It’s been almost 2 years since my son died. We have a 9 month old baby. My daughter has started Kindergarten. I feel like this is the image people see that are on the outskirts of my life. I hate to tell them the truth. It isn’t because I don’t think they can handle it. It’s because I don’t think they want to handle it. I’ve learned that the last thing people want to hear after hearing bad news is more bad news. Things are balls right now.
I think we would have been in a pretty decent place if my mom hadn’t died. I used to tell my mom, half-jokingly, “You cannot die!” I told her my daughter wouldn’t be able to handle the one-two punch of losing two people within 18 months of each other. And this isn’t like losing your great-great uncle whoever and an auntie you never met. These are hard hitters. A brother and a beloved grandmother. My mother had a way with her that was so easy. My girl can be a tough nut to crack, especially when she knows all you want is a cuddle. She’s like finicky cat, only coming to you when you’ve finally given up. But not with my mother. My mother would stroll in and have my girl in her lap within 5 minutes. The love was undeniable.
My mom tried not to die. She survived 4 years with invasive ductal carcinoma, stage 3C. If you aren’t familiar with the lingo, let me explain: it’s some serious shit.
Right after my mom died, things were manageable. I think it was shock. My daughter was extremely sad and grieved outwardly, but there weren’t problems. When the shock wore off, when the realization came that my mother would never be seen again, the anger began. And this isn’t a 6 year old storming off to her room and slamming the door. It was screaming, yelling, throwing things (like scissors), hitting, slapping, kicking, destroying things, etc. My husband and I tried various tactics. None of them worked. She is already in therapy. I gave the therapist an abysmal weekly update, which seemed to worsen with every passing week.
It was like I was losing my daughter. She was in hell and couldn’t get out.
It reminded me of our trip to Hawaii when I was pregnant with Floyd. My daughter was playing in the water and got taken down by a big wave. She disappeared for a moment, and then popped up, hair in front of her face and a little out of sorts, but she was OK. Now she was getting pummeled by the water over and over again. I was afraid eventually she would stop wanting to come back up.
Finally, and this was 3 days ago, something shifted. I changed my tactics for the hundredth time and something worked. She was able to come back from the brink of insanity. The next day, she did it again. The anger still comes in waves, and we’ve learned to never turn your back on the sea. For 72 hours now we have dealt with the anger as soon as we see the swell appear. It is not easy. She has to follow my lead, so if I slip up, we’re doomed.
I first notice her face. It tightens. Then her entire body follows, with her body becoming rigid. Her arms become like two metal rods pointing towards the floor, with a closed, iron fist connected at the end. That’s the beginning. That’s where we need to intervene. The recipe is:
-One statement of reflective, attentive listening.
-Another statement naming the anger
-A closing statement about expectations
There were a lot of shitstorms before I got this recipe down. Here was our morning today:
Tired and angry, glaring at me from the stop of her stairs:
“Baby, I understand you don’t feel like going to school. I can see you getting angry. What do we need to do? Do you need to stay in your room a bit longer?”
“OK then, I suggest taking a moment to calm down. Breakfast is in 5 minutes. I don’t want you to come down until you’re ready. We’re planning on watching a show together later this afternoon. You don’t want to lose that.”
She disappears back into her room. She comes down. Still angry. Body still really tight.
“I see you’re still angry. Do you need to go back to your room?”
“No! I’m hungry!”
“OK, are we having overnight oats?” Her fave breakfast. Google it.
“OK, then chill out.”
She tries to be sarcastic by making her torso go limp.
That cracks her up. WHEW. Telling an angry child to “chill out” is not going to be suggested in any parenting books. However, in retrospect, she physically relaxed her body, and when she did it was paired with a statement that made her laugh. That combo got her let go a bit.
“OK, let’s have a seat.”
This stuff only works if I deliver every line with an “I love you but I’m not going to take any crap” attitude. If I get too warm and fuzzy, the anger just takes over and I literally get hit in the mouth. No joke.
I tried a light-hearted hug after she seemed calm. “By the way, good morning.” I went in for a hug and she shrank away.
“No,” she said.
“Ok, no hugs.” It’s OK to not feel huggy yet. I can respect that.
It’s time to brush hair and teeth. More whining, but I gently guide her into the bathroom and it works. She’s hanging in there. This time she’s able to manage the anger on her own. Her attitude isn’t fantastic, but she’s staying in the game, which is a huge improvement.
In the car, off to school. Kisses and hugs goodbye. We are barely making it. Baby steps. I know the recipe is only working because she’s getting stronger inside. She’s trying. A week ago, it probably wouldn’t have worked. We’ll keep plugging along. I’ll keep watching for those swells. We’re going to be in the water for a long time.