save yourself

words that delivered

In her memoir, Lucky, Alice Sebold said, “No one can pull anyone back from anywhere. You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”

It is true.

You have to save yourself (no one can pull you back from this place). You have to trust yourself. You have to be the expert on you and your grief.

In my case, after the sudden death of my son, Sam, I withdrew, cocooned from the world, and ignored those who told me to do otherwise. I was the expert on my grief. This was my way. 

I let myself die. Almost die. One needs to grieve to almost death before they can live again. And then, after days of almost dying, of starvation, I took a bite of a sandwich. A sip of something hot. Then wrote down a memory. Then almost died again.

There was no light at the end of my darkness, then. I was done. My life, my son’s life, did not turn out the way I wanted it to. And yet, I was the only one who could save myself, and rewrite my life—our life. Somehow, on some level, I knew this.

So I took another bite. Another sip. Then wrote more words. Then lay dead. Asleep. Then awake. Curtains drawn, hidden away, watching memories. And time passed. Days continued. Eventually, I ate enough, slept enough, and wrote enough to venture outside, breathe, walk, and even talk to a therapist.

Months moved on, then years. This “save yourself” cycle continued. I was a castaway on my own dark island. Barely surviving. Losing weight. Talking to a page, the way Tom Hanks talked to an indifferent, macabre-faced volleyball in Castaway. On a cave’s wall, scratching the days that passed. On a paper, writing the words that came. In a book, reading the words that delivered.

“No one can pull anyone back from anywhere. You save yourself or you remain unsaved.”

~ Alice Sebold, Lucky

So . . . remain unsaved . . . for as long as it takes . . . and then . . . and then . . . save yourself.

Listen to yourself. Trust yourself. Withdraw if that feels right. Venture out in the world if that’s what you need to do. Talk to a grief counselor. Ask for help. Or take one bite of a sandwich. Sip something hot. Then ask for help. Take a nap. Go for a walk. Eat a piece of chocolate (preferably with almonds). Call a friend. Say, “I’m trying to save myself, but I’m having a hard time. I know you can’t save me, but can you listen . . . ?”

meditative, laser-focused talking

I have found that putting pen to paper can be a saving force. For me, writing is meditative, laser-focused talking. Edited, perfected conversation, and counsel, with the only one who can pull me back . . . and save me. Whether anyone reads it or not.

Now, today, this moment, I am throwing you a line. I can’t pull you back; I can only throw you this line. When you are able, and when you are ready (you will know when), use it to save yourself.

Hold on, and when you feel up to it, try writing. Maybe keep a journal. Write. Now, or tomorrow, or whenever. And know this: the quality of your writing doesn’t matter. Just spill your grief onto a page. Focus. Listen. Write whatever comes to mind. A word. A memory. A poem. A letter to your child. In detail, what your child’s laughter sounded like. What it feels like to be drenched in pain. Or, just these words: “Save me.”


  1. 2shineblog says:

    Much like you, I have always found writing to help… having kept journals for 30+ yrs. It releases my inner counselor and she guides me. Not sure I can be saved from this though. We shall see. ❤

    1. Deanna says:

      Fellow willower, all we can do is wait…and wait…and hopefully be saved (for moments) from the dying from this pain and brokenness. Meanwhile, I think your inner counselor is doing an incredible job.

      1. 2shineblog says:

        Thank you, Deanna. ❤ Grateful for the counsel and company of others on this journey over broken glass and shards of our hearts. ❤

      2. Deanna says:

        And thank you.

  2. Kerry Press says:

    Beautiful. Courage.

    1. Deanna says:

      Thank you, beautiful friend!

  3. Denise says:

    Reblogged this on Forever 21 and commented:
    I thought this was too good not to share. “One needs to grieve almost to death before they can live again.” Yes, one does.

  4. Denise says:

    Hey Deanna. I reblogged your post – it’s just too good not to share.

    1. Deanna says:

      Thank you Denise.

  5. that is very powerful. I for one am glad you decided to press on. Hugs!

    1. Deanna says:

      Thank you. Hugs back.

  6. edcol52 says:

    Reblogged this on The Infinite Fountain and commented:
    Yet another grieving parent on this lonely road. These are wise words. There is healing in pouring yourself out onto a page, no matter if anyone reads it or not. Private journal, public posting, scribble on a cocktail napkin, but get it out, written down. Thank you Deanna.

    1. Deanna says:

      Ed, thank you for sharing your son, Jake, on The Infinite Fountain. I am so sorry for your loss. It truly matters to me that in some small way my words have helped another grieving parent.

  7. edcol52 says:

    Deanna, I just found your blog. I too am walking this road, not yet three months since the sudden, unexpected and unnecessary death of our 24-year-old son. I still have so far to go. Thank you for your counsel and insight. I write. I write as if my life depends on it, and it does. Thanks for your words and insights.

    1. Deanna says:

      You are very welcome. And you do, my friend, have so far to go. I will try and leave lights (words) along the way for you to follow. Keep writing, walking.

  8. Robin Gaphni says:

    Thank you. I lost my son, too. I get it. Yes, writing helps move through the pain.

  9. Since my daughter passed away suddenly 7.5 months ago, I am finding that my iPad is my new best friend. It’s a place and a way to release the pain as I am able. It does not care if I repeat myself over and over as I try to comprehend what happened — even though some days it feels as if I am just learning that Amy passed away for the first time. My mind and heart are only able to accept taking in baby size servings of this reality and there are minutes, hours, days I can’t handle any of it. Deanna, thank you for writing this post and my heartfelt sympathy for the loss of your son. I am grateful for your blog.

    1. Deanna says:

      And I am grateful that we’ve connected. I am so sorry for the loss of your Amy. Time (and reality) is very warped in this grieving world. So, for as long as you need to, I say, repeat yourself… It’ll keep you and your memories alive. Peace, friend.

      1. Oh thank you, Deanna!

  10. brokenmother says:

    I lost my son almost 3 months ago and I am glad that is okay for me to grieve as hard as I have. Thank you for your words.

    1. Deanna says:

      It’s a lonely road. Thank you for letting me know my words helped.

  11. Pam Thompson says:

    Thank you for sharing Deanna and for that line to save myself. I think often of writing it all down but have not been able to yet. Just past the eight month mark after losing our younger son and feel as though I’ve slipped back into a hole for the last two weeks – probably connected to Mothers’ Day.

    1. Deanna says:

      You’re are very welcome, Pam. And I am so very sorry for your loss, and that you’re in this place. I’ve learned when I slip back into a hole, there’s nothing I can do but just rest/cry/grieve there. And nothing more. That’s part of ‘saving yourself’ too, I think.

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