This week’s post is about grief, but it’s also about parenting and learning from our children. Like last week, if you would rather not read about grief, I understand — I would rather not write about it. But maybe you too are grieving and this will bring you some comfort. I hope that in the midst of whatever feelings you experience today you are able to live loved.
I know grief is a process, with stages and phases. Typically grief involves denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But I vacillate between a desire to move through these phases as quickly as possible (as if they are linear), and a fear of what it means to get to the last phase, acceptance.
Because if acceptance means forgetting my dad, even a little, I don’t want to get there.
Have you ever experienced this?
Maybe, in a way, the pain helps keep his memory alive for me. I’m hanging onto the pain because I don’t want to lose the memory of him.
THE OTHER NIGHT, THOUGH, MY TWELVE-YEAR OLD SON’S GRIEF TAUGHT ME SOMETHING.
When I saw his grief bubble over I realized he will never forget his Pop-pop, and neither will I.
I’m almost ashamed to admit it, but my child’s grief brought me some healing.
When I cracked the door to his darkened room to say goodnight, I heard tears in his response. I walked over and in the glow of his alarm clock I saw the wet tracks on his face.
He’s twelve years old now and he’s started to keep his feelings close. He’s always been a deep thinker, a child with feelings so strong you can tell they simmer up from his core.
Sometimes, in the daylight, when I’m fresh and feeling stronger, I try to talk to him about his emotions, but he’s fresher and stronger then too. He’s able to manage his feelings better and maintain his subtle separation. I’m sure if you have, or have had, pre-teens, you know this phase well.
So, that night when I saw his feelings streaming down his face, I stopped everything and went to him.
“What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked gently, almost in a whisper.
“Nothing, I guess.”
“Okay. Can I just stay here with you for a few minutes?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
I lay down next to him, settling into the darkness. I felt the breeze of the ceiling fan on my face and my thoughts soon matched the fan’s rhythmic swirling. As my breathing slowed and relaxation set in, his heart opened.
“Mom, I miss Pop-pop.”
I was glad his back was to me. I didn’t want him to see how my tears matched his. I told him the truth, “I know you do, bud. I miss him too. Every day.”
“I was just thinking,” he went on “about all the times Pop-pop asked me to play a game with him. I should have always said yes… I wish I had said yes every time.”
A twelve-year old carrying the burden of regret was more than I could bear.
There was no hiding my tears then, but I again told him the truth:
“Pop-pop loved you very much.”
Seeing my sweet boy’s tears for his Pop-pop reminds me that my father will never be forgotten. His memory will live on not just in pictures, not just in my mind, but in my son’s own heart.
My son will always remember that Pop-pop called him “pal” and loved to play games with him. He will never forget how skillfully Pop-pop could get him out of trouble. How, every time we ate out, they’d sneak off at the end of the meal to explore together. He will always remember that Pop allowed him a little more independence than we, his parents, were comfortable with.
He’ll never forget the man who loved us all so very well.
Knowing that my father will live on in this incredibly beautiful way, steadies me and allows me to release some of the pain.
IT FEELS STRANGE TO ADMIT IT, BUT MY SON’S GRIEF REALLY DID HEAL A PIECE OF MY OWN HEART.
I’m a little closer to acceptance because now I know it doesn’t mean forgetting.
How about you? Have you delayed “acceptance”? Has someone else’s pain brought you through a difficult time? My e-mail address is email@example.com, and I’d love to hear your story if you’re willing to share it.