Children grieve differently

December 2nd, 2011 § 4 comments

I’m working on a new piece about grief during the holiday season, but really want to re-share this short post for those who missed it. I actually re-read it from time to time to remind myself of a valuable insight I had with two of our three children. This was originally written two days after their grandmother was killed in a car crash in 2009.

……………………………………………………..

Children are different.
From adults.
From each other.

I had to give two of my children different directives this morning:
One I told, “It’s okay to be sad.”
One I told, “It’s okay to be happy.”

I needed to tell my 7 year-old son that it was okay to cry, to be sad, to miss his grandmother.
I miss her too.
And it’s okay to let your emotions show.
It doesn’t make you a sissy or a wimp.
What it does make you is a loving grandson.
A grieving boy.
A bereaved family member.

But my ten year-old daughter needed a different kind of permission slip today.
I sensed she needed permission to smile.
To laugh.
To be happy.
I needed to tell her that it was okay to forget for a moment.
Or two.
To forget for a few moments that Grandma died.
It’s okay to still enjoy life.
The life we have.
Grandma would want that.
I told her that Grandma loved her so much.
And was so proud of the person that she is.
I reminded her how Grandma’s last phone call here last Sunday was specifically to tell Paige how proud she was of her for walking in a breast cancer fundraiser with me.
It’s okay to still feel happiness.
And joy.
It’s okay to let that break through the sadness.

Children are different.
But they take their cues from us.
I know my children.
I know that this morning what they needed from me was a sign that it was okay for them to feel a range of emotions.
It’s healthy.
Because what we are living right now is tragic.
And confusing.
And sad.
And infuriating.

If it is all of those things for me,
It can only be all of those things and more
To my children.

A step

March 6th, 2011 § 0 comments

Written September 19, 2009

I put makeup on for the first time in days.
I don’t know why.
I know the tears will wash it away.
But it’s a step.

Today, with complex fractures still unset in his right leg,
My father-in-law got out of bed and hopped with a walker.
I don’t quite know how.
But that’s the kind of guy he is.
He will have more surgeries on Monday.
He’s going to have at least twelve weeks without weight-bearing.
His wrist is set, with a plate.
His knee fracture will get repaired on Monday, too.
He’ll need months of physical therapy.
But it’s a step.

Colin, age 7, was just sitting at the kitchen table.
He had a plastic bone-shaped toy and
Had placed a piece of paper inside.
I asked what it said.
“Grandma 2009” he said.
And he wrapped Scotch tape around and around the bone to make
Sure the sides didn’t come apart.
“It’s like a memory box.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to hold back the tears.
“I think that’s nice.”

Paige is making a “Get Well Soon” card for Clarke to take to his
Father tomorrow when he goes to see him.
I am sitting in the other room and the thought of it
Brings me to tears.
I’m almost scared to go and look at it.
I just know it’s going to be so special.
So wonderful.
So filled with love
and innocence
and childish adoration
that it will be happy and sad
all wrapped up in one.
It will be painful for him to read I bet.

Being half of “Grandma and Pops”
is going to be like limping along…

But
I keep
reminding myself:
even
a limp
is a step.

Children are different

March 6th, 2011 § 0 comments

Written September 18, 2009

Children are different.
From adults.
From each other.

I had to give two of my children different directives this morning:
One I told, “It’s okay to be sad.”
One I told, “It’s okay to be happy.”

I needed to tell my 7 year-old son that it was okay to cry, to be sad, to miss his grandmother.
I miss her too.
And it’s okay to let your emotions show.
It doesn’t make you a sissy or a wimp.
What it does make you is a loving grandson.
A grieving boy.
A bereaved family member.

But my ten year-old daughter needed a different kind of permission slip today.
I sensed she needed permission to smile.
To laugh.
To be happy.
I needed to tell her that it was okay to forget for a moment.
Or two.
To forget for a few moments that Grandma died.
It’s okay to still enjoy life.
The life we have.
Grandma would want that.
I told her that Grandma loved her so much.
And was so proud of the person that she is.
I reminded her how Grandma’s last phone call here last Sunday was specifically to tell Paige how proud she was of her for walking in the Komen Race for the Cure with me.
It’s okay to still feel happiness.
And joy.
It’s okay to let that break through the sadness.

Children are different.
But they take their cues from us.
I know my children.
I know that this morning what they needed from me was a sign that it was okay for them to feel a range of emotions.
It’s healthy.
Because what we are living right now is tragic.
And confusing.
And sad.
And infuriating.

If it is all of those things for me,
It can only be all of those things and more
To my children.

The Box

March 6th, 2011 § 4 comments

Written September 17, 2009

She went up to bed tonight,
Still pink-eyed and shaky.
Finally calmed enough to hopefully get some rest.
And as she walked into her room,
Somehow,
From beneath her bed,
The bright kaleidoscope patterned paper
Caught her eye.

I heard the sobs,
The wails,
The primal,
yearning,
cry.

“My birthday present.
From Grandma.
The one she gave me early.”
She stood pointing at it,
Gaze averted,
Like a child pointing at a dead
Animal in the middle of the road.

Together we looked.
And then all at once it hit me.
I knew what she was talking about.

Two weeks ago,
When my in-laws were visiting,
Paige’s grandmother had given her a wrapped box
And said,
“This is for your birthday.
Put it somewhere safe.
Don’t open it until October 28th.
I know it’s something you’ll like,
But you have to wait until then,
Okay?”

And so,
Because that’s the kind of 10-year old she is,
Paige didn’t peek,
Or lift the corner of the paper,
Or ask her brother what was in it.

Instead,
She carefully put it under her bed
To wait until October.

We had no way of knowing we’d never see Grandma
Again.
No way of knowing that was the last present that would be
Bought.
No way of knowing that a truck which had no business
Trying to pass anyone,
Much less several vehicles at once,
Would slam head-on into my in-laws’ car and kill our
Loved one.

Tonight,
The very sight of the box,
And the thought of its giver,
Brought her to tears,
Racked her with sobs,
Riddled her with grief,
Filled her with anger,
And sadness,
And loss,
And pain,
And confusion,
And did the very same
To me.

Eleven

October 28th, 2009 § 0 comments

I remember it so well.

I hope I never forget.

Those feelings I had eleven years ago as I had my first contractions and went into labor with my first child, Paige.

My husband and I were living in New York City.

I was taking a long walk home after an appointment when I

first felt the tightening begin.

It was three o’clock in the afternoon of October 27th.

By dinnertime I was at the hospital.

By evening I was home again.

Too soon, they told me.

Could be hours,

could be a day or two.

By midnight I was back at the hospital again,

This time for good.

All night we waited.

All night I labored.

And at 8:06 a.m. she arrived.

My daughter.

I left the hospital two days later in typical New York fashion:

not with a car seat,

but instead with sweet P bundled in a carriage.

We walked home the 4 blocks to our one bedroom apartment.

Two days later we emerged to show her the NYC marathon.

As every parent does,

I fell in love.

As Clarke worked 80+ hour weeks,

She and I were buddies,

my city baby and I.

For hours we would explore the city.

Everywhere I went, so too did she.

When she was one year old I had medical problems;

an autoimmune disease which attacked my skin,

pigmenting it bright red,

thickening the soles of my feet

and palms of my hands

until I could hardly use them.

Hours were spent in the waiting rooms of doctors

before I was correctly diagnosed.

The treatments were time-consuming.

Paige came to every appointment with me.

It never occurred to me to get a babysitter.

She just came along.

As she grew I just knew she was something special.

She was always perceptive.

Verbal.

Bright.

At sixteen months she sang the alphabet.

By eighteen months we were having conversations.

Once we started we never stopped.

Paige “gets it.” She’s an old soul.

She is so mature it is sometimes hard to remember her real age.

I am so lucky.

I am so lucky she’s mine.

And I tell her so all the time.

I don’t know what she’s going to do when she grows up.

But I know what she’s going to be –

All the things she already is:

smart

sensitive

loving

confident

grounded

brave

funny

creative

talented

focused &

lovely.

Paige has seen a lot in her few years.

More than I would have liked for her.

I wish I could have spared her some of the

difficult things we’ve gone through.

My medical diagnoses, especially cancer, and Tristan’s issues too.

There’s the box under Paige’s bed (“the box” 9.17.2009) –

The one Barbara gave her in anticipation of her birthday.

She knows what it is now.

It won’t be a surprise.

I know what she really wants for her birthday: she wants to have Grandma back. Alive.

Me too.

When Paige was 5

I got a call from the ski school in Jackson Hole.

“Paige is done skiing for the day,” they said cryptically,

“You should come get her.”

They wouldn’t give me details.

She’d fallen.

But they wouldn’t tell me anything.

Clarke was on the mountain skiing.

He was able to reach her first.

It was one of those times I marveled at how we existed before cell phones.

I made it to the medical clinic at the base of the mountain.

I walked through the swinging double doors.

I’ll never forget seeing Clarke and a doctor staring at x-rays

up on a lighted board.

It happened in slow motion…

I mouthed “Broken?”

and Clarke nodded.

My five year old had just broken her leg.

It was the first time I’d ridden in an ambulance.

I didn’t know the next time it would be my turn.

It was the first time there was a fracture.

I didn’t know the next time it would be my turn.

It all seemed so dramatic at the time.

Maybe being far away from home made it worse.

I had no idea I’d look back on that episode and think it was

literally “child’s play.”

After we finally got to the hospital and talked to an orthopedic

surgeon it was time to set the leg.

They’d given Paige pain medication and something to make her drowsy while they put the cast on.

Clarke and I were a few feet from the foot of her bed

talking about the logistics of getting her home on the airplane.

As she slipped off into a hazy slumber I saw her arm go up

into the air.

She slowly raised it, then her hand.

And then she made the sign language symbol for “I love you”:

Thumb, pointer, and pinkie extended out, middle and ring fingers

tucked back.

It was our signal.

I’d taught it to her as a toddler.

I wanted a way to tell her I loved her if I couldn’t be heard.

Across a crowded room, in a place that was quiet, or when she was nervous at a school performance,

I’d make the gesture for “I love you” and

she would know I was right there for her.

And so,

as she drifted off,

my five year old

told me she loved me,

that everything was going to be okay,

that this was all just a bump in the road,

all without saying a word.

Sweet P,

there are so many things I hope I’ve given you:

skills, characteristics and traits to

help you find your way in this world.

I hope I will have many more years to watch you grow

and see what you will do in the years ahead.

You make me proud,

you make me smile,

you make me laugh,

you make me cry.

Now, forever and always,

I believe in you.

May you someday know the joy that I have known having you as my daughter

and the special bond we will always share.

The love that Nana and I have,

now next to you and I…

I hope that you will have that gift

someday with a daughter too.

Happy birthday.


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