Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review of Dr. Gregg Korbon's Book Beyond Reason: Lessons from the Loss of a Gifted Child

In May I began having reoccurring nightmares that my son was mangled in horrific accidents, then he got up and walked away, as if nothing happened. Once he drove a truck off a cliff and emerged without a scratch. Another time I watched in horror as he fell off a several story balcony onto concrete. He lay motionless and contorted for a while, then stood up and walked off.

Okay, so we all know goofy, out of sequence things happen in dreams that seem normal until we wake up and say, "What the...?". One second you're cleaning the kitchen sink and the next you're partying in Paris. Not this time. Even in the dream state I knew I'd witnessed a miracle - when he rose I actually put my hand on my heart and breathlessly whispered, "wow".

Since my reoccurring dreams occasionally foreshadow future events, I was seized by a vague terror I could neither name or shake. Continual cross-currents of denial and knowing rendered me a river of uncontrollable sobs, running in both directions yet getting nowhere. Would something unfortunate befall my son? Nah. They're just nightmares. Forget it. But I knew. In my heart I knew something was imminent. And that was the problem.

During my darkest hour I heard Dr. Gregg Korbon's interview with George Noory on Coast to Coast AM. Gregg spoke of his healthy son, Brian, who knew he would not "make it to double digits". Brian told his parents he did not want a birthday party because it would bring him closer to his death. And he did die, after scoring the first run of his little league career, just before his tenth birthday. Upon returning home later that day Brain's parents found a note on his bedroom door that read, "Brian's on a trip. Do not worry about me."

The perpetual pummel of my emotional cross-currents hit full crest when I sobbed uncontrollably during most of the interview. And yet, here was this guy who suffered every parent's worst nightmare and he seemed okay. Genuinely okay.  Brian's death left Gregg with profound emptiness, to be sure, but trying to avoid or fill that emptiness just drained his ability to cope. Only in entering that emptiness could Gregg find strength, and eventually, peace. This moved me profoundly, for I too feared the well of emptiness, yet fear stalked me anyhow. What did I have to lose? So I collapsed into emptiness then rose decisive - come what may; we'd get through it.

A week later a tumor was found on my son's hip.

The x-ray suggested the tumor was benign but an MRI was scheduled to be sure. I knew in my heart it was benign but what explained his odd limp? This wasn't over. I knew it wasn't over. The dreams foretold serious spinal impact and complete recovery. The cross-currents wanted to whip me into a frenzy again. Oh forget that. They're just nightmares. Who do you think you are, Sylvia Browne?  No, enter the emptiness and hold on. Yes - THAT. So I held on, sensing something larger at play.

The MRI revealed my son's spinal cord was significantly tethered.

Without surgery the cord would stretch as he grew, to terrible result. Episodes of worry overcame me but for the most part, no panic. Instead I held the emptiness and a vision of my son rising, like in those dreams. Had Dr. Korbon not inspired me to enter my fears I'm not sure how I would have coped. I had to read this guy's book!

Gregg wrote Beyond Reason to honor Brian's bravery and the mystical strands that his life and death continue to weave in the hearts of those he left behind. Yes, it is amazing that Brian knew when he would die. It is uncanny that two days before his death Brian told his mother it was time for his trip and that he must not be wimp. And it is beyond reason that Brian lived his last day joyously despite knowing his time had come. This child was a clinic in how to face the inevitable fate that awaits us all.

But I find Gregg's journey through the grief process equally compelling. He could have stalled in sorrow for the rest of his life and that would have been totally understandable. Yet, from day one Gregg had flashes of deeper meaning that he gave a seat at the table, right alongside his grief.

After being driven by a friend back to the little league field to get his car a few hours after Brian's death Gregg was stopped in his tracks.

"I reached up to wipe a tear from my eye, and the sour smell of Brian's vomit on my hands blended with the sweet smell of honeysuckle. At that moment, my vision became clear and the colors, sounds, and smells became stronger and brighter than I had ever experienced - and I knew I was at the center of life. The worst thing that I could imagine had just happened, and yet, I felt peace. Everything was as it should be. Brian had died a happy boy. He conquered his fears, which is more than most of us do. In my heart, I knew that if I could bring him back, it would be for me - not for him. Brian finished his work here."

When I read that paragraph on page fifteen I knew this man would be fine, that his life would be full,  because he has the ability to pierce through the dense fog of sorrow and perceive that which it obscures.

Before Brian's death it seemed to me Gregg had a well choreographed life. He was an Anesthesiologist, had the wife, two children. The American Dream really. Yet he describes the pre-grief-stricken Gregg as "The Tin Man" - an accomplished and cleaver guy who avoided vulnerability. After living his own loss, though, Gregg found that giving grief support, even to strangers, came naturally to him. Holding that space with others opened his heart to vulnerability. The book goes on like this; page after page witnesses a man becoming. To me, it reads more like a sacred text than an autobiography.

As for my own son, he had tethered cord surgery on October 13th. When he rose from that bed and walked two days later my heart whispered a breathless "wow", just like in the dreams. Those dreams, I now see, were a gift from my subconscious, who somehow saw into the future to assure me everything would be alright, just as Brain's mystical experiences were a gift from his.

I recommend Beyond Reason to anyone who has ever grieved anything, not just the loss of a child. Though my son is with me, I have lost some of him over the years. He was a healthy baby who developed a particularly regressive form of Autism and intractable Petite Mal Epilepsy. So high functioning was he at three that his therapists said he was a genius. By six he was severely Autistic, functionally non-verbal, and struggled with basic academics. The worst part is his continuous suffering. Beyond Reason has inspired me to find ways to let even this make me a better person.  Thank you, Dr. Korbon, for sharing your story.

Further Reading

A Son's Premonition and a Final Baseball Game - NPR

Dr. Korbon's Website

Dr. Gregg Korbon's interview on Coast to Coast AM


  1. And thank YOU, Suzanne, for sharing yours. SO beautiful!

  2. This is beautiful! I too have wanted to read that book since I heard his story on Coast to Coast. Now I'm going to have to make sure I get it! I love how he said if he could bring his son back, it would be for him...I struggle with that thought often. The desire to think of the greater purpose yet still struggling with my own selfish desires.

    I too can relate to your son. My son is very high IQ, on the savant spectrum. The autism diagnosis did at first feel like a death sentence especially since he was non-verbal at the time and so young that we still didn't know what would happen through it all.

    Thank you for sharing!

  3. Thank you Jeff, and thank you too 3-l-a. I think that push and pull you mention must be part of the grand plan too or it wouldn't be such a prominent part of the human condition. Ultimately that struggle helps us mature spiritually, I think.

    I'm glad to hear things have worked out well for your son. I love those success stories. My son is beginning his own success story too, though certainly looks different from those early years when it was all ABA, Dan Doctors, and sprinting towards that rapidly approaching five year old window.

  4. This is wonderful S., and I am so glad to hear that the surgery has taken place! I find it fascinating (and quite instructive for all us bloggers) that it almost feels like the "real" you comes through most when blogging about this incredible journey you are on with your son...Maybe the original blog is still a vital piece of all of this?

  5. Hi Carol. Thank you. Yes, I do love blogging from that place you mention, but it takes a lot time since I am not a natural writer. This post took ten hours. I just don't have enough time to make every post like this, though I wish I did.

    The other blog, though it is archived, is still near and dear to my heart. I may move some posts over here. I have regrets about the way I set up those blogs, using my son's name and pictures. I won't do that again.

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  7. Yes, I know what you mean, and it is so easy to just spontaneously share when our kids are young...a lot of folks may have second thoughts about this, as you have done. It is also the love you feel, I think, wanting to sort of boost him with real visibility, in a world where it seems much harder for him to have his fair space...

    As to the writing! Take heart. Many is the day I have happily begun around 10 in the morning with what I have felt was a post "almost written" in my mind or in draft, telling myself "I'll be done this by noon..." Only to notice the sun setting in the distance, as I work doggedly through dinner, and into the late evening, glued to my chair and screen, wondering if I will ever be set free...And, there are writers who make a fortune from writing, but will tell you they often are pathetically grateful to have written a whole paragraph that is truly good, on one day...They embrace the pain and call it a profession! So you may be much more of a "natural writer" than you think, and the end result seems to strongly suggest this...

  8. Wow! This is wonderful!

    I cannot express what your words spoke to me they moved me a lot, but I am really glad you stopped by today and I came over to read your blog.

    Thank you! And I really love the picture you have for this post, I could stare at it forever. :-)

  9. I remember the days of ABA and all the other therapies and appointments too well! Good luck to your son! And just because his story is different from someone else's doesn't mean it's not great! I think any child with autism, whether they are functional or not, is victorious simply by making it through the day! Have a Merry Christmas!

  10. Carol: Exactly. I think I've found the boundary on this blog that I missed on the other. Though I will occasionally tell parts of our story through my eyes, this blog will mostly be about other things. And no name, no pictures, when I do write about him. Besides, it is nice to have a space carved out where I can explore other aspects of myself.

    It is interesting to hear that writing is hard for others too. The finished products of excellent writers such as yourself leave the impression of effortlessness. You are right, some people do make a living out of writing and struggle the whole time. Once I hosted a book signing for a popular genre fiction author. She said the hardest part was writing against deadlines, which required her to be "creative on demand."

    When I had the other blog people kept asking when I would write a book. The effort that goes into a book is astounding and only a tiny percentage of writers make a living off those efforts. I don't want to get so hyper-focused on a book that my responsibilities suffer. That totally would happen. It is good to know thyself and thy limits! So the blog platform is perfect for me, writing in bursts. I do like knowing my thoughts and concerns will be archived long after I'm gone. That's not reason enough to do this, but it is a nice side benefit.

    Angel: Thank you for coming by. I appreciate your kind words. I love the picture too. I chose it because Gregg Korbon uses The Wizard of Oz as an archetypal theme in part of the book. Instead of over the rainbow this picture enters into the rainbow. I love it!

    3-l-a : You are so right. Autism is a developmental delay, not a complete flattening out of all abilities. They continue to learn and grow through the lifespan, just like any of us. I see this happening with him every day. He has started unpacking and putting up the groceries without my evening asking. He helps just to be helpful, which was unimaginable a few years ago. You have a Merry Christmas too. I'll come by your site and visit soon. I need to add you to my reader so I know when you post because I only check the blog hop once a week.

  11. Wow! ...such a beautifully written and moving blog. As usual I'm stuck for words - writing my thoughts and feelings doesn't come naturally or easily. You need a "Like" button to make it easier for me, lol. :)

  12. Hi Jenny. That's exactly how I feel when I feast my eyes upon your art work! Thank you for the kind words. :)

  13. New follower from Bloggy Moms. We've spent the holidays with my in-laws in Texas, which has at times been a little stressful. Thank you for reminding me there are more important things in life.

  14. I thinks it's vital that we trust our dreams and intuition, however goofy. One night of high winds I felt compelled to get my son, then three, out of his bed and bring him into mine. About twenty minutes later, a roof up the street "went," losing shingles everywhere. One hit his bedroom window, sending long jagged shards of glass into the room - and his bed. I don't know that he would have been injured - but I'm really glad I trusted my gut.

    I'm sorry that things have been so complicated for you and your son, but glad you're having some small victories and reassurances along the way.

  15. OMG Beverly; that's amazing. Shows how important it is to listen. So often in the past I didn't listen. But I've seen enough that I always do now. Maybe that comes with age. Thank you for coming by.


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