People keep asking me how the girls are doing. I don’t know how to answer that question. I am barely managing self-care at this point. The thought of trying to help them through their grief is overwhelming. And I keep telling myself “hey, they’re kids. They’ll be ok.” Tonight, I saw examples of how both of my children are processing grief, and it opened my eyes to the fact that they are grieving and processing, and I do need to focus on them and help them through this. It also showed that they can teach us about grieving.
I stayed in bed for much of today. I just didn’t have the energy to get up. Mostly, I feel numb today. Not angry, not sad, not raving – there is just a void within me, a empty space mapped by the edges around it. A James-shaped hole in my heart and in my soul. I keep having moments where I think that I need to get up and do something for James – change his milk bag or give his medications or nebulize him, and then I remember. Or Jim and I will be sitting together in the living room, and I’ll panic when wondering who’s with the baby?
I was lying in my bed this evening when Evaline came and sat beside me. She said “I know you’re sad about James, but I am glad that you’re not crying.” She then proceeded to tell me how she went outside and visited him today (the kids played around his gravesite). She said that she was happy playing near him. She also told me that she picked up one of the rainbow roses from his grave and accidentally broke it. She seemed distraught, and I told her that I had more on my dresser that we could take out to him tomorrow. I asked her if she said anything to James, and she told me that she said it to him in her head.
When she went to bed, I laid down with her and stroked her back. She asked me many questions, but one seemed to bother her. I have repeatedly told her and others that James was “tired” and it was time to let him go. She was trying to go to sleep, and she asked me over and over about James being “tired.” I sensed that she was afraid to be tired because it might mean that she would die. So I tried to explain to her that this is a euphemism for his body being worn out. I’m not sure she understood, but she did fall asleep soon after.
Hazel was also difficult tonight. She refused to go to sleep. I laid with her, we read extra books, we snuggled, and finally, we gave up and let her play in the living room at 1030pm at night. She played quite happily – pretending that daddy and I were her customers at the grocery store. In the middle of this and seemingly out of nowhere, she said “James is under the dirt. He can’t come out because he’s under the dirt. Babies that die go into the dirt.” I was astounded. It was all she said, but she repeated it a couple more times over the next half hour, while she played.
The grief of children is no different than our own. They have moments of happiness and joy, all the while processing the monumental change that has occurred in their lives. They feel sadness at the loss of their baby brother too. Their grief is not the only emotion they feel, and they allow themselves to feel all of their emotions equally, without guilt.
Tonight, Alison, Jim, and I sat in the living room and talked. And I actually laughed. I laughed at some stupid meme that I saw on Facebook. I laughed at some silly joke that Alison made. And then I felt terrible. How could I laugh? How could I look at a Facebook meme when my son was barely 24 hours in the ground? How could I do anything but tear my hair, rend my skin, scream, and wail every second that I was conscious?
Children teach us about grief. They teach us about the true stages of grief. And the truth is that there aren’t stages. It’s not a linear progression. In one day, I’ve felt joy, sorrow, overwhelming panic, grief, peace, numbness, and anger. Grief is a circle, one emotion leading to another around and around. We aren’t in one stage of grieving at any time.
Children understand this, but somehow that understanding gets lost. They embody the essence of our humanity – they are the purest form of us – before we are lost to advertising and peer pressure and all the things that change us. Their grief is as integrated into their day and their emotions as is their joy. They haven’t learned the useless emotion of guilt yet. They don’t feel bad playing near James’s gravesite. They don’t feel bad enjoying a cookie even when James will never taste a cookie. And they don’t feel bad to break down weeping in the middle of puzzle building because they’re sad. It is beautiful to behold. It reminds me that grief changes every moment, and it changes me every moment.
So I look to my children to model grief for me and to guide me as I start down a path that no parent should ever travel. They will help me as much as I help them.