Telling a mother her child died

Telling a mother their child is dead may be the most horrifying experience I have ever gone through. As if it couldn’t get any worse, I actually had to do it over the phone.

As much as I thought I had prepared for it, when the moment came it was more horrendous than I had ever imagined. It became irrelevant that this was an adult child and he was ill, the pain and anguish I bestowed upon this woman was devastating to her.

We had also planned, that very shortly after his death, I would travel down to have the funeral in her home state and make every effort to get his siblings together and provide some kind of explanation. Honestly, it was like I had to deliver this dreadful news to her twice.

For a myriad of reasons, Patrick chose to hide his illness and stage four Cancer death sentence from the people he loved the most. This was his decision and his decision alone; I certainly never tried to change his mind.

The thing about soul mates is that our souls have become entwined and are truly one. With this comes a deep understanding and words rarely need to be spoken to communicate, the awareness of each other’s thoughts, feelings, and emotions merely exists and are forever shared.  Before he even said it, I already knew the path we were about to embark on.

With all decisions in life, there are consequences. I was left with the horrifying task of explaining his illness and his inevitable death to his dear eighty-eight year old mother, the person he loved the most.  Hiding it from her wasn’t the issue; she lives in another state and we had become masters of disguise through this endeavor.  But I was not only charged with having to tell her that her son is gone, I had to formulate some kind of explanation of his illness and what led to his decision.  This alone was probably the most agonizing undertaking I will ever experience.

I had spent painstaking months, imagining this moment, where I would stand in front of her and make a feeble attempt to provide comfort and solace to Joanie and the Skill Family. I assure you that the speech in my head was immaculately perfect and my delivery was graceful and eloquent.  I also assure you the reality… not so much.

When it comes to words, my written certainly outweighs my spoken. So while I was absolutely certain I would stumble over the spoken word, the one thing I attempted was to rectify it in writing with a letter I presented her in front of her children accompanied by a very special gift Patrick had picked out for her and left for me to present to her.

Here is the letter…


Knowing Patrick was a man of few words, I have written a letter to each of your children, I have attempted to put down the words he could not find, his thoughts, and feelings about each of them. I don’t know that it will bring any of them any comfort or closer, but hopefully, it will at least assure them that all of you were in his thoughts.  I have enclosed each of them for you.

Your son sure did like me an awful lot. But it was you and only you that he truly loved, you were his light, you were his everything. He loved you and only you.  As I told Chris, I am good at many things but words and emotions are not two of them.  So I have no idea how to describe to you just how important you were to him.  Maybe I just need to realize that quite possibly, there just are no words.

The single time Patrick ever showed emotion about this ordeal was when he thought of you. The pain of losing you, the pain he knows you have losing him, was beyond tolerable for him.  He had no fear of dying, no fear of what would come next, and his only thoughts were of you and the fear of leaving you behind and leaving you in pain.

I know part of you wishes that we had told you. He just couldn’t possibly put you through it.  Having you feel the excruciating pain, the emotional torture, the heartbreaking feeling of helplessness, and the daily anxiety of what was to come was more than he could bear to think about.  He couldn’t do it; he wouldn’t do it to you.  For months, you were all we talked about, all he cared about, and the only one in his life that mattered.

He wasn’t alone. I wouldn’t leave him, I just wouldn’t go away.  I didn’t get to cry or mourn, feel sorry for myself or him, I couldn’t, and it wasn’t what he needed.  What he needed was for me to learn his business, put his affairs in order, understand his true wishes, and most of all to protect you and the family from knowing what we knew.  He needed me to be the person he thought I was, the business woman, the problem solver, the calm, cool, collected one.  So that is what I became, we spent months focusing on what was in front of us, every detail we could think of, and we both knew, I’d have to finish this all alone.

Looking back, I’m not sure I lived up to his high expectations all of the time, but I certainly did try and will continue. I gave him what he needed, which was someone to lean on and I did not waiver.  I never told him how I felt, or ever expressed what I was going through, or spoke of how bleak my life has become.  I didn’t want him know or feel bad when it came to me, he had enough on his plate.  He once told me that I was the most emotionally resilient person he ever met and if anyone was strong enough to handle all of this, that it was me.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was wrong,

For years, people have tried to figure out our relationship. Why didn’t we marry?  Why didn’t we start a family?  Why didn’t we at least live together?  All this time, we both just smiled and felt no need to explain or justify to anyone what we knew; what they couldn’t understand anyway.

It has been over fourteen years since I met your son, it seems like just yesterday. I am honored to have gotten to know and become a small part of the Skill family.  My family welcomed Patrick and honored him as one of our own; they too feel a great loss.

In me, I believe, he found the one person, who could accept and understand all of him, I found the one person that could accept and understand all of me, and this happened without either one of us, ever actually saying a word. After all, emotional expression is not our strong suite.

I will not waiver from my promises to him, and I will finish what we started and close out his estate, his business, and most of all, his wishes. I am the voice he left behind and I will do right by him and your family.

You are a woman of faith. He’s in Heaven now, and the angel that once walked beside us is now looking over and guiding us through these difficult times.  You have taught him the way and the path to salvation.  Your son lived a true, good, honest life.  He lived a life with morals and values that only a person as strong and good hearted as you could instill in him. 

He left this life with no regrets, no remorse, no hatred, or sorrow in his heart. I can only assume this is what peace looks like.  I do know you wish you could have said good-bye in your own way, but the one and only thing in life that could break Patrick’s heart, was to see you cry and that he just couldn’t face.

He spent his last days and hours staring at your picture. When he first received it from Chris, he looked at it and said…

”Look how happy Joanie is today, have you ever seen anything so Beautiful?”

I have an undeniable void in my life, and I suddenly have no idea what tomorrow brings. But know that I’ll always honor him, cherish his memories, and he will live on through all of us.  I will miss your son more than any words I will ever be able to find.  He was a great man and I was lucky to have him, if only for a little while.

I can’t take away your pain Joanie, he and I knew I would never be able to provide you with comfort in your time of sorrow. But he left me behind to assure you that you were at the very core of his being, you were his whole world, and he was forever grateful, blessed, and truly honored to be your son.

Again, I say… it was you and only you that he truly loved, you were his light, and you were his everything. He loved you and only you.

As Always,




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