Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Grieving Mother Finds Solace In Her Memories

February 23, 2004

Brenda Houts of Detroit Lakes MN lost her three teenage sons to death. Her last son Zachary died in a car accident in May 2002. She does public speaking on grief, loss and faith.

In Zachary’s room there are many memories. When I walk into his room I can smell him, feel him and hear his mischievous grin.

I can see him curled up under the covers, begging me to let him sleep in and go to school late. I see him stretched out flexing his shoulders saying, "Mom, please scratch my back." This was my cue that he wanted to have a heart to heart or he had something serious to tell me.

Or better yet is the memory of him curled up under the covers waiting for me to hug him goodnight; with the phone pressed to his ear but covered by his pillow. This was so I wouldn’t know him and his special friend Andrea from Iowa were still talking on the phone.

When I step into his room the memories surround me. They come flashing at me from all sides just as if I am standing in the TV isle at K-Mart with every TV set to a different channel.

I’ve tried. I’ve tried to go in and do something with his room. Each time I walk in, each day that goes by without seeing Zach, I realize I want the room to stay untouched.

I’ve never had to deal with "the room" before. When my oldest son Javis died, he lived at his father’s house so it was not mine to take care of. I had pieces of Javis that I kept in a box and took out when I wanted to feel closer to him.

Caleb my middle son was hospitalized for two years before we chose to let him go. But long before he had died, when they told us he could never come home again. Zach wanted all of what was Caleb’s removed from the bedroom they shared. It was too much for him to see Caleb everywhere knowing the Caleb we knew wouldn’t be coming back ever.

I know everyone has to do what works for him or her when it comes to "the room."

I thought I’d be different. After all, I was already surviving the deaths of two children and I didn’t have their rooms for memories and healing. I really thought I could pack Zach’s things away. I was so wrong!

Many people tell me what I should do with his room. They very nicely remind me that I have my memories in my heart so I really don’t need this room. I know it really bothers some that the room doesn’t change, that our family still and probably always will call it "Zach’s room." Taking the room out of sight would likely give them comfort but it does not take my grief away, it will not make it better or lighter or easier.

Only those who have had "the room" to deal with know and understand what I am going through. This is not like the student moving out and the parents rushing in to change the room to something they choose, knowing that their child will still be coming back. This is about removing one of the physical evidences that my child lived in this house. With everything packed away in a box it would be easy to fall into the trap of denial.

I know Zach will never come home to that room - but I don’t want to pack the memories in a box. My grief is not that simple. My grief is with me every day.

Many parents can’t handle their child being gone from them for a week let alone forever.

People actually think the death of a child is something that you get over, go through, let go of. I can only pray that they never know the longing, the pain, the forever hurt of the death of a child.

Each of us will handle " the room" in our own way. For now, my way is to keep Zach’s room the way it is. To go in there and lay on the bed and look at his pictures, to remember all of my moments with him.

One thing has changed in Zach’s room - many of my boxed away memories of his brothers, Javis and Caleb are now showing up in Zach’s room. Maybe in time this will become not just Zach’s room but "The Boys Room."

Like others who have a special corner to display long gone Grandparents’ heirlooms. I will have a special room to display memories of my boys. They are in my heart and on my mind daily. Their lives and their deaths are part of who I am. I am a grieving parent, a mother of three boys whose room has been made ready for them in a different mansion.

We each need to do with "the room" what is right for us - leave it alone, pack it away, change it - but only do what is right for us.

I am moving forward, living each day, enjoying life again. I can’t live by forgetting or trying to get over something so horrendous as the death of my child.

I move forward by taking my life with me, by allowing my memories to have a place in this life I am now living.

Brenda can be contacted at brendah@foreverthree.com.