left to function without the one lost and without the unreasonable hope of their return. Reality sets in.

She’s never coming back.



Never is a long time.



Year two brings with it a rock of permanence that sets down in the middle of your path and seems entirely unscalable. You can go around it, but that is simply avoidance. Many choose that route for varying lengths of time. Avoidance leads you around in circles with the rock always nearby – always within arm’s reach on the left. You run your fingers along its hard surface and bang your shins on boulders that have fallen unseen on your path. With every step, the rock remains in your view and reminds you of the loss.

Even if you do choose to avoid it, the rock looms in your future and cannot be continually bypassed. It is never leaving the path and must be climbed, although by its very nature you cannot reach the lofty summit –  it is too high. It is permanent. She’s gone.

mountain-1116232_1280Some days the rock is a gentle hike – equal ascents and descents where timely encouragement holds your hand and guides you along on your way. Hard moments resolve into passable lanes and storms break just in time to allow passage. But other days hold a foreboding shear face that requires deft fingers, footholds, and ever-so slow progress. The mocking wind at your back is a constant whisperer of the futility of your climb.

“You aren’t strong enough,” it shrieks.

“Give up. You’ll never make it,” it moans.

“When you fall, others will see and they will fall too,” it whistles by your head.

And sometimes, you believe its lies.

I was wrong. Year two is harder.

So how do you keep going? How do you shut out the lies of the wind and set aside the futility of the climb?


That may not be helpful, but it is what I am learning. There is no formula. It takes slow, dogged effort to keep moving forward. One finger grip, then another. A step and then one more. Certainly there are setbacks and falls. I chalk my hands to improve friction one moment and then wipe stinging tears from my eyes – rendering the chalk ineffective. But when one day brings a fall, I push to regain ground the next. And some days are hard. Some days I give myself license to stop – to make camp on the rock and gain no ground before setting out again.


Sometimes I turn and look away, out over the beautiful woods and lush valleys that others get to trod and I remember the green days of life. But it can never last long enough because the damnable rock is still there, with its massive, shear face. And the wind is still whistling its lies in my ear. And I can feel utterly alone even when surrounded by hundreds of genuine people who love me. Such is the nature of struggling through loss.

As with anything practiced daily, my climbing skills are growing. My guess is that year five might be worse and year twelve might have a massive peak of its own. I miss Kylie daily and when I am at mocked by the wind and exhausted from the climb, I am reminded that every inch of ground gained on this infernal rock is one inch closer to her.

That keeps me climbing even on days when my progress is miniscule.



*Feature image is Kylie on Stone Mountain with sweet Carolyn, a survivor of the same cancer that took Kylie’s life.

35 thoughts on “The Rock of Permanence

  1. Mark, your ability to create a visual and put into words the journey of your grief is remarkable. I’m sure your words help many put their own feelings of loss into words. For those that have not experienced loss, it gives us a glimpse into what this journey looks likes… You have a gift.
    I can only imagine how much you miss Kylie. Prayers and hugs to you all this holiday season.

  2. I will forever mourn the fact that the most beautiful words are born from the most devastating losses.
    This was beautiful…it’s hard to type through the tears. Thank you for sharing your journey and Kylie with us the way that you do. Holding you and your family in my heart this holiday season. xo

    1. Beautifully written. This is a wonderful piece that should be given to all newly bereaved parents, it will help them know that it gets better, but it never goes away, and that’s okay.

      I have also found the year 5 milestone to be very difficult. For us it’s year 2 for one child, and year 5 for another of ours. It truly has been a tough year.

  3. The greatest compliment i can pay you, Mark, is this: I never had the honor of meeting your daughter but I’m mourning her loss right along with you. As a father I have an idea what you must be dealing with today and every day.

    And yet I have no idea.

    You’re an exceptional man and father, Mark. I hope to be able to tell you that in person someday.
    Be well, my friend. Be strong when you must and break down when you have no other choice. Someday – not too soon I hope – you’ll see your darling Kylie again.

    And then you’ll have forever.

    1. Thank you Hook. That is a special tribute. If the wife and I get to Niagara Falls, I will look you up for sure. Although I am a little leery of staying in the hotel you write about.

      1. Bear in mind my accounts cover a small percentage of the events that transpire around me, most of which are too boring to recount publicly.

  4. Yes, I had been warned as well. I was glad for the warning, however, else I would have been left wondering what was wrong with me and why things weren’t getting better. As you said, there is something to be said for shock. It is what gets one through that first year. It was the second year for me, too, that it truly sunk in that my son was never coming back. (You’d think bereaved parents would know this, but, again, shock is powerful.) My son was 16 years old when he died. His 21st birthday was incredibly difficult, as was the 5 year anniversary of his passing this year. Having a plan in place for these significant dates has helped us immensely. Still sucks, still painful, but more bearable with a plan on those days. We always try to do something that would fit Matt’s personality and interests. ((hugs))

    1. We try to prepare for the anniversaries as well. I really like the idea of doing something that pertains to Kylie’s interests on those days. I think we will have to work on that. Blessings, Angela. I’m so sorry for your loss of Matt.

  5. I lost my dad nearly 9 years ago know, whilst not the loss of a daughter who should have outlived me, it was & still is the greatest loss I’ve experienced. For me the hardest part was the firsts.. the first birthday, the first father’s day, the first Christmas, the first anniversary. I want to tell you it gets easier but I’d be lying. I still have to take the anniversary of him passing off work each year. I try to do something special on the day that he would have liked. Christmas hasn’t been the same since.. nothings been the same! I think you accept more easily, that they are gone but every day there are reminders & every day it can be a struggle but I think the trick is to not let the grief consume you & not to stop living yourself. One of the hardest lessons I learned from it all (and I’m still learning) is that despite everying.. life goes on!

    (Sorry for the word-vomit.. it just came out!)

    1. Don’t apologize! I love words! I’m sorry for the loss of your father. I guess the main thing that hit me this year was expectations. Those are killers. I expected it to be a little better and it was still sucky, just in a different way. Expectations will sink you.

      1. That is so true! Everyone tells you that time heals all but when you are dealing with it every day you know that’s not true.. I also learned that everyone grieves differently and there is no right or wrong way..

  6. Dear Mark, you chose such beautiful pictures to accompany such poignant words. And I was left with a growing sense of awe before I finished reading these words today. Inappropriate maybe – but ever so real.

    Awe? What a HUGE place Kylie has in your heart always. What HUGE love embroiders that place always. How incredible and humbling love is always.

  7. I really wish I met Kylie…and you are right the healing is slow and happens with one step forward and two steps back and I imagine that while the years can only make us miss them more they will be able to change and hopefully lessen the difficulty of that climb. I wish you and your family the best possible Christmas and New Year without your precious Kylie. Much love

    1. I like how you put that, Ana – “the best possible”. I don’t know if it will lessen the difficulty, we’ll just be more experienced climbers in years to come. It shouldn’t be that way.

  8. Mark, if I could ‘like’ this more I’m pretty sure you would exceed the greatest number of ‘likes’ you’ve ever had. You have captured the feeling of the 2nd year wonderfully…I’ve lived it. I’m five years out now from losing my son to suicide, and I can honestly say I still have these same feelings. May God give you strength and peace.

  9. mark, you have such an incredible way of expressing the inexpressible state of grief. it is so honest and raw and every word cuts through our hearts. we are with you, know that.

  10. Stated with exceptional truth. Bless you. I don’t believe things get easier with time, we just learn how to accept the grief and the climb. It is our life for now.

  11. Twenty eight years ago this past February my girls died, every year is hard, there is no such thing as it gets easier, only a parent that has lost a child understands this. Things change, life goes on, you get up and move forward bur it’s all different and always in your thoughts your thinking of them. A smell, a flower, a color, special food, etc., will trigger their memory, no, there is no such thing as it gets easier.

  12. Each year without has its effects…all you can do is lean on loved ones, the Lord and keep going. This is the first holiday season for my best friend without her husband and I know it’s rough but when I got her Christmas card without his name on it it hit me too… Hugs

  13. Oh Mark…

    And I get it, on a deep level.
    Everyone tells you “make it throughout the first year, all the firsts…it will get easier” and then. IT ISN’t EASIER!
    It’s harder, for all the reasons, and more, that you described. The shock is gone, reality sets in. You face the first year that your person wasn’t alive in, you can’t say..”oh, last year we….”
    And as the years go by it just gets …different. Which is good and bad.
    I am so, so very sorry for your loss.

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