“I miss mommy”

 I don’t really fully understand the ins and outs of this grief thing. I’ve read a little, and of course there’s the grief group and what I’ve learned from them and the accompanying video series. I don’t understand how I’ve been able to maintain for weeks on end, not happy but treading water and at least not drowning in sorrow.

Last night just about killed me. And it’s dragged into today. What caused it? Who knows. I was looking at pictures when it came on. I’ve looked at the same pictures a hundred times before, and yes I’ve cried sometimes, but not like that. And to have it just drag on into today like a hangover is just… I don’t know. Cruel, I guess.

I became angry at the fact that I was so exhausted. I went to bed at 9:30 last night, slept until 5:30 when the kids woke me, was able to steal an extra 45 minutes or so of sleep after getting their tea and setting up the TV. Did I feel rested? Oddly enough, I was more exhausted when I awoke this morning than when I went to bed. So I am growing angry at this exhaustion. I want it to go away. It’s hard enough to do anything during the day, let alone trying to fight off a weariness that is as foreign to me as it is draining.

I promise all this whining is leading somewhere! All of that to lead to this: I arrived home tonight with the kids at around 6:20 pm. I was getting their bottles ready for story time, my very soul craving the promise of a few hours of child-free nothingness until I can go to bed.

That’s when Sean walked into the kitchen with Buddy (his little stuffed reindeer, his most treasured possession) and said “Daddy, Seanie’s sad.”

Why are you sad, honey?

“Because I miss mommy.”

I suppose I always expected him to say those words eventually. It is 24 August as I write this. Janie went into hospital on 13 June. It has been two and a half months since Seanie has seen his mommy. I knew he missed her. He had to miss her.

But he’d never said it before tonight. Not in those words. Not that plainly.

I sat on the floor of the kitchen and pulled my dear son onto my lap. I told him I was sorry, that I would be there for him, that I loved him. What else could I say? My poor, poor son. I guess he’ll have solid memories of his mother after all, despite being so young.

Mothers have a special bond with their sons. Janie was no different with her Seanie. She loved that boy in a special way. Not more than she did Sophie. Just… different. And he, being her darling boy, worshipped the ground she walked on.

What must his soul be going through? What must he be feeling inside? My poor son.

I’ve shed enough tears in the last day or two to last a lifetime. This particular storm of grief came up unannounced. There was no warning, no way to tell it was on its way. I’ve heard this is common for the bereaved. Funny… knowing so doesn’t help.

Seanie has been “ouchier” than usual today. A sore tummy, a sore head, a sore this, a sore that. He’s wanted to play with me more. He wanted to hang around me more. He must pick up on my sorrow.

I’ve told him before that sometimes daddy is sad and that daddy cries because he misses mommy.

It would appear I offered him a template for expressing what’s going on inside of him. I guess I can be proud of that. I’ve not done much right since Janie died. But this time, I gave my son something to express his pain. I did a good thing for my son.

Part of the arduous aspect of the grief, beyond the exhaustion that is, in my opinion, the worst part of this whole thing, is the fact that I must shepherd my children into this valley with me. Unfortunately, they need to grieve Janie’s death too.

Sophie still thinks Janie is coming home. The babysitter arrived the other night at 5:30 pm. Sophie still remembers that 5:30 is when mommy used to arrive home from work. She shouted “mommy!” She’s done this once before. She has no concept of the passage of time, of the permanence of death. She does not miss mommy, and if she does, she is quickly distracted by something else. She recognizes mommy in pictures. So I’m going to put up LOTS of pictures.

Seanie, however, is making his first tentative steps down this dark path. It hurts to see it. It hurts to witness it. I am expecting a night terror tonight, so I’m keeping a towel in my room ready for that, if/when it happens. It’s been an emotional day for him. But he said it. He said it. That’s the important first step.

Children start out not being able to do anything for themselves. They would die if the parent did not feed them, change them, burp, wash and repeat for them. They grow up quicker than we might realize, but some phases seem to last an eternity. Like the terrible twos. Sophie is two. Oy vey…

However, at three, Seanie is a big boy. He dresses himself, brushes his own teeth (and does it right), takes himself to the bathroom, feeds himself, does basically everything for himself. I think he feels a greater need to do it all now that his world has been turned upside down by the death of his mother.

But tonight, he was my little boy again. The plaintive cry of a broken little heart. I hurt for my son so much. I know he needs to experience this, but I would give anything to spare him the pain. Short of resurrecting his mother from the ashes, though, I cannot protect him from this. Even at the tender age of three, my dear boy will need to confront death.

What a thing to have on his soul. What a landmark to have on his life. Sure, life isn’t fair. But pick on someone your own size, dammit.

That’s what a dad wants to do, though. A dad wants to shield his children from the dangerous and painful things of the world, only allowing them to test the boundaries under controlled circumstances. Can’t do that. Not gonna happen. Not this time. Sorry, but the date for this especially difficult test has been moved up to… NOW. Yeah, your kid is only three, but too bad.

It makes me angry. It makes me feel helpless, a bystander as my children hurt. Maybe Sophie doesn’t notice too much right now, but her time is coming. I’m beginning to pick up on Seanie’s signs. When he’s especially ouchy, that’s when she’s on his mind. I was starting to get really exasperated earlier this evening. I kept thinking “great, on top of all this crap, I have a hypochondriac on my hands!”

But now I see it. His mommy was sick with a sore head. Mommy went to the doctor to get better. Mommy never came back.

Seanie has a sore head. Seanie has a sore tummy. Seanie has a sore ear. Seanie has a sore finger. Seanie has a sore knee. Seanie has a sore bum. Seanie has a sore eye.

Seanie misses mommy.

Maybe Seanie will need to go to the same doctor where mommy is, and he’ll find her there. The last time I took Seanie to the doctor’s office, just last week, he asked me if mommy was there. I didn’t really connect the two. Seanie’s grief therapist mentioned to me that this could be the case. That was on Monday.

And today, I see she is right.

This is obviously nowhere near done. This will go on for years and years. I suppose it’s important to discover these things along the way. I wish I weren’t so tired so I could feel happier about it, but all I can think about right now is sleep. So I’ll probably get on with that.

The challenge is to understand the contours of my own grief and learn to navigate through them whilst trying to understand my children and their version of it. Everyone is unique. Everyone grieves differently.

It’s gonna be a long, long road.

This was us

Some nights there’s no hiding from it. Some nights, you are simply going to get hit like you were in the path of a tornado. The sorrow will lay you flat. It will make your eyes burn and your heart break like it never has before. Your throat will ache from a thirst you cannot quench, not ever again. You will weep until you think you can’t any longer, and then you’ll start again.

This was us. We were a family. We were a unit. Mommy, Daddy, Seanie and Sophie. We had our routines, our rituals. We had our high holy days. We were building our traditions. We were growing together, all of us at once.

In this family, she was our heart. In this family, we all sort of orbited around her. In this family, she was the glue, she was mom to us all. We are all orphaned by this to a degree.

She will not walk in the meadow any longer with you, son. She will not sit you upon her lap as she used to and read your favorite story. She will not be there when you go to your first day of big boy school, will not be there to comfort you when you fall in love for the first time and then have your heart broken. She will not see you marry the woman of your dreams. She will not hold your firstborn in her arms and thank you for it. My heart is broken for you tonight.

She will not hold you again, my sweet little girl. She will not talk to you about what it means to be a woman, she will not cry with you during sappy movies, she will not fight with you as you grow older. She will never meet your future husband and never rock your babies to sleep. My heart is broken for you tonight.

Once upon a time there were four us. Now there are three. Once upon a time there were plans made for all of us. Now those plans must change. Once upon a time, life was so simple as to make me forget what was of  value.

I wish I hadn’t taken you for granted, my love.

I wish you could come home.

We all miss you so, so much.

Originally published August 24, 2011

Good Grief

Grief sucks. There’s no nice way to put it. Grief is the partner of a great loss: it follows death like a travelling companion. The two arrive at your doorstep one day, death walks away with the one you love, and grief moves in for a season. But grief is more than death’s companion: it is also the precursor to life.

That last statement may strike as odd, even a bit offensive. Perhaps I can conjure a useful metaphor to help clarify this point. When death touches your soul, it is as though a massive volcano has erupted in your landscape, sending ash and lava everywhere, blowing things to bits and basically wreaking destruction as far as the eye can see. This is a cataclysmic event that shatters one’s entire world, utterly altering the once familiar landscape forever.

Grief is like the cooled lava on the plain. Like a scab on a wound, the cooled lava begins to settle and harden, eventually becoming the contours of the new landscape. As time goes by, its crust yields and begins to accept new seed, from which springs forth new life. Riotous splotches of colour pop up on an otherwise black and hardened scene. Given more time the lava yields even further and transforms into the rich soil feeding all sorts of new plant life. Trees grow, birds return, animals roam in the underbrush. A new landscape, somewhat reminiscent of the old one, but forever changed. But it is still life. A new life, brought about by the cataclysm.

Death is common to all, meaning, we will all experience it at one point or another. Therefore, we will all at some moment in time encounter the bitter pang of grief. Put it off as one may, grief always catches up with us. This is so because grief’s ultimate goal is not to destroy, but to heal.

Without grief, there is no cost. What I mean by that is if you read an obituary in the paper tomorrow of someone whom you never knew, you will feel no pang of grief. This is because you likely did not know the person. Therefore, you never invested anything into that person: it cost you nothing. The people in whom we invest the most cost us the most when they depart. The bereaved speak of losing a part of themselves when a loved one dies. Indeed.

The task of grief is not, however, to replace that loss, but to heal. I say that it can be a healing agent. Often times it is not. Some people become so lost in grief that it leads them to untold depths of depression. This has obvious psychological effects, but it can also lead to physical ones. Some research points towards prolonged grief leading people to suffer from cancer. A cancer of the soul that leads to cancer of the body. A dreadful thing.

But aren’t there other things which, when abused, can rob us of life? Wine gladdens the heart and can benefit the body, but when abused can lead to alcoholism, even death. Sugar makes all kinds of things palatable, but again, when abused can lead to all sorts of physical problems.

Grief can also be abused. One can wallow in it for too long.

Grief is not the soul’s natural condition. It is an extreme emotion, if you will. It comes when great disasters occur: the loss of a loved one, when one’s home is burned down, when you bid your youngest child goodbye as he or she heads off to university and you face an empty house for the first time in many years. These are extraordinary events. Grief is present in those occasions to shepherd the grieving person into a new phase of life.

The death of a spouse is an extraordinary event in any one person’s life. Yet, sooner or later, it will happen to us all if we were fortunate enough to be married to someone who counted.

Grief is good in that it brings up everything you had with that special someone, good or bad. You relive the good and bad times in the theatre of your mind. You look at the photos and cry rivers of tears, because the memories formed were sweet and brought you life.

Grief is good in that it forces you to take stock of your life. Many people say a death will do this to you, but death is all around us at every moment of the day. People die left and right, and they do not affect us until it’s the death of someone who mattered. This is the province of grief: those who count, those we love. Grief is the one that forces you to take stock. You check to see what is of worth, which of your priorities are really, truly worthwhile. “What is life all about, anyway?” is a question asked ad nauseum until the season of grief passes. Is this not a worthwhile question for us to ask ourselves every day, no matter where we might be in life?

Grief is good in that it shows you that you did love someone very, very much. This is bittersweet, indeed. To have lost so much and only then to realize how much was in fact lost is hard to stomach. You would think that you would think about it every day. But none of us do. I didn’t. I took it for granted that Janie would always be there. Now she’s not. I loved her so, so much. As much as it hurts, it makes me feel alive and significant that I loved someone else so much that it hurts like hell now.

I said earlier that grief heals. That might have been the wrong thing to say. Grief is the EMT at the accident scene that gets you to the hospital. In my world view, the healer is God. Grief forces me to confront God. Why did she have to die? Why am I, the lesser parent, given the task of raising our two children? Why did this have to happen now when everything was just starting to come together, when we were just really hitting our stride and getting along better than we ever had before? Honesty about these questions opens me up to God’s healing. It also produces perseverance, character and hope. (Romans 5:3-5)

A real faith wrestles with just these sorts of questions. A real faith hits the mat with God and goes back and forth until, at last, either the soul finds its answers or rests in the knowledge that the One who has them is good and will not abandon you to a wilderness of sorrow. This is the point of these verses:

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me. (Psalm 23:4)

Later on in the same Psalm, it says the following:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. (Psalm 23:5)

Quite an image. God has set a table, and I am seated there with my enemies. Who are my enemies? In this instance, my enemy is death itself. Yet, while seated at the table, my head is anointed with oil. This is, to me, an image of God’s own Spirit flowing over me. The image in the Old Testament harkens to when someone was called into a sacred office, like that of a king or a prophet. Kings and prophets are anointed to lead their people, their nation. At the table of my enemy death, I am called into being in that place. I am anointed with God’s Spirit in that place. In that place, my cup overflows. Abundant supply. Of what?

Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23:6)

An abundant supply of goodness, love, and the joy of being in God’s presence, God’s house, now and beyond the now on the other side. An abundant supply of goodness and love here, and a dwelling place with the God of the universe. This is what we Christians like to call a promise of God.

So why doesn’t it feel that way? Why is grieving so hard? Why must I wake up every morning to this dreadful sense of loss and emptiness only to carry out my daily tasks in rote fashion and finally collapse in bed at night contemplating the meaninglessness of my existence, praying for death to come swiftly that I might be reunited with Janie, whom I loved so much?

For one, because she mattered. If she didn’t, I’d be fine.

For another, recovery takes time, and there are stages. Already I function better than I did on 21 June, the day the doctors said Janie was brain dead. I still feel dreadfully sad much of the time and helpless. A year from now, I won’t be in as bad a place.

Healing takes time… but not only time.

This is where grief is most useful: it can spur you to action. You can get to the point where you ask a very meaningful question: “isn’t there something I can do about this?”

And yes, you can. For one, you can stop lugging around all that weight on your own. Open up to someone close, then open up to a group. I go to grief group every Monday night. I was just there tonight. It’s absolutely the most positive experience for me right now.

For another, you can allow the One who can heal all that hurt to get into you and do what he does: restore. The whole of the gospel of Jesus is about restoration: restoring humanity to a loving relationship with the divine. God won’t leave you. God hasn’t left you. Immortality has its perks.

But the single most awe inspiring, most wonderful, most joy inducing thing about grief is that it is not permanent. If you can be a gracious host to your grief when it is with you for a season, then like a good guest it will leave when its work is done. This is something I cling to. There is something good at the other end of this thing. I still struggle to accept Janie’s death. I will for a long time. But there is a life for me at the other side. Right now, I don’t want it. But when I get there, when I arrive at the other end of this valley, I will.

Several friends of mine have lost someone dear to them: a parent, a dear friend, a child. They are still among us today. They laugh, they joke, they work, they live. Some have walked through their season of grief. Others haven’t.

I am on my road through this valley. I want, more than anything else, to know that those who read this blog and have been or are in a similar situation to mine understand that this is temporary. Life changing? Oh yes. Soul wrenching? You bet. But temporary. And no, time alone will not heal the wound. You have to go into the valley if you want to get to the other side.

So as they say in England, get stuck in. Go after it. Be purposeful. This blog is part of my attempt to do just that. If you’re in this wilderness with me, find your avenue, your outlet, your conduit to go through what is now raging inside of you and, eventually, find your way out of the valley too. That is my prayer. Now pray it with me:

God, your name is holy. Teach us to treat it as such in our daily lives.

May your kingdom come here, and your will be done here as well, just like it is in heaven, where you are.

Give us today what we need.

Forgive what we have done wrong to you and others to the degree that we forgive, because we know that we cannot ask for it unless we freely give it out.

Deliver us from the darkness and the forces therein.

You are King of the kingdom. You are its power, its glory, now and always.

Amen.

August 23, 2011

Turning down kindness

I am so glad this blog is being read by a wider group of people every day. It’s encouraging to hear that people who have been through a situation such as mine, are single parents, or even folks who haven’t gone through this kind of ordeal are drawing some insight and courage from these posts. That was part of the original intention, and I’m so pleased to see it happening.

Another goal of this blog was to keep people who know me and the kids, knew Janie and want to stay abreast of what’s happening in or world the opportunity to do so. I also want it to be a way to transmit messages that need to put out there but that I haven’t the energy or ability to say to each and every one of you. That was the thought behind the very first post on Janie’s death. Telling the death story over and over again really takes it out of me, so I thought I could put it in one place where anyone with the inkling to find out the details of what went down can go there and read about it.

That is also the intention of this post. I have something to tell all of you, especially those who live nearby.

Many of you who are reading this post today have, since Janie’s death, kindly supplied my family with meals (that we are slowly getting through! So many meals!), offered to babysit or have invited us around to your house for a play date or a birthday and so on. For all of your kindness and good intentions, I want to say a heartfelt thank you, from me and the kids.

I will deal with the last of the three points above first, on coming around to your place. Many of you have invited us around. You may have noticed that we have yet to show up. There are so many reasons for this, but I will try to keep it to four.

1.) We haven’t come around because I don’t have the energy. This will be the case for a long time, still. I am writing this post on Sunday, 21 August. The kids woke up today at 4:30am, and have demanded my attention from that point forward. This is not the case every day, but it does happen more often than I’d care for. But even if they did sleep in every morning, the grief process is wearing. As I have said on this blog before, the processing of this loss happens during waking and sleeping hours. And sometimes, out of the blue, a wave of sorrow blows over me and sucks out the will to live or do anything, really.

But this would seem like an opportune time to come around, wouldn’t you think? Not really. There is the matter of getting the kids ready to go, and once the play date/birthday party/ hang out time is done, there’s the matter of getting them back home, washed, dressed and in bed. This is a lot of work for one guy, and when you are constantly battling with emotional and physical exhaustion, you just don’t want to add to that.

2.) We haven’t come around because of matters pertaining to stability. Seanie and Sophie have just lost their mother. At their young ages, this cornerstone of their short lives literally disappeared from one day to the next forever. This has shaken their foundations and rattled them deeply. As a family, we always had our circle of friends and people the kids knew well, and they were always very keen to hang out with these folks. Suddenly, mommy is gone and now daddy is taking them around to the houses of a whole new batch of people. Suddenly, they have all these new faces, new environments and relational dynamics to contend with. I’m no expert, but my instincts tell me this is a difficult thing for children of their age (or any age) to deal with. So, frankly, I am protecting them. Their circle of acquaintances will grow, but not right away. Remember, it’s just been two months since Janie’s death. I am trying to preserve a sense of continuity for them: their surroundings, their toys, their beds, their routine. This last one brings me to the last point.

3.) We haven’t come around because of matters pertaining to routine and schedule. This point is closely tied to the one above. Janie always came home from work, every night. The kids always had her in their lives, every day, from the day they were born until just over two months ago. She was a part of the rhythm of their lives, and that has suddenly and irrevocably screeched to a halt. That massive and unwelcome change to their routine far eclipses other changes to routine such as naptime, bath time and bedtime, but these other routines must be maintained at all costs in order to preserve a sense of security for the children. That I take them to school, fetch them, take them home, put them down for naps, wake them, feed them, bathe them, play with them and put them to bed at night at the exact same time on our schedule, every day, provides a thread of continuity that helps them cope with the loss. Mommy has gone, but everything else has stayed somewhat the same. So as much as a play date at someone else’s house sounds like a good idea, I am trying to protect my children in this matter, also. Certainly one day out of the week won’t upset them too much, will it? Honestly, I don’t know. Again, I am following my instincts here. I don’t want to mess about with their rhythm just yet.

All of the above said, this does not mean we will never come around. All I am saying is that for now I am turning down almost every invitation to have the kids around for these three reasons. As time passes, I think this will change. Their circle will grow, but it must be done organically, not in response to this tragedy.

So many of you have offered to have us over out of a sense of wanting to help. I can say with sincerity that I am so grateful for your willingness to have us around. However, I have to listen to myself, to my instincts regarding the kids and my own soul when it comes to me. I am not purposefully trying to thwart your well intended attempts to help us. I am simply trying to do what I believe is best for myself and the kids.

Now, on the matter of babysitters: I have followed principle number 2 on this one. I have a babysitter that comes around on Mondays so that I might attend grief group. Her name is Claire and she is the daughter of Faye Weston, who runs the playschool where my children attend. She is well known to the kids, so they feel secure when she is in the house. If I have turned you down for babysitting, it is probably because my kids don’t know you terribly well. In time, you will, and in time, if the offer is still open, I will gladly accept. But not now.

No, food… I have a freezer heaving with meals right now. It is a small freezer at that. To further complicate matters, I am a cook. However, in order to make room for freezable groceries, I first have to clean out the readymade meals that now occupy every square inch of the freezer. Please understand me here, this is NOT me saying that this particular show of concern and care is unwelcome, but the reality is I don’t have any more room left! So, for now, don’t worry about feeding us. Check back in mid-November when I clean out the last meal!

This leaves people living close by to me with very little to go on. Do I not want you to help out in any way at all? Do I really not want any of you folks to be in relationship with me? Have I purposefully shut everyone out? No, people, no.

First of all, there is MUCH you can do, every day, on your own. The most important thing you can do is pray. Pray with others, organize a team, and read this blog to know where we are emotionally, physically and spiritually. If you need more details, shoot me an email. I will gladly fill you in. I had a few almost good days last week, and one amazingly restoring night’s sleep. That is, I believe, as a direct result of your prayers. Our family’s walls are down, our defenses are weak, we are wide open to all kinds of attack. I don’t pray much anymore, mostly for the reasons outlined in point number 1. My prayers normally consist of one word: help. So pray more intelligently than that, and you’ll be doing us a massive favor.

If you want to do more, you can come here and visit. Email or call, and I’ll give you the address. I know that puts the burden of throwing the kids in the car on you, but if you want to help with keeping my kids distracted and have a chat to me so I can have some adult conversation, than that is the way forward. Come here. I WILL return the favor, but right now I just can’t.

Also, if you want to help out with food, come here with your family and I’ll cook for you. That might sound a little odd to you, but cooking is a joy for me. Bring the ingredients. Tell me what you want, and I’ll make it for you. Seriously. Cooking is more relaxing and life-giving to me than pulling a frozen meal out of the freezer. Not that those don’t come in handy, but if you really want to help, then come around for supper. Tell me ahead of time what you’re bringing, and I’ll plan out how I’ll cook the stuff, and we’ll have us an earlyish dinner, and then you can get your kids back home in time for bed, too. This goes for those who don’t have kids too.

I know I can’t have everything I want in life on my terms. Nevertheless, right now I need to go with my gut, and all of the above is what my instinct tells me to do. I must listen to my instincts on this one. I hope you can all understand that.

I know that I will need to go back eventually and do some maintenance work on many of my relationships once I begin to find my feet again. Janie’s passing has massively rocked my world. I do value all of you, all of your shows of care and concern. That I do not reach back every time is not out of ingratitude. I simply do not have the emotional resources to stretch any further at this time. There will come a day when I will be able to do so, and you can expect a phone call on that day.

In the meantime, keep praying for us. Every day is a challenge. Every day has its own hardships. No prayer for us at this time is frivolous, stupid or pointless. I quite literally covet your prayers. That above all is the most important thing you can do.

Originally published August 22, 2011

Plan ahead

The most important thing to do when you suddenly find yourself in a situation like mine, alone and raising two small children, is to ALWAYS BE PREPARED. If you can do anything in advance, do it. If you can have your bases covered, cover them. Let me explain.

Whether or not you are grieving a recently deceased spouse as I am or have just divorced your previous partner, if you are the sole remaining parent, you will do double duty on everything. No one else is going to get the kids ready in the morning for school. So what can be done the night before, after the kids are in bed?

What I do is make their lunches, or at least half of one, so that in the mornings all that’s left to do is add crackers or something. Get the juice bottles ready and put them in the fridge. Before the kids go down, pull out clothes you want them to wear the next day and set them aside. This is obviously easier if you have small children like mine who have no sense of personal fashion or the like. The nice thing about South Africa is that, as they grow, they’ll go into one of the schools here locally, and all of them require strict adherence to uniforms. So there’s no question what they’ll be wearing the next day, and personal expression plays no part in the decision.

Pack bags the night before. Spare clothes, any school supplies, all of it, in the bags and place them by the door so all that needs to be done is to scoop them up on the way out to the car.

Also, allow plenty of time in the mornings to do whatever you have to do. It’s easier with my kids being small, because they wake up at the crack of dawn anyway. We usually have everything set and ready to go at around 7am, and I just coast until I load the kids in the car and head out.

This last point will be hard if you are bereaved. The grief and sorrow make getting up in the morning extremely hard. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I’ll have the kids crawling all over me if I try to sleep in later, so staying in bed is not always an option. I have one night off a week when the kids sleep over at mom and dad Spence’s. This is a personal choice as I know they would have the kids more nights per week, but I feel compelled to giving them a sense of stability here at our home. You may or may not need more time off depending on the circumstances surrounding your situation that has landed you as a single parent, your personality, career, etc. Use your judgment and follow your instincts. Janie always told me to “go with your gut,” and it is coming handy at a time like this.

Another thing that will consume time like mad is cooking. I’ve taken to making a big casserole or something on a Saturday and freezing it in different containers, so I can bust one out when I just don’t have the energy to cook. I love cooking and will do it if I have the energy, but at times the situation wears the soul down! In times like this, a readymade meal is the way to go.

Bath time can either be awesome or hell. I think that if you’re a single parent, you need to align the pieces as much as possible so as to make bath time fun. There is a ritual that we enact every night, no matter what, that the kids love and gets them in the mood to hop in the bath. It’s called “naked baby.” The gist is simple: I pull all their clothes off, and once they are down to their birthday suit, I yell “naked baby!” At this point, the kids run off into the garden and I chase them for however long. Eventually I herd them into the bathroom, and they hop in the bathtub giggling and happy. I always make sure the water is warm and deep, with plenty of bubbles and toys to keep them occupied while I pull out their jammies and pick the stories to be read at bedtime (as you’ve read in previous posts, two are now on constant rotation, so it’s all about finding that third one that will be the cherry on the sundae).

The bathing itself can be a challenge, but I find that doing it as quickly as possible is the way to go. Protests are often loud (Seanie hates having his hair washed), but I just grit my teeth and plow through it. Normally, they are squeaky clean within five minutes, and then it’s time to towel them off and do “naked baby” again. Once herded back indoors, I throw clothes on as quickly as possible (thankfully, Seanie is a big boy now and wants to dress himself at every opportunity), and then that’s done.

On the subject of television, let me say this: as a single parent, it’s nice to have a built-in babysitter. TV has been demonized by legions of parents and concerned citizens with too much time on their hands (obviously they’re not single parents). I allow an hour in the morning and an hour at night (unless it’s raining), and I do this so I can do things like get breakfast and supper ready for the kids. The TV stays on for breakfast, but not for supper. Sometimes, you just need something to keep the little ones at bay while you do the other things that need doing and won’t wait. So put on Teletubbies and do what you gotta do.

Planning ahead can become exhausting, and this is especially true in my situation where I am grieving my wife’s death and raising Seanie and Sophie. As you have read in previous posts, I am not the only one feeling her loss. Seanie especially is struggling with missing his mother. The day after his last night terror, he asked me if mommy is sad. She is on his mind all the time. So he’s not always the happy go lucky kid I know so well. Sometimes he seems to be clingy and sad for no reason at all, and his constant complaints about sore elbows, knees, tummy and head can often wear on my nerves. When I’m trying to get the next thing done and he comes into the kitchen or bedroom whining about a sore, it can set me on edge.

And this is perhaps the greatest challenge with regard to parenting on my own during this time: grief often throws on the blinders. I don’t always think about him or Sophie and what they feel. I’m either struggling through a sad patch during the day and forgetting the things that need to get done or just not paying the kind of attention Seanie needs.

In times like this, it is so very important to have someone to speak truth into your life. The folks at my grief group do this, as do friends like Ben Aldous, who just yesterday sat and cried with me as I explained my fears about where I am dropping the ball with the kids.

I guess what I’m getting at is to try to be kind to yourself. If you’re a single parent reading this, your job is really tough. You’ve been dealt a bad hand. Planning ahead can help for several things, but it’s not a universal panacea. It might free you up to be more present at crucial times with the kids, but so much depends on your emotional availability at any given time. If your emotional resources are depleted, no amount of planning ahead is going to help you be the best version of yourself when your child or children need you.

So perhaps the most important thing you can do as a single parent is to make sure you have the kind of network that will allow you time to recover some, replenish your emotional reserves and be just on your own for a while. Also, you need to have people in your life that can supply you with perspective, because believe me, you will often not have any of it or at least not much. You need someone to remind you that you are, in fact, doing the best you can with the hand you’ve been dealt. You need someone or a group of people that will just allow you to cry and get the frustration, grief, sorrow and pain off your chest, because this aspect of your experience is often shoved aside by the constant need to be a parent, to get things done, to stay on the ball. Having people in your life that can do this is a vital aspect of planning ahead. Give yourself the gift of allowing regular opportunity to allow someone you love and trust to speak truth into your life. I know in my experience, I have definitely needed to hear what I am doing right, because all I see is what I do wrong.

I am learning that kids are hard work. They are wonderful and completely worth it, but they can quickly exhaust what reserves you might have, because they need so much of you, all the time. And they don’t know any different. Very small children have no idea they’re not the center of the universe. Furthermore, they used to receive attention and affection from the other parent. Now it’s just you. They have lost an enormous chunk of their developmental resource supply chain, if I can state it like that. It’s important to make sure that you have enough in you to not allow the shortfall to cripple them.

I write this as much for myself as anyone else in a similar situation. If you’re happily married and know of someone who is in my situation or is recently divorced, then I encourage you to share this post with them. Folks like me in a situation like this sometimes feel very much on our own. It’s an emotional reaction and it is often difficult in the midst of exhaustion, grief, whatever to remember that the network is in place. Some folks don’t have networks at all, and I can imagine that is a terrifying place to be. I think it is good to know that there are others in my situation out there, and if that’s you, then while I don’t know exactly what you’re going through, I have some idea.

And you can do this. Don’t close yourself off.

This blog has gone a long way already to reminding me of just how many people love our little family and are motivated to be a support, either in person or in prayer. No matter who you are or what your situation might be, having emotional, physical and spiritual support in times of extreme difficulty is the difference between having the strength to carry on and utter hopelessness and despair. I have learned through this blog that so long as I reach out, someone else will reach back.

So reach out. My email is on this blog. Shoot me a note if you don’t want to post a reply. I’m no expert at this. I’m a rookie, just like you. But I am not alone, and no one needs to be alone. We do it to ourselves.

Anyway, this is Friday’s post. The weekend beckons. Thank you all for comments, prayers and all the love you shower me and babies with. Every little bit of it helps us carry on. Thank you. See y’all Monday.

Originally published August 19, 2011

Feed the babies

Yesterday’s post was on the heavy side, so this one will deal with a topic I hope to return to many more times on this blog: food. I love food. I love it so much I learned to cook just so I could eat exactly what I want, when I want it. During the early days of our marriage, Janie used to do quite a bit of the cooking. She could do it, but it wasn’t really her favorite thing. Over time, I elbowed her out the kitchen and made that my zone of the house, and she seemed happy enough to oblige.

Over the years, Janie became my main audience, the one for whom I cooked. I needed her opinions and input. She helped me with suggestions, ideas and honest feedback. Not everything I’ve ever made was good. A recent calamari tempura springs to mind (think of rubber bands dipped in wallpaper paste). But other things were uproarious successes, like her 30th birthday lobster feast. We had some epic times eating what I made, it was a daily expression of my creative interests and she took it as a little token of my love for her. We had fun.

Since her death, cooking has changed a little. That audience is now gone. Now my audience consists of two blonde babies with somewhat different tastes. This is a challenge, as the food now not only must be closer to their tastes but must have the necessary energy in it to keep these little monkeys growing. However, I am proud to say that the kids eat what I make for them, and I don’t make mac and cheese every night. Even the mac and cheese itself is not plain ol’ mac n’ cheese. It’s daddy’s mac n’cheese.

What you see to the left there is zucchini leaves stuffed with prosciutto and blue cheese that are dipped in batter and fried. They are accompanied with homemade pasta and red sauce. As the caption implies, this is not your average meal here at our house, in fact this one was made before Janie passed away. I add it because I served this rather fussy meal to the kids, who ate EVERY scrap of it and bayed for more. There was no complaining, no whining, just happy babies housing mad quantities of deep fried veg gie happiness.

I mentioned the calamari tempura above. On that same night, we also had tempura veggies. Again, something about that particular procedure suddenly makes veggies an all time favorite. Makes ya wonder.

These are beans. Beans feature frequently on the menu for two reasons: they’re loaded with good stuff like fiber, folic acid and protein, and they’re dirt cheap. Black beans are sometimes hard to source here in South Africa, but there are other varieties such as kidney, butter and cannelloni beans that are available in both dried and canned varieties. If I make one of these (usually the cannelloni), I’ll fry some garlic in olive oil and pancetta, add diced onions, a sprig of rosemary and toss in the beans until they start to simmer. Make some rice to go with it, and bam, perfect accompaniment to any braai (translation of braai to my American friends: like a barbecue, but better).

Did I just say braai? Yes, this is something that even in the post Janie era is done with an almost weekly regularity here at casa de Jones. Those are chicken hearts in the photo. To all my friends with high blood pressure and cholesterol problems, this Bud is not for you. However, if you feel adventurous enough to try them, here’s what I do: blitz up half of an onion, three or four cloves of garlic and a whole bunch of dhania (coriander, cilantro) in a food processor or blender. Take this mixture, decant into a large bowl and add about three tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and the juice of two limes (or one lemon, but lime is better). Give it a mix, add a punnet of chicken hearts, cover with cling wrap and leave it in the fridge to marinate for at least two hours, no more than five. Skewer them on soaked bamboo sticks and throw them on the braai. Yumminess. Seanie eats these by the fistful at a time. He nearly gagged himself the one time, it was a bit scary. Sophie loves these too, screeching “chicken!” as she noshes one after other.

The kids aren’t wild about chicken livers peri-peri (a very common dish here in South Africa), but I don’t think it’s the livers part of it. I made fegatini a finanzieri (translation: banker’s chicken livers) with a wicked risotto once, and Sean ate them as if it were his last meal. So there is something about the preparation. Liver, even chicken livers, have a somewhat metallic undertone that needs to balanced out with a bit of sweetness to appeal to a child’s palette, I think. The fegatini is made with a fat dose of marsala wine, which provides ample sweetness that is tempered through a longer cooking process. So you pick up the sweetness, but it’s not cloying.

Now, it’s not all fancy shmancy here either. There are the old standbys, like good ol’ pizza. And of course there’s daddy’s mac n’ cheese. I like mac n’ cheese as much as the next guy, but I figure my mac n’ cheese is more like a pasta bake, really. I like to toss in onions, garlic (lots of it), ham, bacon, green peppers, shallots, whatever, and make the white sauce with one of Chrissy the Cheese Lady’s wonderfully bizarre cheeses (find her at the Shongweni Farmers Market. If you live too far away from here to go, then move out this way. It’s simple, folks).

But there is a point to what I am writing here, and it’s not only to make you hungry: as a parent, don’t end up being your child’s short order cook. The kids eat what I eat. Sometimes I make them something fun like chicken goujons (basically chicken strips, but it sounds cooler to say the other), but if I’m making fish in a parcel with lemongrass and loads of garlic, then that’s what’s for dinner. And if they don’t eat it, awesome, more for me. But I won’t get up and make them something else. Kids need to know that they are expected to eat what’s in front of them, and hopefully be grateful for it.

But there is also an ulterior motive for this approach. My hope is to frustrate them to such a degree that they’ll take up cooking themselves, and that in perhaps ten years or so, I can retire from the kitchen and just let them make me yummy things. See folks, you gotta plan for the future.

But I’m not going to push their palettes too hard. I might add a little spicy goodness to a meal, but I’m not going to feed the kids atomic curry, although I’ve made a few of those in my day. I’m not going to ask them to try sushi just yet, although they’ve eaten a little in the past. The trick is to do things in stages, get them used to something others might find unusual, and then not tell them it is. If they don’t know the difference, then why inform them of it? If they develop adventurous little palettes now, it will stand them in good stead later in life.

Anthony Bourdain, the chef and host of Travel Channel’s “No Reservations” stated that his goal was to always be the perfect guest. No matter if someone slapped down yak tongue boiled in the beast’s uncleaned entrails and served with a tall glass of pitxo, he was going to clean his plate and have seconds. For one, things that seem unappetizing to us are so because of our cultural limitations. Some folks coming to the West would find a McDonald’s burger to be pretty hard to stomach. So when at the house of a friend, neighbor or total stranger, be grateful for what’s in front of you and chow down. You never know if the weird thing in front of you might just be delicious. Try things.

I want those kinds of kids. So we eat interesting stuff, as often as humanly possible.

This is my first official parenting post. I picked food because I passionately love to cook and eat, but also because you might bathe your kids once a day, you hopefully only dress them once a day, you’ll only take them to the park perhaps once a week, but you’ll feed them every day, three times a day if you live in the West. Something done so often ought to be given precedence in any talk about child rearing, in my estimation.

What’s for dinner at your house tonight?

Originally published August 18, 2011

What’s it like for a recently widowed single dad?

Here’s your chance, your front row seat, your very own opportunity to have a ride with a recent widower and father of two as he does his damndest to hump along on a day to day basis. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, don’t miss out!

Wake up!

The first thing I notice every day when Seanie rouses me from my slumber at around 5am or so is how little good the sleep I had did for me. I might as well have stayed awake and been productive, but grief has a funny way of yanking the wheels right off of your ability to do anything. To stick with the car metaphor, you can’t always get any traction when in grief, you can’t grip onto something and propel yourself forward into the next task, commitment, chore or whatever. You lose track of time and before you know it, you’ve been sitting in the same chair staring at the same spot on the wall for an hour. So waking or sleeping, getting anything done is a monumental task.

And sleep just doesn’t do the trick. This is because the subconscious is working double and triple shifts to process what has happened. I dream all kinds of weird stuff, most of which I do not remember. However, I normally wake up feeling as though I’ve been working all night. I am so exhausted.

Nevertheless, whether or not I am weary even after eight hours of sleep is neither here nor there, because Seanie needs to wee-wee. Sophie sometimes sleeps later than Sean. Other times she wakes up with him. If she is sleeping, I can normally convince Seanie to lie down for a while longer and wait until the sun starts coming up. If she’s awake, then there’s no way around it: I’ll need to make them tea in their bottles and put the TV on with either In the Night Garden, Thomas the Tank Engine, Mister Maker or some other inane children’s program to keep them occupied while I start doing things like making an industrial strength cup of coffee that will, hopefully, expel the sleep from my bones with Exorcist-type violence.

Once properly caffeinated, I may or may not begin work. That’s right kids: it’s 5:30am, and the work day has started. I work for a US Government organization, and every day I have a 9am deadline. Come rain or shine or toddlers, the good people at the world’s grandest democracy need to know what is going in Lusophone Africa, and I’m their guy to find the news articles. Ask me sometime for greater details when you bump into me when I’m out and about, I’ll tell you more. Suffice to say that it pays the bills and I’d love to do something different.

Anyway, if I start work, this means I go to my room while the kids stand transfixed by the rambunctionations of Iggle Piggle. If I don’t, it means I’ve gone back to bed. After all, IT’S STILL DARK OUTSIDE!!!! And if the last eight hours of sleep did me no good at all, then maybe a 25 minute kip will solve all my problems. This is called the logic of the bereaved. Don’t let anyone close to you die, folks.

Come around 6:30ish, it’s definitely time to feed the babies. I know this intuitively because Sophie has jumped on my head a half dozen times screeching ‘Cheerio! Cheerio!’ My keen sense of intuition and nascent maternal instinct draw me to the ironclad FACT that she must be hungry. Therefore I selflessly abandon my warm bed and decant two bowls of the aforementioned dry good (small pink bowl for Sophie, big boy bowl for Sean), add a liberal dose of moo juice and place them lovingly in front of my ever-so-grateful rug rats.

At this point I will finish off the lunch preparations I began the night before. One can definitely pack half a lunch the night before and put it in the fridge. All the stuff that doesn’t go too gooey (like sandwich, yogurt, dried fruit, etc.) is already in the lunchbox(es), so now all I have to do is either slice up an apple/banana/small rodent and throw in some crackers, and I’m done. This process may or may not be interrupted by a massive crappy nappy (translation: a dirty diaper; my mom Spence hilarious dubs them ‘poonamis’). If the unmistakable pong of a Sophie turd floats past my nose, I spring into action with wipes and a new nappy, and then normal service resumes.

By now we are at around 7am, and I need my second cup of Chernobyl-strength joe. I make sure there are enough nappies and wet wipes in Sophie’s bag, plus an extra set of clothes just in case she feels the urge to chase a butterfly (she calls them flutterbys, which is oh so much cuter) into a mud hole to then discover the exfoliating and rejuvenating powers to be harnessed therein. I make sure Seanie has a spare set of clothes too (because you can’t do the one and not the other), pack their lunches in their bags, top up juice bottles, and set these armaments by the door.

Again, this procedure may or may not be interrupted by one of Sophies’ poonamis.

Now we are getting towards the golden hour, that time when the blessed combined powers of caffeine and the fact that I will soon be able to enjoy FOUR HOURS of childless bliss propel me to say those magic words: “let’s go in the car!” Both babies explode from their piles of toys and crayons and bits of shredded paper and dried up cheerio and run out the door yelping “gointhecar! GOINTHECAR!” It is the best part of the morning, equally hilarious and sweet to watch.

This is normally when I smell Sophie’s bum pong.

And so I spring into action with wet wipes and nappies and imprecations uttered under the breath so as to not scar her two-year-old soul forever and ever, amen. I have, of course, wisely buried said nappies and wet wipes under the lunchbox and juice bottle and spare clothes, so as to give rise to the necessity of unpacking the whole bloody thing JUST to take care of one special, special nappy, special just for me, JUST FOR ME! Hooray…

But you see, Sophie’s now all juiced to go in the car to Faye Faye’s house! (Faye Weston is the singularly brilliant owner and operator of Fairy Tales playschool. She is a sage of all things kiddy and babyish, a child whisperer, really, as opposed to an early child development specialist, which would be her moniker if she were aloof enough to pick one. As it is, she is too decent to get caught up in such things, and is really just zen-like in her ability with the little ones. She ought to be beatified.)

But I digress…

BACK TO THE POO!!!

So, yeah, Sophie’s all ready to go to Faye Faye’s, and having her bum decrappified is not high on her list of priorities at this juncture. I swear, that kid could probably endure a whole day with poop shellacked to her rear end. So long as she’s wrestling a wildebeest or surfing with great whites. She is just not interested in allowing such mundane things as personal hygiene getting in between her and a good time.

So now it’s “wrestle-poo-mania” time with young miss Sophie. Kid yourselves not, this two year old is built like a small ox, and stronger than a full grown one. By the time I am able to pin her to the floor and somehow pull down her pants while she twists and either howls with laughter or some mixture of pain and/or hatred (depends on her mood, you see) and I get my mitts on those funny little velcro-like nappy latch things, I’ve already been kicked in and around the face, had a teddy bear/plastic train/hard, blunt object hurled at any part of my body she’s able to aim at, and I am, frankly, exhausted. The caffeine gods have abandoned me to a hopeless tussle with an exceptionally determined toddler.

Let’s move this along… so we change the crappy nappy. I remove the foul object to the outside bin after I’ve put a clean, fresh nappy on the delicate Miss Sophie, and then stumble to the car, strap the kids in and get on my way.

It is now between 7:30 and 7:45am.

I drop off the kids at Faye Faye’s. I make my way back home.

It’s now 8:10 or so. Back to scanning the Portuguese-speaking websites for juicy bits of news that the masters of the world find useful. Third cup of COFFEEZILLA. Squeak that work in by around 8:58:33am. Then, deep breath, I write a blog for the Gorilla’s, which I can pull off pretty quickly because it’s both fun and easy. And fun. I love it. And they’re cool, brilliant people. Just sayin’.

So now we are up to 10am and it’s already been a full day. Now it’s time to head into the eye of the storm (meaning: the OMG of a mess the kids left in their wake this morning). Pick up the dollies/trains/crayons/small forest animal carcasses/whatever and either put them back/throw them away/wonder where they came from.

Now it is time to move into the kitchen to clean my mess, as in the one I made the night before to feed those babies. Then it’s time to do the clothes, make the beds, pick up more odds and ends and try to make the house look more or less presentable, just in case someone drops by, which happens on and off these days.

If there’s time, I’ll go to the shops and buy essentials like milk and bread and the like. It’s now around 11:30ish or so, and that means I need to go get Seanie and Sophie soon.

I’ve already made up the bottles and stowed them in the fridge, so when I get home with the babies I can just tuck them in bed and give them said bottles and allow them to nap. Sophie will nap 9 times out of 10. Seanie is another story… he may or may not decide he needs one. At three and some change, he’s already growing out of naptime. I’m okay with that, because I know plenty of parents reading this saying “nap time?! PAH!” I’m lucky I have kids who nap at all. Either way, Seanie’s a laid back kid and doesn’t always need me to entertain him.

It is during this time that I either write or start one of these blogs, during those moments when the kids are at home, but not in my hair. This particular post is being written at night, but we’ll get to that later.

No matter what, I wake the kids at 2:30pm. Sophie normally wakes up right away, ready to go. Seanie, if he’s slept, could take up to ten or fifteen minutes to rouse from his slumber. The kid naps like it were his job. He takes it seriously. This more often than not means that once I wake him, he will cry like I stole his favorite toy and gave it to Julius Malema (to my American friends, this guy is a joke). This normally leads to what I affectionately call “the chorus of mutual sorrow,” whereupon Sophie will echo Sean’s wailing and I will have two rather unhappy little people on my lap for however long, until I am able to convince them that life really is worth living after naptime, and after all, at least you’re not living on a trash heap in Manilla.

So we’re up to 2:45pmish. Snack time! Eggs, bacon, toast, yum! Sometimes it’s just toast, it depends what my energy levels are. The kids happily eat. That is something I am so grateful for. They LOVE snack time, on their little snack table lovingly purchased by their adoring Vovó (grandma Jones). 3pm. Weather permitting, the babies will ride their bikes for the next hour. If it’s raining (there’s been more than enough of that lately), then we’ll draw or watch the box for a bit. I normally start preparing supper around this time. At 4ish it’s bathtime, and the kids like wallowing in the bath tub for upwards of half an hour. I say “wallow” because all the dirt and crud they pick up during the day turns that pristine, mountain stream water in the tub into something like the Tietê River in São Paulo.

But I exaggerate. I can do that. It’s my blog.

But seriously, it’s gross.

Anyway, we now arrive at 5ish. The end is in sight. Supper is served, we eat with gusto. Seanie feeds himself for the most part. He’s a big boy, after all. Sophie takes a little more convincing, but she normally cleans her plate. It’s just that playing with food is such FUN!

Then it’s play for a while, hang out. Then it’s 6pm. Storytime! Bedtime! HOORAY!

As I said in the last post, the books nowadays are ALWAYS “Tickle Monster,” “The Very Busy Spider,” and something else. Some other story. So long as the other two are covered, it doesn’t really matter. The choice is enormous: “My First Colours,” “Peekaboo Elmo,” “Don’t Eat The Teacher,” the Makapaka book whose title escapes me as I write this… I could go on.

The point is to read the stories, say a prayer, give them their bottles, kiss them goodnight, shut the door…

And collapse.

Or at least feel like I will.

Right around now is when the first wave of crushing fatigue sets in. The pressure valve has been released. They are in bed. Now I can… do… nothing. After doing and doing and doing, not doing is rather a nice change.

However… if it’s a Monday night, then it would include all the above except for maybe the stories and bedtime, because I’ll go attend my grief group. Out the door at 5:45pm, and the babysitter reads the stories and does bedtime. If it’s a Tuesday, I’ll take Seanie to see his child grief specialist at 3pm, and mom Spence will look after Sophie in the afternoon at her house. If it’s a Thursday, the kids might spend the night at mom and dad Spence’s house, and I can go do something other than be a parent.

Otherwise, this is the routine until bedtime for them. After 6ish, it’s my time.

What do I do?

If it’s tonight, I’m writing this. Other nights I journal or surf the web or do laundry. I always make the kids’ lunches, because there’s never enough time in the morning. I’ll watch a movie. I’ll look at pictures of what life was. I’ll weep.

And I’ll of course have to take Seanie to the bathroom a few times a night.

Unless it’s tonight, when he had a night terror and was screaming for his mother, twisting and flailing in my arms until he suddenly relaxed every muscle in his body, including his bladder, which he emptied onto my newly washed sweater.

He’s sleeping in my bed now. I found a dry pair of pants for him and a clean t-shirt and sweater for me.

This situation has been hard on all of us. He’s lost his mother. Sophie’s lost her mommy and the person who would have guided her into the nuances of womanhood. I’ve lost my co-parent and so much more.

To bed at 10pm or so, exhausted, fatigued. Sleep won’t help much.

And tomorrow we do it again.

When do I grieve? In waves.

It pops up unannounced. It invades the spaces in between. It catches me at times off guard, like when I hear a song that reminds me of her, when I catch a glimpse of a picture, when someone laughs and it sounds like her…

And every time I look at our babies.

It’s never far off, this grief. It’s never far enough away. And when it hits, sai de baixo (translation from Portuguese: get out of the way). A constant companion on this new and unwelcome road. A companion that I do not want yet cannot do without.

Because she mattered.

Because she was worth it.

Because even with the same outcome, I’d do it, with her, again.

So it sucks, yeah, but what’s the alternative? A life without her? A life that would not have Seanie and Sophie in it?

Do I regret the pain? Not really, not in the end. The pain is there because she was in my life. Every moment was worth it. I hate it that she’s gone, but what possible alternative would I choose? A painless life? A risk less life?

No thanks.

And so tomorrow we do it again, yeah. And I’ll not feel rested, again. And I’ll battle to get the minutia of everyday life organized and set in motion, again. And I’ll get frustrated and angry at my children, again. I’ll feel like a jerk, a worthless parent, a creep, a moron, a failure, again.

Until I don’t.

Because THIS is the transition. I was one out of two parents. Now I’m the only one left. For better or worse, that’s just the way it is. It’s up to me to make it for the better. There’s still the worse, now, during this transition, as my psyche and soul wrangle with this utterly unfair and wrong reality of having Janie, the good mother, the loving spouse, my soul mate ripped from me. Ripped from us.

Seanie screamed for his mother tonight. He woke his sister. What must be going through his head? What must be going through hers? What is his soul feeling? What about her?

Grief puts blinders on you. These kids remind me we all lost so very, very much.

It’s 9pm and Seanie sleeps in my bed, Sophie sleeps in hers, and I write this. This is perhaps a bit more confessional than I had first intended. I guess the need to be understood drives me tonight.

A dear friend told me today on Facebook that she’s shared this blog with folks struggling with PTSD. It’s encouraging to know that even in the darkest night of the soul, you can still affect something, someone, somewhere. I wrote in my last post about networks. Tie a knot, people. Make a commitment. Isn’t life too short, already?

Not every night is like this, but many are. This is not the first time I had to wash the same sweater twice in one day. It won’t be the last, either.

Think of Seanie. Think of Sophie. Pray, if you do. Do it anyway if you don’t.

Why shouldn’t this event happen to our family? Grief is narcissistic, after all. Why not us? What makes us so special? Point taken. Yes, death happens to a whole lot of people. All of us, really, when you get down to it. But we don’t think that way. As long as we are alive, we don’t think mortal, deathly thoughts. We carry on, day by day, as if we’re going to live forever.

Allow our story to change your thinking.

Allow our pain to re-route some of your priorities.

Call your estranged family member. Make up with an old girl or boyfriend whom you dumped for selfish reasons.  Apologize to the friend whose trust you broke. Stop talking trash about your boss. He or she has a history, too. We don’t live in a vacuum. Judge not lest ye be judged by the same token.

Forgive. Live without baggage. Travel light.

And be grateful for every day you’ve been given. Live it like it were your last.

I wonder if I’ll remember any of this at 5am… likely not, but there’s always the day after tomorrow.

New graces every day, people.

Originally published August 17, 2011