A boy’s burden

Treehouse

Originally Posted on September 9, 2011

I’ve been taking Seanie to see the grief counselor for two months now. With very few exceptions, every Wednesday we are at her house, and she plays with Seanie and talks to him about his mother. She emailed the results of her latest conversation during play time with Seanie to me last night. I found the content to be very illuminating.

For one, he thinks about his mother every day and misses her. He feels as though he can’t draw a family picture because mommy isn’t here anymore. When asked to bring a photo of his mommy, Seanie said no.

While the above makes me incredibly sad, I am not upset about it. I am glad he thinks about his mommy every day and that he misses her. I should say, I am not glad he misses her but it is encouraging that he is in touch with his feelings and can say something like that. It is so very natural to miss his mommy. I also do not have a problem with him not being able to draw the family. He understands that our family was mommy, daddy, Seanie and Sophie. Mommy is gone, so it does not feel like a family any longer. I can completely understand this. With time I know he will come to grips that, while our family has been decreased by one, we are still a family. I think his refusal to bring a photo along is part of this feeling, also. It hurts to think of his mommy now that she is no longer in the family.

He prefers to say “gone” to “dead,” which is normal since he can’t conceptualize death at three. That won’t come until much later. He gets that I’m still here and that I’m not going anywhere, whereas his mother is not coming back. The fact that this reality has sunk in to his awareness even at such a young age as three is good in one sense, but so incredibly sad in another. That he’s taking the first steps to internalizing this new reality is a credit to his budding intelligence. But, oh, the heartache I feel for him.

I won’t go into the whole bit about how this shouldn’t happen and so on. It does happen, to thousands and thousands to young kids and families the world over, every single day. This is not an unusual thing, as awful as it is. It certainly doesn’t help me to think of it in that way, but the fact remains that what happened is, unfortunately, not uncommon in the slightest. You’d think that for something so common to take place we’d get used to it by now. But the thing that draws those in the community of the bereaved together is that universality of the pain of loss.

And Seanie is a part of that community, as is Sophie. There is no question that this loss will define them to a large degree as they grow up.

One thing the grief counselor told me is that Seanie needs to know that he is not a boy without a mommy. He has a mommy, even though she is not here any longer. I found this interesting and life-giving. Seanie’s mere presence here is evidence that Seanie had a mommy, and nothing, not even her death, can change that. She may be dead but it does not change the fact that he was carried in the womb of an adoring mother who brought him to term and nurtured him for three years of his life. It is sad that she is not here, but it does not change the fact that she is and always will be his mother. If his friends ask him who his mommy is, he can pull out a picture and show them. That’s my mommy. She’s dead, but she is still my mommy.

If I ever remarry, that will be something my future spouse will have to understand. She is not likely to hear the words “mommy” coming from either Seanie or Sophie’s lips, and I would not encourage them or pressure them to feel like they must say. Janie is their mother. End of discussion.

What a funny dichotomy: the death can remove her from us physically but not in all the ways that matter, such as affection, heart ties, what she means to us. “Moving on” does not mean proceeding down the road of life without her. Coming out of my grief will not entail having a life without her. It simply means that she now has a place in my story and that of our children, and has no further physical role in our daily lives. But she will continue to exert her influence upon us forever. I love that. I wrote in a post recently that Janie is doing her best work on me in absentia. That is what love does. We love her and her love for us continues and will always continue to help shape our outlook and frame our understanding of family.

See, death, you don’t get the last word. Screw you.

There’s a point to this digression: despair at the loss of a loved one does not have to be an option. It is right to allow the profound influence the loved one had upon us to continue to “live” in our life. After all, that love they gave us was a life-giving thing. Why not allow them to continue to give us life, even though they are gone? Wouldn’t they wish that for us?

It does not mean we live our life as if they were here. I make different decisions on all things from shopping to how I’m going to decorate our home to when I go to sleep now that Janie is gone. I am free to live my life in the way I choose without having to consider her in those decisions. But I can call upon the memory of her in such moments as “what would Janie do now that Sophie has scribbled all over the walls?” or “how would Janie feel about what I’m writing in this blog?”

Honestly, I think Janie would be pretty proud of who I am becoming. I wish I were this person I am turning into while she was here. That’s not how my road is laid out before me, but I know she would be full of pride and joy at how I’m doing. She invested such life into me, and now the first buds of the future harvest are showing. She would feel the same way about her children.

So Seanie is not a motherless child. He might feel like one at points during his development, and his mother’s absence will be painful for him at various points throughout his life. Nevertheless, he is not a motherless child. Janie is and always will be his mommy. It is a tribute to the kind of person she was that even just three short years of her physical presence in his life is enough to exert a lifetime of influence upon his character.

That is why I pray almost every night “thank you God for the years we had with mommy.”

Too short for us, but not too short to make all the difference in the world.

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