What Do You Say?

I’m one of those people who loves social media and will admit as much.  I thrive on seeing what’s happening in other peoples’ lives, and the instant ability to send messages or offer some form of commentary are right up my alley.  Facebook is still my media of choice; I never obtained proficiency in Twitter (although I have gotten better) or Instagram or Snapchat or anything else.

One of the Facebook features I generally enjoy is “Memories.”  The first time you scroll to your timeline each day, you’re greeted with a photograph or status update that was posted to your timeline on this same date in the past.  It’s fun to be reminded of what you were doing and who you were doing it with.  Except when a year ago you were constantly updating your status to keep the world informed about your mom’s critical illness which was about to become her passing.

I know what this week is, as do my dad and brothers.  I’d know it without the daily reminder-fest that is Facebook memories.  We don’t avoid the topic, but we don’t look for reasons to bring it up.  I think we’re each a tad curious to see what kinds of responses will be elicited from within.

This topic has a loop road that detours off the main path.  There’s a nine year-old girl who has a bedroom in my house.  Every once in a while she’ll get teary at night.  Sometimes it’s a thinly veiled scam to sleep in mom’s bed.  Sometimes it’s the result of her brain thinking too much after she watched a movie scene that might’ve been more intense than she originally thought.  Then there was that one time – two nights ago – when it was because “I miss MeMa.”

That little girl was the apple of her MeMa’s eye.  MeMa and Pa were her daily caretakers from the day mom returned back to work after maternity leave.  When she started school, they were her bus home and her after-school care.  They introduced her to country cookin’ (the nine year-old has eaten a greater variety of foods already than her twenty year-old sibling has ever tasted).  My mom involved her in an endless succession of crafts, fuel to an imagination that still burns in her tank today.  Maybe they even spoiled her a bit; I kept telling mom to stop letting her surf YouTube because that was how her laptop was getting infected.  I guess giving joy to a child was worth the risk of malware.

We don’t keep secrets with the wee one about the tough stuff.  You can look her in the eye and tell her, “The doctor will probably give you a shot” and she won’t panic.  When someone is seriously ill, we give her enough age-appropriate information to process.  And last year, I told her that her MeMa was dying soon.   We gave her the choice of being at the hospital or not, and she chose to be there.  She’s cried a few tears here and there, but the only time she really lost it was in the room of that intensive care unit as the end was unfolding.  Nobody else was sobbing at the time, she wasn’t prompted to be dramatic.  That’s when it hit her and that’s how it hit her, so that’s when and how it came out.  In the days after, we let her know that it was okay to cry or to talk or to ask questions.  She had a few brief moments but nothing major, not in my presence anyway.  Until two nights ago.

What do you say to a child who’s hit by a spell of grief a year later?  What do you say to a child who wants to take one more trip to Hobby Lobby or do one more craft project or cut one more bunch of flowers?  I can only tell you what I said: not much.  I watched her cry.  I cried with her.  I told her it was okay to feel sad and miss MeMa.  I reminded her of some of the reasons she had to miss MeMa.  I pointed out some of the ways MeMa loved her.  I watched her cry some more.  I cried some more.  Then I kissed her and went to bed, letting her cry herself to sleep.  When she woke up the next morning, she was good to go.  She’s resilient, like her MeMa was and like the rest of us usually are.

I wish I’d had something more brilliant, something more fitting in line with what the “parent of the year” would say or do.  Maybe it’d be easier if we lived on a farm where at an early age you become very familiar with the circle of life.  I don’t live on a farm, I’m not the parent of the year, and I’m only brilliant in my own mind.  So, the only thing I knew to do was deal with her just like I deal with everybody else.  I don’t ever want her to be paralyzed by morbidity, but I also don’t want sickness and dying and death to be foreign concepts to her mind and heart.  I want her to know that they’re part of this life we are born into, and the emotions they elicit are not taboo.

Staring at her over the rail of the upper bunk, I was reminded of my post from the day before.  There’s a time to mourn AND a time to dance.  That night was her time to mourn.  The next night she was dancing (and cartwheeling and flipping and gyrating and leaping from one section of the living room to the other).  Both nights, there were still a lot of daffodils – literal and figurative – to be seen.

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2 responses

  1. You response was exactly what the moment called for at that time. She was able to freely express her sadness and longing for her Mema without judgment. She was aided in remembering the good sweet time she spent with her and what she learned, Today is the anniversary of my brothers death. I have each day thinking about the meaning of his life and the indelible mark he has let on mine and so many others, I have released any bitterness and anger and am looking for the joy God has has given me in each moment of my day. I have looked back to see a handsome, funny, compassionate, brother who loved me but had a different perception of this world and real mental pain he could not live with any longer. I have no idea how long this process will last or when he will inhabit a smaller more comfortable part of my heart. I do not want to feel this sorrow but look on the part f my life with him with joy. I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayers as you continue your journey. Please keep me in yours.


  2. Whether or not you had anything brilliant to say, or something more befitting “parent of the year,” sometimes simply being there and not saying a word says more than anything. Please pass along my love. You did good, ol’ buddy!


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