I heard every breath you took

When you were born, you slept in a bassinet next to my bed. I slept with my hand on your tiny back, making sure you didn’t stop breathing in the night.

When you were little, in your own room, I’d get up in the night, unable to sleep until I made sure you, your sisters, your brother, were breathing. I really did. Right up until you were all teenagers, and we moved to the house on the river.

When you were older and battling heroin, I listened for your breathing. Through the kitchen floor. I knew what to listen for. The ragged gasps of your respiratory system struggling. I’d race upstairs and breathe for you, hold you through the night and make sure you kept breathing. In and out. Heartbeat bumping. In and out. Sometimes you’d stop breathing, for a moment longer than you should have. I’d shake you. You’d draw in. In the morning, you were so sorry.

When you were clean all those years, I sometimes still listened, standing in the kitchen, beneath the floorboards of your room. I’d stand there and cry to hear the silence, or a little snore. I stopped listening, and started sleeping. Then you moved out into a life of your own, and I thought my days of listening were done.

I didn’t listen when you came home again. Those heartbending years were so far in the past. This was just a bout of depression, nothing we hadn’t handled before. We were already on it. You were coasting, you said, until it lifted.

You went silent.

You slept a lot.


But you were screaming and screaming, weren’t you. I didn’t know how to listen to this new kind of silence. In the frenzied chaos of those first days battling all that went on in your head, I knew what to see, to hear, to look for. But this? Not this. My guard was down. You’d made it through! But I forgot to never say never.

You went upstairs to bed, to die whether you meant it or not. I don’t know if you struggled to breathe, or simply stopped. I wasn’t listening anymore.

Now I see all too clearly. My failure. Ultimate, and complete. Irreversible. Hindsight is ever the cruelest of things. It shows me daily all the ways you were screaming for the help you didn’t get. It shows us all, now that there are no breaths left to listen for.


Filed under Family

15 responses to “I heard every breath you took

  1. Justin

    You are not a failure. You are a loving mother who did everything you could to make sure your son was always breathing. Just hearing the story of holding him through the night to make sure he kept breathing tells me that you are much more of a loving mother than 99% of moms out there. Most parents abandon their children at a sign of addiction or trouble. You stuck with him all those years, the good and the bad. You are right that hindsight is the cruelest of things, but don’t ever forget that your son is smiling over you in Heaven and so thankful that you were always there for him, through the thick and thin. He may have lived as long as he did because of you, so don’t sell yourself short. The struggle of addiction is real, and heartbreaking, but now you can help others who are going through similar circumstances, and don’t allow regret and the past to consume you, let God be in control – and know that you are a great mother…far better than most I know.


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      Thank you, Justin. I know I’m not really a failure, most of the time. Sometimes, it just hits me and it needs to be let go. That’s what I do with words. Kind of like a conduit for all the bad stuff to follow out. I try to see things clearly, and part of that is accepting the good with the bad. He made a bad decision. I wasn’t listening properly. This is our reality. Unchangeable. But it is good to have people ready and willing to bolster me up. Thanks.


  2. Terri, it’s the hardest job in the world being a parent. And there comes a time when there really is nothing left we can do for our children. You are a great mom…one of the greatest. Please don’t ever feel like you could’ve done more. I honestly don’t believe that’s true for even a millisecond. You were always there when he needed you to be there.


  3. Elizabeth Baker

    oh terri: you NEVER failed christofer. you did everything humanely possible for him and despite what you might think with your sparkly heels and tats and witchy ways, you are NOT super human! you know that addiction is an uncontrollable beast that can rear its head at any time with no warning and for no real reason.

    while i totally understand this portion of your grief, i hope you know that you WILL get to the other side of it at some time. i cannot pretend to imagine your pain but i am a mom who loves her son and i know that i would do anything and everything for james, just like you ALWAYS did for christofer.

    you were his redemption!!! all of the things he survived were because of your love and concern. he would have been consumed by his depression and addiction much earlier and perhaps more harshly (jail, harming someone else unintentionally, etc, etc) than he was but not for you and your unconditional love and support.

    i wish i could you take your pain away and your current belief that his death is on your hands. it is NOT. NOT NOT NOT.

    extra thoughts and prayers coming your way. and if you ever need to rail or vent or talk about addiction or whatever, know that i am here.

    i adore you! elizabeth


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      My sweetheart! Thank you. I bet you needed a tissue writing that comment, huh? My tissue-queen of Bald Head Island. I adore you.

      I can accept the responsibility of dropping the ball. I didn’t choose his actions. He did. No one fought harder than either of us. We just happened to drop the same ball at the same time.

      I know it will ease. I know things will get clearer, brighter. You know I’ve been down this particular road before. It’s why I’m trying to feel all my feels, as the little ones say these days.

      Thank you for loving me, for being my friend. ❤


  4. Lise-Marie

    You are not a failure ! You brought a beautiful spirit to share our lives for a short time ( way to short) but sometimes that is all we are given. *hugs*


  5. Terri-Lynne DeFino

    This too is true. I know I did ore right than wrong. I truly do. Sometimes the sad-word fairies will have their way. Thanks, Lise.


  6. A Mother who truly loves her child no matter what is NEVER A FAILURE!


  7. ((((((((((((((Terri))))))))))))


  8. Terri, don’t you dare ever ever blame yourself for what happened. Chris’s fate was not in your hands. He made his choices, to the best of his ability. He walked his own path. Your ability to love, support, and honor him is the greatest reflection of your success as his mother and friend. EVERYTHING else was out of your hands.I know it’s not easy to confront how little control we have over the fate of the people we most love. There are few women I’ve met who are as successful as you, in everything that really matters in life. I feel so blessed to have met you, and Chris, I’m certain, knew he was blessed to have you as his mother. Many hugs to you. Keep writing out your pain. It’s good for the soul.


    • Terri-Lynne DeFino

      That’s what this is, darling–writing it out. I can’t help the feelings I feel. Even the bad ones need to be honored, accepted, and let go. I know I fought the good fight all these years, and Chris made the decisions he made from a really, really dark place. My sensible brain knows many things, and yet the little, mean, desperate ones still leak through. Keeping them inside is the dangerous thing, even if letting them out upsets or concerns people who love me.

      Know that I’m ok. I’m not beating myself up. I’m accepting the good and the bad with the goal of giving them both their due, but never letting them pull me under. Promise.

      Liked by 1 person

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