I am not doing well. I don’t know how else to put it. Last week I was talking about that feeling of utter horror that arrives when it arrives, and after that it decided to pay me an extended visit. It won’t leave. With other terrible situations, the passage of time seems to soften the pain. But day after day I wake up and see the ever present urn on the dresser, and seeing it every day doesn’t soften anything. It’s a big, flashing billboard that says “Yes, that really happened and this is real. It will be real forever.” It’s like slogging through an endless river of shit, only to find out the river goes all the way around the Earth and you’ll be walking in it forever. Your view from the middle of the shit river is the banks, where you used to walk and will never walk again.
Alright, now that that paragraph is written, I’m going to force myself back into what therapists call “Healthy Grief”. That phrase cracks me up. It sounds like it was invented by someone in Britain. It’s fine to be sad, but just keep it cool, OK?
I heard this phrase most recently when I was talking to my daughter’s therapist about how she’s doing. She’s really using her time in the room well. I’m proud of her ability and willingness to discuss as much as she does at her young age. I sincerely believe she is doing as well as humanly possible.
I explained to the therapist how we show grief in our home. I described how we talk about him a lot, we keep pictures around, his bedroom door open, his toys in the playroom. He’s just around in general, and while the fact that he died is right in our faces, he’s still our son, her brother, and a member of the family. I explained that I cry in front of my daughter, but it’s controlled. I let myself tear up and show emotion without running around the house sobbing and breaking dishes. “That’s great,” the therapist said, “the way you display healthy grief for her. The way you can be sad and show emotion, but that you then can pick up and make dinner, or play a game and still get on with your day.”
Don’t get me wrong, I get on board with this. I need to have myself together when I’m with my daughter. I don’t want her to think that crying all day isn’t acceptable, because it certainly is. But she needs me more than I need to cry all day. It’s just the truth, whether you (as someone who has lost a child) really believe it or not. Rule #1 as a parent who has lost a child should be to keep your living children close and be there for them. You lost one already. Don’t lose another one. I feel this way 100% even though I’m kind of drowning in the shit river right now.
This weekend my daughter came downstairs to wake me up. She always does this now, as my son is no longer there to wake up at 6am. I’m not proud of the fact that she gets up first, but that’s the deal right now. I got up, got dressed and asked her if she wanted to go on a nature walk. It was a ridiculously beautiful morning. I noted (as I always do with stuff like this) that it would have been truly glorious had it been a beautiful day and my son was still alive. We walked up our hill and she found half a dozen “treasures” to take home — random acorn-thingies, bird feathers, rocks, etc. Every time she found a treasure, she’d put it in a little green bag she brought for the occasion and immediately slip her hand back into mine, without me ever asking. Afterwards she asked if we could go out to breakfast. We went.
At every turn she is waking me up in the morning, asking to play a game, we’re going for walks and to restaurants. She forces me to live. She’s slogging in this river right next to me, but instead of crying all day, she’s asking if we can play Chutes and Ladders and when are we going to that place called Tahoe. She saves me in every sense of the word. So yea, I can cry all day if I wanted to. But I owe it to her not to drown in that river. She’s four, and she’s managing to keep her head up in that river, so shouldn’t I?? At the depths of my despair, when my lips are hovering dangerously close to the river, I need to keep my eye on the prize. And the prize is her.