Once we lost Jay, my first priority was to do everything I could do make sure my daughter was OK. I called a psychologist I knew and had a phone consult. She had me write down a list of things to do: Get some good books about grief. Read them first to make sure they aren’t horrible (there are some real trainwrecks out there), buy a mini ambulance and some dollhouse furniture so that she can reenact the accident through play. Get her some therapy.
I started with the books. I read through several of them that I truly thought were awful. There are a few that I really like, and they’re linked on my site here. I haven’t read every children’s grief book, and if you find one you really love, please let me know.
One book we enjoyed early on was The Invisible String. While it does mention Heaven one time, it’s not a religious book. It explains how we are all connected by an invisible string no matter how far apart we are (even in heaven). The invisible string is, of course, love.
While my daughter really likes this book, it’s hard to read. Books about death are not ones your child can read every night, so don’t expect them to be able to delve down into their saddest, most vulnerable beings minutes before you turn off the lights and jet downstairs for a king size glass of wine. She likes to do it when she’s thinking about her grief but is strong enough to handle it. Read it once and then put it away. If they’re 4 years old or older, they’ll see it on the bookshelf. When it’s time to pick a book, they’ll choose it when they’re ready. If they don’t choose it, don’t push it.
One issue with the Invisible String is, well, it’s invisible. That might go over well with some kids, but my daughter isn’t jazzed about believing things she can’t see. She waffled between loving the book and thinking it was a pack of lies. At one point I thought she wasn’t going to pick it anymore. And then months later, she’s pulling it off the shelf for me to read to her.
Yesterday we came home from dinner and did our nighttime routine. I told her a story instead of reading a book. Afterwards we said our goodnights. Lately we’ve been having issues with her coming down repeatedly asking for water, because she’s scared, or she misses me. Tonight she missed me.
She took dozens of feet of yarn and gave it to me to hold onto the entire night. It was the Visible String. It wasn’t enough to know that I loved her and that I was nearby. I tied the string to my belt loop while I finished some yard work and did the dishes. It felt a little like being on house arrest. It kept breaking, getting caught on things, and she kept coming downstairs to tell me she missed me. It was an hour past her bedtime and I was starting to stress out. She has a cough and now she’s missed an hour of sleep because of this string project.
At 8:30 she came down a second time to tell me she missed me. I reassured her that I was just right here and I was dutifully wearing my string. She also wanted me to have the baby monitor right next to me, which didn’t work because it needed charging. I walked her back to her room when I noticed that she was busy trying to untangle the giant string for the 12th time.
“Go get in bed and I’ll unravel it as you go!” I said impatiently. She slowly made her way to bed.
“But mama, will you still hang onto your part?”
“Yes, of course! But I need you to go to bed. Please, you’re getting a cold. Just go to bed.” I knew she could hear it in my voice that I was losing my patience. We were right by my son’s room, so everything I said was in a whisper-yell.
She turned off her light and got in bed. I had to untangle the blasted string yet again and walked back to the kitchen. The string caught on something and it broke. I turned around and almost went to get it, then stopped. “Screw it!” I whispered to myself.
I sat at the computer and did some writing. I kept looking back at our Visible String, broken on the living room floor. I felt like a terrible mother for getting mad at the continual trips downstairs because she missed me and her need to make sure the string was working.
After several minutes, I walked back to the living room and, after untangling it from my son’s toy truck and the cat scratching post, re-tied my string. Then I picked up another piece that had broken off when I tried to make it stretch to the toilet and added that back on so that I would have more room to move around the whole house.
Visible strings are a pain in the ass. So are invisible ones sometimes. Every parent makes mistakes, but it feels so terrible to make one as a grieving parent with a grieving child. I wanted to run upstairs and tell her that I still had it on, and that I loved her. I gathered as much of my string as I could and tiptoed to her room, knowing full well what kind of a string-tastrophy this was going to be on the return trip. I poked my head into her room.
“Are you OK?” I whispered. No answer. She was asleep. My heart sank. I felt like I missed this opportunity to hold these anxious feelings for her.
I walked back to the kitchen, untangling my string on various object as I went. The string went almost to my own bed, so I left the string attached to my jeans and put them on the next morning before I woke her up. I wanted to show her that we were attached, and that I took it seriously. She seemed surprised I still had it on. We had it connected over breakfast and after I took something out to the recycling (yep, it was long enough to stretch out there, too) I told her I should probably cut it now. She saw that it got stuck outside and I couldn’t go with her to brush her teeth until I had untangled it from a mint bush outside and also our front door frame.
“Oh, I already cut my part off,” she said. I was relieved.
“Really? Oh!” I took some scissors and cut the multiple knots off my belt loop where I had tied and re-tied them over the last 12 hours.
“But you should keep the string,” she said.
“Oh, I will, baby. I’ll definitely keep it.”
Now the string is carefully wrapped up on the counter. I want to put it somewhere where I see it regularly. It’s a reminder of the fact the tangible is just as important as the intangible. It’s a reminder of how much she needs me and needs to know I’m there. And when a string breaks, always, always go back to re-tie it.