What Do I Do Now, Ian? (unknown cause/teen death)

by Blair Ackiss

Ian Winstead-Kirk

Grief is like giving birth except I have no idea when the pain of grief will subside. At least with birth, there is the “baby-is-here” finale where joy and elation take over. Those endorphins are wonderful even after the epidural wears off. I find with grief that there is no shining moment where I am certain that everything will be ok. There seems to be no end to this cycle.

In the first couple of weeks of Ian’s passing, I was in a state of sensory overload. I could see the grass growing. The sounds of the early evening crickets were extremely loud and annoying. Hugs from concerned friends hurt…my skin sensitive to every touch. Everything tasted different or had no taste at all. I can remember telling my mom in the hours after his passing that I just wanted this feeling to go away. I wanted it to be over. Make it stop.


And in some ways, now, I can see that I had the same thoughts when giving birth to Ian. Make the pain go away. I am scared. This hurts! And everyone kept reminding me to breathe. “Breath, this feeling will pass and you will be ok. Here, have a sip of water. Better? See, you did it.” Same with grief. I breathe through the pain, take a sip of water, and rest before the next round of contracted emotions. I’m birthing something new here.

And when Ian was a newborn, everything made me nervous, even going to the grocery store. What happens if he cries or gets hungry? What am I going to do? Where will I nurse? Will I figure out the car seat? The feelings are quite similar now. What happens if I cry in the grocery store and cannot stop? What happens if I’m trying to talk to a client and I get all weepy? What if, what if, what if?

I figured it out once (crying baby, abandon cart, and go nurse in the car) and I will be able to sort it all out now (crying lady, abandon cart, and go cry in the car). I’m sure I can get this. It will take time and I must remember to be patient with myself. It took a couple of months to get into a routine with Ian. With him gone, I just have to figure out a new routine all by myself.

I used to talk to him so much when he was a baby. There is a loneliness that comes with being a new parent and I spent so much time just telling Ian stuff because I had no other friends with kids. Babies, by the way, are great listeners.

I do the same now except that I’m talking to a picture or the air or writing him notes in a journal or on my blog. It’s similar but not the same. There is a loneliness that comes with being a parent that has lost a child. It’s like the first night in the hospital with Ian all to myself, everyone gone, and I’m just looking at him saying, “What the heck do we do now?” Very much the same…except that I am trying to wrap my arms around every single memory I have in order to make some replica of Ian that I can hold. “What the heck do we do now, Ian?” I ask.

The silence that follows is deafening.

About the Author: Blair Ackiss is Ian’s mom. Ian passed away in June 2011 at home in his sleep. His heart skipped a beat and never reset. He was 18. At the suggestion of a very good friend, Blair started a blog, I Am Still Your Mother, a couple of months after his passing in order to sort through feelings of grief and to have some quality “mother/son” time. She continues to write him letters and to share stories in order to keep part of him here in the present.

Blair’s journey has been supported by many friends and family as well as her bereavement counselor at Duke University Unicorn Bereavement Center and her support group of moms who have lost children. She is thankful to all. He has a younger sister referred to as Girl in Blair’s blog. She is 15.

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