My oldest allowed me insight into the grief of children tonight. She was quiet during dinner. Afterwards, she came up and gave me a hug without explanation. Of the 2 girls, she is not the most demonstrative with affection. After dinner, we sat at the table and made stuff. I was working on some cards, and Evaline became insistent that she wanted to make a paper heart. I offered to show her, but she wouldn’t let me.
She became utterly fixated on making a “perfect heart,” but she refused all help. She wouldn’t let me show her how to do it. This lead to hysterical crying. She was gasping for air and repeating over and over that she needed to make a perfect heart. It got to the point that she couldn’t speak.
I picked her up and we went to sit on the couch. She laid in my lap and cried for a long time, and she kept insisting on a perfect heart. Finally, I deemed her exhausted and moved her to my bed. We laid there for a while, but she fought me like a wildcat and insisted that she needed to go back and make her heart. She wouldn’t lie down with me. She started to say, “I can’t see it from here” over and over (referring ostensibly to her paper heart).
Finally, she said, “I’m sad. I’m sad about James. I wish James didn’t have to go away. I wish he didn’t have to be buried. I wish he could be here with us. I loved him so, so much.”
My heart split down the middle. I laid her down next to me, and she calmed down. I explained that James couldn’t be with us anymore. That what made him James had gone away. I explained that his physical body was still here, buried, but his spirit was gone. She asked me to explain what a spirit was. I told her that it was all of the things that made James himself – unique and special.
She started to cry and said that she didn’t want to him to be buried, she wanted him here with us, in the house. I tried to gently explain the decomposition of a body without scaring her. I explained that eventually, only his bones would be left. She then asked if we couldn’t keep his bones and have a sculpture.
I am always amazed by the way children’s minds work.
I told her that whenever she was sad, it was okay to be sad. It is ok to cry, that crying helps us feel better sometimes. I explained that mommy and daddy cry all the time for James. We talked about anger too – that it was ok to be angry about James being gone and that it wasn’t fair. She asked me to explain fair. I stumbled around on that one and then finally said that even though we loved and wanted James with us, he couldn’t stay, and it didn’t feel right.
She lamented then that she’d wished that James was like the “other little girl” in the ICU – the one in the room next to us. She had lived, while James had died. I said that I wished it too. She asked me again why we couldn’t open him up and take out that “extra piece.” I explained that the extra chromosome was in all of his cells, and we couldn’t take each one out. I explained that the extra chromosome made James who he was, and we couldn’t be sorry for who he was, because he was a very special little baby.
She calmed down visibly after our discussion, and she seemed back to herself.
Tonight, I laid in bed with her again, helping her go to sleep. I wanted to check in with her, so I laid my hand on her chest and asked her how her heart felt today. Her face immediately clouded. “Why are you asking me about my heart, Mommy??” She seemed genuinely scared. I instantly intuited that she thought I was worried about her heart health. I explained that I meant I was asking her about how she felt. She said that she felt happy and sad and then rolled over and fell asleep.
These little people – there is so much going on behind those wide open eyes. The din of the world and all its frivolity hasn’t deafened them yet. They are still listening closely to life’s mysteries – the mysteries of life, death, the human body. They are still open and willing to learn. They haven’t closed the door on certain emotions, and instead, they all exist within them at once.
The grief of children is beautiful.