Jay had one Halloween under his belt in his one year of life, and on that Halloween, he was a parrot. His sister had gone as a pirate, I dressed up as some pirate wench character, so it was befitting to purchase a parrot costume for him. He wasn’t walking yet, and it seemed like a funny idea to carry him around like a little birdie. Anyway, he was a parrot.

After he died, I kept his clothes in his drawers. At first because I couldn’t bear to remove them, and then because we were having another son. I liked the idea of his brother getting to wear his clothes. Jay wore a lot of my daughter’s handmedowns as a baby, so it felt right not to just box up these little clothes. As my youngest son grew out of them, they were eventually boxed up and put away. I didn’t box up everything. I kept a few clothes in my own drawer, like the clothes he died in. I left his shoes in a shoe bag in the closet. And I left the parrot costume in the closet too. I don’t know why I did that. There was something about it that just made me want to keep it in there.

A couple of weeks ago I went into my younger son’s room, which of course used to be Jay’s room, to find him prancing around at 8 1/2 years old wearing a parrot costume made for an infant. Initially a shock, it was actually hilarious. I didn’t feel sad about it. This was my son, wearing his older brother’s Halloween costume. He looked so cute. The parrot headpiece, which was way too small for Jay’s 13 month old head, fit my younger son perfectly. I hugged him, and I felt this weird happy feeling of joy, seeing him enjoy this costume. He went to bed that night wearing it.

Today I was loading wet bedsheets into the dryer and noticed the bird costume in the back of the washer. I pulled it out. I hadn’t washed it since Jay wore it last. It didn’t bother me that it was worn again. But whatever little particles he left behind on it, were now gone. Just one more little teeny bit of him vanished from the world. One less thing I could touch that had him on it.

I started crying and I couldn’t stop. I went downstairs and got his ashes down from a high shelf. I had to dust off the urn because I hadn’t gotten them down in so long. I got in bed and held him. I asked him why life keeps taking him away from me. I cried and cried, thinking about the well meaning people who cleaned my house or accidentally removed fingerprints. All of these little things that just made him further disappear from my life. “I have so little left of you,” I weeped.

I took his ashes out of the urn and laid the bag on my chest. That made me cry even more, but it felt good. I just wanted him close to me. I held the bag and talked quietly to him. I talked about our lives and what it was now, and what it would be like if he popped back into our lives at 13 months old and lived with us again.

Mid conversation with Jay’s ashes, I heard my husband coming down the stairs to see me. I felt terrible; he was walking in on me laying in bed with our son’s ashes sitting on my chest. Unbeknownst to me, there was also hole in the bag and some of the ashes had floated out and were on my chin and chest, so this vision must have been next level disturbing. “What’s wrong?!?” he asked, eyes wide. I told him about the bird costume and he apologized, saying he had washed it. I wasn’t mad at him at all. I knew it was ok. I was just sad. Not about a piece of clothing being washed, but about the feeling of losing a tiny piece of a person I actually completely lost 9 years ago.

I eventually put Jay back in the urn after finishing my conversation with him. I came upstairs to the kitchen and thought about how all of these little pieces I’m gripping to will one day be gone. Even his little blue coat, which I have kept in my drawer this entire time, will one day hold no meaning to anyone.

Before I came upstairs, I read a message board for people who have lost children. People who were days or weeks along, right in the worst possible hell imaginable. It’s hard to read those posts. I remember being there. That level of grief is devastating. Today, 9 years in, I went from cruising around the house tidying up, to laying in bed bawling with the dust of my son’s ashes landing on my face, to being upstairs making eggs and reminding myself to drink more water. Grief is different now. It’s not overwhelming. As time goes on the grief can feel almost hard to access, like it’s far away. When things like this happen, it feels like I got to visit with him. I welcome it. If you’re a friend reading this, don’t fret. Just be glad I got a visit. It may appear crazy and sad, but it was also lovely, I promise.

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Tomorrow you are 10. Ten! No. You’re not 10. Or are you? You would have been 10. You were born 10 years ago. Your ashes are downstairs in the office. They are here. They still exist. Your heart, liver and kidneys, which are traveling around living in other people’s bodies still exist. They’re 10 today. So you still exist. Tomorrow, you will be 10.

I have these types of conversations in my mind still. I say your name aloud whenever I can. I do everything in my power to keep you in the mix of the day to day. I bring you up and people get a sad look on their face. I want to tell them to stop it. I want to say “Can’t you give me this one thing? Can’t you let me talk about my son that died without having to stop and take care of you and your feelings?” I just want them to smile with me and let me have you in that moment. I don’t blame them, really. I guess I just want to talk about my son without being seen as the lady whose son died. People tend to define you by it, instead of realizing that death happens constantly. It’s a way for them to set themselves a part from a thing that they don’t want to believe will ever happen to them. It bothers me only because I don’t have the privilege of living in that fantasy myself.

I still ask questions in my mind that I asked 9 years ago. Like where are you exactly now? How did you die, really? I replay what the doctor said over and over and over again. I replay every time you fell down in your life and wonder if any of those times played a part in you dying. I still sing you happy birthday many times each year. Your bedsheet, along with the clothes you wore when you died and your little blue fleece coat are still in my sock drawer. They will be in that drawer for the rest of my life. A couple of your clothes still live in your you get brother’s closet. I know I need to take them out, and I will, when I am ready.

Everyone feels sorry for me and your dad during this time. We get a couple of texts from people on your birth or death day. I always appreciate those. This year is a hard one for me. Ten years old is a special time. I will never get over the fact that you aren’t here. It never ceases to blow me away, you not being here. Two nights ago the weight of this birthday hit me hard as I lay in bed in the dark. Tears came and the grief dropped on me like a pile of bricks. That feeling used to level me. Now, nine years later, I am so grateful for it. I spend so much time distracted, busy with both the important and the mundane, that you’re on the back burner of my mind. I spend my time being genuinely fine. I’m not struggling. I am mostly very happy, and you are a jewel in my heart that I see everyday in the digital photo album in the kitchen. But then the times come when my grief hits me right in the face. It’s a little devastating, but in the most beautiful way. When you died, every single day it felt like you got further and further away from me. Like you were zooming out into space forever, never to return home. It’s a little scary when you feel good sometimes. You think “How am I ok? Why do I feel alright now??” But finally, it returns. When the grief comes back now, it’s like you’ve come to see me, from millions of miles away. “There you are,” I think. It feels so good. I’m reminded of exactly how much I miss you and how all of the love I have for you is still in me. God, the pain is like a relief now. I hope it never ever goes away.

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A Low Bit

Things aren’t awesome. Fuck, I hate starting things off that way.

Maybe I should start off differently. I should start off with the fact that for a long time, things were indeed awesome. They were stupendous, even. I was able to hold my grief in a healthy way. I was able to be sad when I wanted to, and really, truly, live each day in a positive way. My PTSD seemed to completely disappear. I didn’t have a bunch of anxiety. I didn’t worry endlessly about allllllllll of the horrible things that could happen to me or my family. At 5 years post-losing our son, I honestly was doing so well that I often felt guilty at how great I was doing. I felt so good that I thought something must be wrong with me.

Anyway, all that bad shit came back recently.

It didn’t really crop up all that slowly, either. Over the course of a couple of months, thoughts just started creeping in that I hadn’t had to deal with in a long time, and it was the exact same anxiety that I dealt with years ago. A few fun examples:

-I’m taking a trip alone with the kids for a week: I will get distracted while driving and get into a horrible accident that is all my fault.

-I will be somewhere with my children and fall down dead, saddling my children with a terribly sad life story that will haunt them forever.

-Daughter playing in ocean while I watch my son on the beach: I don’t immediately see her, oh my God she’s drowned and it’s all my fault.

Typing this out shows a very clear theme that rolls back to the second we lost our son. When he died, I had the Con, which means I was looking after the kids. I was doing lunch. I had made the decision that taking Jay out of his chair wasn’t a good idea because I was afraid of him going up the stairs and falling when I was busy trying to get my daughter settled in with her own meal. So, I left him in the chair, and the chair fell back, and he died. My fault.

In nearly every instance of anxiety I have, it is again my fault. Even if I am afraid that I will drop dead randomly in the middle of the sidewalk, it is still my fault. It is still an event where I am responsible and my children are left to pick up the pieces. This is all guilt from watching my then four year old daughter having to work through losing her brother from an event that occurred because of an in-the-moment decision I made on a random fucking Saturday back in 2013. I didn’t see the actual fall, but if I had to guess? He got bored. He got bored and he started kicking the table and he fell back. Had I taken him out a minute beforehand, he’d be here. I didn’t. He’s dead. Anyone can tell you that it’s not your fault, but when a one year old ends up dead, that’s not a consolation that helps you sleep at night.

I was so clear headed for so long, and now things feel like a God damn mess. I haven’t written for a long, long time. Honestly, I felt so good that I didn’t feel I needed to do so. Writing wasn’t missing from my life. And let me be clear, I don’t think that me not writing was the reason for me feeling a mess. I wish life were that simple. But writing is the thing that gets me back to center. There is a quote from Emmanuel Berl that says, “I don’t write to say what I think but to know what I think.” That quote has always resonated with me to the nth degree. Sometimes I don’t even know how I feel until I write. Even if I don’t write about grief, the simple act of writing about anything helps me put my mind in order. It’s the therapy that has always worked for me. What is your therapy? What is the thing you need to go back to to put yourself back in order?


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Crazy 8’s

The other morning I had some time to go shopping while the kids were in school. Even being able to say that is a gift. The fact that I have two children who have survived long enough to both be school aged is something for which I am extremely grateful. With that said, it felt so good to go shopping by myself, oh my God.

I leisurely strolled the shiny, clean mall floors, watching the employees in their early 20’s fumble with keys and push up the clattering store gates. I both coveted their youth and also thanked my lucky stars to not be that age anymore.

I picked up a couple of shirts and decided to go home.  As I headed out, I passed by Crazy 8’s. It’s a children’s clothing store and where I went to buy Jay a hat when he died. After they completed his autopsy, his skull was so fractured that they didn’t want us to see him for the viewing without a hat. So I found myself, less than two weeks after the accident, at that mall, in that store, searching for a hat for my son who died. I saw a dark blue ascot hat with two white stripes in the display window. When I went inside, there wasn’t a lot else to choose from. It didn’t matter. That hat would be cremated with him. When I went to the register to pay for it, it was bizarre knowing that the employees had no idea why I was buying this hat. No, I don’t need this giftwrapped. I paid for the hat, thinking about how I was in there two months earlier buying Jay socks for Christmas. It is details like this that stay with you forever.

“That store always fucks with me,” I thought, as I stared at it now. I normally try not to look at that store when I go, but this time I lingered, my neck craning to keep looking after I’d passed it.

I got into my car and made my way out of the parking lot. That heavy feeling in my heart that I used to have constantly, returned. It feels like something is squeezing your heart while also pulling it down. And as I felt my eyes fill up with tears, I smiled.

There you are. I’ve missed you.

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Oh Right, The Cloud.

My daughter was born in 2008. Breastfeeding was a bitch. Constant mastitis, a shallow latch that was murderously painful and a terrible paranoia about whether my child was getting enough food. I attended our hospital’s free breastfeeding clinic that met every Friday morning. I quickly became a “regular” and even had a few individual sessions with the nurse who ran the group. I was living on 3 hours of sleep a night and my nipples felt like they were being carved off by a spoon, but god damn it, I wasn’t going to give up. I had a tenacity for getting this problem solved that bordered on insanity.

The nurse who ran the group was one of those people who saved souls. She had never had children, but somehow was infinitely knowledgeable on breastfeeding. She was so patient, and friendly, and nurturing. She brought me back from the ledge numerous times, answering all of my calls immediately and making me feel better, sometimes with just an encouraging smile. I have met many people over the years who have also worked with her and every individual has sung her praises. I knew she eventually had kids of her own, but I always wondered what happened to her and if she was still working with new moms.

My son and I headed to the grocery store today after I dropped my now 8 year old daughter off at school. He pointed out every construction vehicle he saw, either in real life or just in his imagination. I silently became flustered at his constant questions and his need for me to say “Yea?” to his “Mama?” every 5 seconds. At the store, we grabbed a cart and I talked quietly to him about all the things we needed to get. He pointed out the strawberries and we picked some up. I smiled at him, thinking of how lovely it is for him to be old enough to suggest good things to eat.

We picked up milk and eggs, and my eyes fell on this woman who looked familiar. I couldn’t place her–I knew her face, though. I thought, “She was good. She was helpful. She helped me with something big….who is that?” And then it dawned on me. It was the nurse! I approached her and we chatted, one of her children in the shopping cart having a snack. I pointed to my son and said, “This is my third!” She asked how old my other kids were and I told her my daughter was 8 and ‘we lost our second one.’ There’s just no good fucking way to interpose that information.

“I’m so sorry,” She said.

“Yea, it was awful.” (WTF TO SAY HERE AT THIS POINT??)

“It’s so sad,” She went on. Did she know what happened?? I didn’t know. I just moved on, because that’s what I do when this comes up. I drop the bomb and then just keep moving, because there’s nothing else I can do. We’re in a grocery store.

I finished shopping and drove home. I thought about me in the breastfeeding clinic with this teeny baby. So very, very worried about her, about us, about keeping her safe and happy. There is something profoundly saddening to remember a time when those were the extent of our problems. As if I can see myself in the past and think “Kristen, you have no idea what’s coming.” You don’t just grieve for the person you lost. You grieve for your family’s innocence. You grieve your lives without the fucking cloud over it all the time.

I have gotten so used to the cloud that I often don’t notice it anymore. It’s there, but it’s become part of our routine. It’s like bird shit on your windshield. Eventually you learn to look past it, even though it’s still there.  Once in awhile something happens and you remember what life was like before everything changed forever. I know there are no guarantees in life. There isn’t a path that was “supposed” to be. I just miss the time when I thought there was.

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The Chair

After Jay died, an internal, immediate family investigation was launched about how the hell a child could die from falling back in a chair. The doctors had all submitted their reports saying that this was a freak accident. The detectives at the DA’s office were doing whatever they were doing (probably nothing, actually, but we didn’t know that. We, or I, imagined an intense round table discussion about whether to charge us with murder). But the adults involved, consisting of my husband, myself and my mother, had lengthy discussions on how this could happen. Nothing is worse than losing a child to an accident like this, in no small part because of the constant stories from other parents who have had this exact thing happen:

“Oh, dear God, what happened?!?!?!”

“He fell back in a chair.”

“Oh, Jesus. Our little Johnny, and our daughter Sabrina, and little old Chucky down the street,and my cousin Carol, and don’t forget our little nephew Jackson, and little Eleanor, oh lord was she cute, and tiny little old Malcolm…anyway, they all fell back in chairs right onto a stone floor and thank God they only suffered a bump on the head, each and every one of them.”

No one else’s kid seemed to die quite like this. Or at all.

At first we blamed the company that made the booster seat. We wondered if we should take legal action. But then we had thrown out the directions to the chair and didn’t know exactly whether there was a weight requirement for the chair, or something else that maybe we overlooked while fixing it to the dining chair. And the booster seat was thrown out so quickly that I’m not even sure anyone even knew the company that made it.

One day at my mother’s, I put a plastic shopping bag on the back of one of the dining chairs. After a few moments, the weight from the shopping bag tipped the chair back and it slapped against the laminate floor. The same slapping sound we heard when our son fell back. The lightweight wood, the low, airy wicker seat, the long narrow back–it fell backwards so easily. It was top heavy. As soon as it fell back then, I understood how it happened. My mother vowed to get rid of the chairs, but she couldn’t. She was so ridiculously ill. In and out of chemo treatments, there was no way she would have been able to go out and choose replacement chairs for the dining table.

She died two years ago, and up until now, we hadn’t even replaced those chairs. We own the house and are there often, eating meals sitting on the same chairs–one of which was responsible for our son’s death. Yesterday, my husband went on Craigslist and immediately found solid wood chairs, with the rear two legs at a backward slant. Sturdy. Stable. $100 for 4. We picked them up today.

We brought the chairs inside and put them around the table. My husband sat down on one.

“What do you think?” he said.

“I don’t know. Hold on. I gotta get rid of these bitches first.”

I picked up two of the old lightweight chairs and walked out the door. I wondered if I was carrying The Chair, the one that my son was sitting in. I didn’t know. My mother had switched the chairs around after he died because she didn’t want anyone to feel weird sitting in a any one chair. I know it sounds strange, but I can tell you it made perfect sense at the time. She knew which one it was, too, and she wouldn’t tell me for ages. But we had moved the chairs around even since then just by happenstance, so now no one knew anymore which one was It.

My husband followed soon after with the last two chairs. We opened up the big dumpster at the end of the condominium complex. We threw 3 of them in. Before the last one went in, my husband asked, “Do you want to smash one?”

“No, just toss it in,” I said. And then I picked one up and tried to smash it anyway. It bounced on the asphalt. Barely scratched. I tried it again. Same thing. Falls backward with any weight put on the back, but tough as shit. I put it in the dumpster, and hoped no one would see these four seemingly perfect chairs and take them into their own home.

We closed the dumpster lid and walked back to the condo. I sat down on the “new” wood chairs. They fit perfectly with our dining table. I was glad they were there. I know my mom would be happy those fucking chairs were gone. Me too, mama.


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My daughter was an awful sleeper. No, that’s not right to say. Rather, I was terrible at knowing when to put her down, was terrified of letting her cry and did everything wrong that a first time mother often does. I read books, but had no instinct. Nothing felt right or natural, and I felt like I would never, could never, be a good mother.

But all of those different sleep books I read shared a few pieces of the same advice. One of which was give your child a lovey. So I did. Each day before my daughter’s nap I chose a different stuffed animal that she had in her room. It didn’t seem that any of them “took”. She didn’t appear to care for any of them. It could have been that I never had the foresight to give the loveys more time in the crib with her. I switched them out, sure that we hadn’t found the right one.

One day I tossed in a fluffy, anthropomorphic looking lamb. Lammie Pie was discreetly embroidered on his chest. “Maybe this one,” I thought. I gave it to her, and she gave it a hug. I noticed his feet were filled with some kind of bead material. I imagined her chewing it in her crib, the beads getting eaten, etc. “I’ll take him out when this nap is over,” I thought. But when she awoke and I came to retrieve Lammie Pie out of the crib, she clutched him tightly and didn’t want to let me have him.

And that is the start of the greatest love story ever told.

He never left the crib. He was always in there, for every nap. She began asking for him when she played. She started carrying him around the house all the time. Then he began to come to the park. He gained full fledged, four star general level Lovey Status. He started coming to every family vacation, to the store, to the bathroom for potty training, Santa began buying him outfits each Christmas, he went down slides and swings and appeared in every family photo.

Sometimes he’d be forgotten for a trip to the store, but not for big trips. Except one. He was somehow forgotten on a routine trip to my mother’s. Jay died on that trip. Not that there was any correlation, but God damn it, if there was a time ever that we needed Lamb, that was fucking it. She hated Lamb after Jay died. Then she called him Jay for awhile. Then she renamed him Jayden for months and months, as if that were a disguise no one would pick up on. My husband and I also had to call him Jayden and it was torture. We watched as she pulled him, stamped on him, stuffed him in a drawer and repeatedly asked if she could throw him away. My husband and I were as cool as we possibly could be, offering to put him away if she wanted, but said we would not throw him away. She knew we were all attached to Lamb. It was her way of expressing all of her aggression towards the situation and the two people who were not supposed to let something like this happen: Us.

When she finally reconnected with Lamb, a collective sigh was felt through the entire family. It wasn’t just me. I could see it on my husband’s face. “Thank God he’s back.”

Last week, I took my daughter to a beautiful summer day camp near the ocean. Lamb was along for the ride, of course. We got out of the car and she asked me to hold him while she climbed a tree before the camp started. I carefully placed him on my left shoulder, adjusting him several times until I could walk freely with him nestled into my neck. I’m not going to lie. I like him there. I like that he is there with us, and with her. It is no longer just her lovey. It is the family’s lovey. We are all weirdly attached to him. If our family had a flag or a crest, he would be on it.  
She climbs the tree and I watch her, my head tilted slightly towards Lamb. I’m thinking about how special he is. She says to me, “Mama…..Lamb.” I walk over and dutifully hand him over, even though I am secretly digging hanging out with him. I won’t post the pic set I took with him in our backyard a few weeks ago, just he and I. She wants to put him in the tree with her and show him how to climb it. I watch her with him. She’s excited to show him everything. I think about how she is going to be eight this year, and that there will be one day when she will be too embarrassed to do this with him. One day he will be relegated to her bed once more. But for now, we are watching his day in the sun and it is glorious to behold.

She brings him to her nose and breathes deeply. “He smells like home.” I couldn’t believe that in this instant we were both thinking about how wonderful he is. It makes me happy that the smell of home is special to her.

Her camp is a farm that sits on a cliff over the Pacific Ocean. This is what heaven looks like, but it was cold as shit and I didn’t bring a coat. “Baby, I’m gonna take off.” I go to get Lamb and her face changes.

“Mama, can I keep him at camp?”

“Baby, you lost that stuffed bunny here 2 days ago.” 

“I’ll keep him in my backpack the whole day.”

She wants him with her. She knows the gravity of the situation, and that I am afraid to lose him. He’s like the family touchstone. I can see how much she wants him, though, and I won’t let my anxiety over this make the decision.

“Ok, baby. Keep him in the top pocket. Close the zipper.” I watch as she secures him. And I walk away and get in the car and think about what I would do if we lost him, how we would deal and how long she would hurt. When I go pick her up, it’s one of the first questions I ask before we leave the camp.

“Do you have Lamb?”






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At the beginning of the school year, one of my daughter’s classmates lost her mother to cancer. My interactions with the woman were few, but she exuded generosity and was a nurturing soul, committed fully to her family. I barely knew her, but I felt the loss deeply, not only for the family who lost her, but for myself, too. I missed her dearly even though I hadn’t seen her in months and months before she passed.

There was a funeral. I quickly made the decision that we would not go. I felt like my daughter had been through enough, and since she was not close to her classmate, that going would expose her to unnecessary grief when she had already experienced so much loss already. I felt like going would be like ripping a bandaid of an injury that she didn’t even endure. 

After the funeral happened, my daughter heard about it from her friends who had gone. She asked me why we didn’t go. I told her that we really didn’t know the family, but that reason didn’t sound right to me anymore. It seemed like everyone went but us. But the time for considering it was over. We missed it.

She has asked me a couple of times since then, and she asked me last night. I gave her the same reason I gave before. We were in the bathroom doing teeth and mouthwash before bed. I stroked her head and finally told her the real reason we didn’t go. “I felt like maybe it would be too sad for you.” It felt good to just say it. I knew she was able to hear it. She swished her mouthwash and used hand signals to speak to me, as she does every night, as if whatever she needs to tell me can’t possibly wait the 60 seconds it takes to swish. She shook her head and waved her hands. 

“Are you saying that we should have gone?” I asked.

Nods head yes.

“Are you saying it wouldn’t have been too sad for you?”

Nods head yes.

She then walks into the adjoining playroom and sits down at her desk. She’s writing something, but doesn’t want me to look at it until she’s done. When she’s finished, she waves me over, still swishing the mouthwash. 

Ugh. Initially, reading that was so sad that my eyes welled up with tears. Fuck. But then I realized I was missing the point, just as I had missed the point at the beginning of the year by skipping the funeral. 

She went to spit her mouthwash out and came out of the bathroom. “Are you saying that you could have handled it?” I asked.

“Yea, I can handle it. I mean, maybe if someone lost every single person they love, that would be too sad for me. But I don’t think that would happen.”

“Ok, baby. Next time there’s a funeral, we’re going.”

It’s hard to see your child learn these big life lessons when you’re still figuring them out yourself. But they’re more resilient than we give them credit for, and protecting them too much just does them a disservice and, frankly, kinda makes you look like a pussy in the end. I should have told her about the funeral and asked for her thoughts. I was afraid, though. I was afraid that she would want to go and then find it too sad. I was afraid that it would be too sad for all of us. That an unfair assumption on my part. Everyone in this family was slapped in the face with trauma they couldn’t control. I should have allowed her to be in control over this instead of making the decision for her. 

Children reprocess their grief through each developmental stage. You’re not ever really “done” raising a grieving child. What I always fail to remember is that I have so much still to learn about how to do this with her. But I will tell you this: She’s a fucking good teacher. 

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Phone Calls

If you ask any parent, I’m sure they will stand right up and proclaim that they love playing with their kids. And most of us do. But there are probably at least 5 games/make believe scenarios that you could rattle off that you absolutely abhor. I have to play a game every day called “Bad Sister”, where my daughter plays the role of a younger, totally perfect sister and I play a total asshole older sister.It does great things for her development. It allows her to see what happens when people (like my character) make bad choices while she gets to role play always doing the right thing. It makes her feel empowered and heroic while I play the role of a complete dick. I understand why we do it and she really gets something out of it, but I really do hate this game.

There are other games,though, that I absolutely love. The other day we played a restaurant game. She took all of the fake food we have in the playroom, which is enough to fill an actual restaurant, and she organized everything in sections. She put down pillows for the tables and set down stuffed animal customers at each table. She was the cook and I had to take orders. I was given a stack of Post-It notes and I had to go around taking everyone’s order, welcoming them, rattling off specials, asking about drinks, etc. I did a better job than when I was an actual waitress in my 20’s for sure. I wrote down their orders and gave the Post-It note to “the cook”. She dutifully put the order together and served each customer.

“Who ordered the veggie sandwich, mama?”

“Let’s see…I think it was blue teddy.”


It was so much fun that I totally lost track of the time. I was 100% in the pretend world, which is hard to fully get into once you’re an adult. The pretend world is so addictive and so fun as a child, but it can feel sometimes like you just don’t get it anymore as an adult. It was kind of a relief to know I could get there again.

We played another game the other day that I really love and recommend to any parent who is raising a grieving child. My daughter made this up, and I’m glad she did, because I’m not sure how I would have introduced this play scenario without it being forced and weird.

“Ring!!! Mama, the phone’s ringing! Hello?”

“Who is it, baby?”

“It’s Jay!”

Wow. The first time I heard this I didn’t know what to do. I just followed her lead. Now we talk to Jay and Gramma quite often on the pretend phone and I love it.

“How’s Gramma doing, baby?”

“She’s good! She’s taking care of Jay. Here, she wants to talk to you.”

There is something I really, really like about having pretend phone conversations. I don’t know what it is, but I immediately fall right into an actual conversation with a plastic phone with 3 buttons on it.

“Hi, Gramma! How’s it going? Uh-huh……..uh-huh….oh, you’re kidding, that’s hilarious! And is he talking a lot? Oh, I bet he is! What? He’s riding a bike now??? That’s crazy. Well, we sure do miss you over here……uh-huh….well, you wouldn’t believe what Floyd’s up to. He’s so funny, you would just flip out at all the words he’s saying…..oh she’s great, she’s doing so well in school, she actually has a play coming up….”

And I go on and on before I hand the phone off to my daughter and she has her own pretend conversation with our dead relatives. Occasionally Floyd is also given the phone. He does say hello but he really doesn’t get that we’re acting out how much we miss them and wish we could actually talk to them.

This scenario really hits home how therapeutic play can be. It’s much more effective than sitting in a therapist’s office discussing what you might want to say to someone. You’re on the phone, next to whoever you’re playing with, but not directly interacting with them, passively detailing all of the things you want so much to say to your loved one, without making it this big discussion about sadness and feelings. I would posit that fake phone conversations is a solid play therapy for both adults and kids. It allows us to convey to each other how much we miss our special people without it feeling overwhelming for her.

One day I will no longer be asked to be the asshole in the Bad Sister game. And my daughter will eventually get to the age where she doesn’t have pretend conversations on the phone anymore (or not…I actually still do this when I’m in a really awkward situation). Sometimes it can feel difficult to talk to our children about something as complicated as grief. But really, it isn’t. Kids can be excellent at framing a complicated situation in simpler terms, and they work through so much while at play. When she gets older, we will have deeper conversations about what it’s like to never, ever speak to someone again. But for right now, it sure feels good to talk to our loved ones on the phone.

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Right Before

I hate this time of year.

I mean, his birthday is hard. Christmas is hard. The day of his death is hard. All that stuff is hard to deal with. But what’s really shitty are the weeks leading up to the death anniversary. All I can think about is how those days traveled by and we had no idea what was going to happen.

In late January, his hair was getting long. I cut it. I wanted to keep it, so I used my label maker and typed out his name and the date. I wrapped the sticky side around his little lock of hair and stuck it in our windowed cabinet where we display special things. “Jay 1.29.13”. Having no clue that the next time I’d be cutting his hair was because he was brain dead, lying motionless in front of me.

A few days later, I bought a plaster cast for his footprint. Those things aren’t easy to use. I tried relentlessly to get it right, placing his little wiggly foot on it over and over until I thought I had gotten the best we could get. The plaster ended up being flawed. By the time it dried, I had decided that I would buy another one and do it again. “Jay  2/4/13” carved into it. 15 days later his hand would be placed into another one by the hospital staff for us to take home. We didn’t get to leave with our actual son. We left with a handprint. Which, as an aside, was worse than the one I did 2 weeks before.

Facebook’s “On This Day” is particularly difficult. Pictures, status updates, all from this chick with two kids that has no idea what’s around the corner. Every year it’s like having to re-watch a horrible tragedy unfold slowly. “Oh, this is the part where the grandmother visits. Here’s where they take a family photo 3 days before he dies. Here’s the last picture ever taken of him…and they have no idea!!” It’s a vicious fucking rerun that I can’t avoid. Even if I stayed off of Facebook, it’s still in my head. Everything we did before everything changed.

My husband and I discussed how weird it feels this year. It’s been 3 years now. 3 years! It’s hard to fathom he’s been gone that long. There is a coating of dust on his urn as we speak. 3 years in an urn. Unthinkable.

And that’s what it is right now: Unthinkable. For so long I was so steeped in it; it was the only way to feel close to him. Now I feel like I’ve run away for too long. Not on purpose, mind you, but I’ve let myself get out of touch with the grief. It isn’t healthy to do that, at least for me. I find that when I stay away too long, it’s torture when it returns. It’s always better to keep your hand in some grief. Let yourself feel it all the time, just a bit, so you can control it. Turn your back on it, and it will eat you alive when you face it again.  This is exactly what I’ve done, and it’s going to be a bitch to deal with now.

How do you deal with your grief when this anniversary approaches? How do you deal with your grief when it hasn’t been visited for awhile?


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