postcard-from-l-a: The most awful kind of grief. The most beautiful memories. So long, son

He grew up on these pages, an active young boy who loved baseball and the outdoors.
(Chris Erskine / Los Angeles Times)

We lost our oldest son to a car accident early March 4. He was returning from work and the freeway was dark; there had been some sort of collision ahead of him … a disabled car waiting in ambush. The impact pushed his little gray Civic into another lane, where it was broadsided by an SUV, killing our son instantly.

There are no words when your son won’t ever come home again, grumble about the Lakers, tease his poor mom.

He lived with us off and on, but mostly on. Late at night we now keep waiting to hear his key in the lock or the rattle of pots in the kitchen as he makes some sort of midnight snack — rattle, bang, beep.

Oh, gawd, the stuff he ate. Frozen pizza and that terrible/wonderful corned beef hash straight from the can.


Just 32, Christopher grew up on these pages — my first columns featured him when he was an 11-year-old second baseman with some serious major league aspirations.

The boy is standing in the batting cage, crushing baseballs and singing a Sinatra song.

“You make me feel so young … .”


“You make me feel there are songs to be sung … .”


The rest of the country is still chipping ice off the sidewalks, and here we are at the batting cage on a recent sunny day, hitting baseballs and feeling young, saluting spring in early February.

(From a column, Feb. 4, 1998)


I referred to him back then as “the boy” because at that time there was only one. We were each other’s shadow till he was 14 and became more independent and a little ornery.

It’s a loaded relationship: the father, the son. Tense, biting, beautiful.

We were each other’s enemies for a while, when I insisted that if he listened to only one person in the world, it’d best be either his mother or me. He thought about that a long time.

Against our better judgment, we stuck with him. Mostly, we were glad we did.


He was generous in spirit, lit up a room. For years I tried to make him a Cubs fan, but he was too smart for that.

He once saved a buddy’s life when his friend had a seizure while driving the 710 Freeway. Our son heroically reached across from the passenger seat and guided the car across five lanes as the buddy slumped against the wheel.

By his mid-20s we were close again. Of course, he was still a snarky, semi-tamed pain in the butt. He was a son.

What a glorious son.


He was amazing in many ways. Not a big résumé, no fancy college in his past. Worked for a while with NFL Films, knocked about as a grip, took assorted production jobs.

He was generous in spirit, lit up a room, preferred the steepest hiking trails. For years I tried to make him a Cubs fan, but he was too smart for that.

“Hey, Dad, I’m sticking with the Dodgers,” he’d always say.

Such a goofball … possibly a savant. He had an encyclopedic memory of anything to do with sports. I mean, I’ve been around some very smart sportswriters and sportscasters, and he was their equal in terms of depth of knowledge.


In his spare time he liked to read Plato and Voltaire, which were on his Kindle when he died. I mean, who does that, except for someone with a pretty rich inner life?

Light a candle for Posh, who already has her challenges. Say an Irish prayer, hug your kids a little extra tight tonight.

But don’t fret for us too much. Our church has been phenomenal. It was packed to the gills on the gloomy Saturday we had the service.

Pastor Chuck held us steady. Christopher’s childhood buddy, Beau, sang Sinatra. An old teammate, Matt, somehow made us all laugh.


“There are no words,” as everyone says, but there are piles of food and flowers at home that threaten to swallow up the entire block.

Even the postman stopped in to pay his respects.

He was a glorious son and a smiling memory to everyone he ever met.

Of course, people keep asking me if there’s anything else they can do, and I think: “How about a lobotomy? Or maybe a heart transplant? Could you maybe do that?”


Because the human body was not built for such debilitating grief. The lungs are too weak and the heart is too tender. We are not engineered for this.

My son leaves behind a giant tribe of friends and neighbors who will somehow see us through. He leaves behind two gorgeous sisters and a little brother who lost his very best buddy — the guy he goofed with, worshiped and adored.

And he leaves us that silly Siberian husky he brought home a year ago, the one that thinks there’s a squirrel in every tree we pass.

So frisky, hopeful and full of life. You know, like his owner was.


Twitter: @erskinetimes