The minute you think you’ve come to terms with loss, grief comes back—quietly sneaking up on you as a fleeting pang, or slamming into you like a visceral punch that forces the breath from your lungs, making you gasp amid sobs.
My friend Heather said the other day in reference to the loss of her son that, “Grief has no time limit.” She and her family have been through it. They’re still going through it. They will always be in it to some degree. There may indeed be five stages of grief, but there’s definitely no fixed schedule or order to them.
My husband’s mom passed away last February. She was more a friend than a mother in law and the close bond she shared with my children was uncommon, I think.
My son was ten when she died. She wasn’t sick—her death was unexpected and a shock for everyone. Of course my boy was devastated when she died, but after a month or so, the cloud lifted for him and he claimed he had made peace with it and that he was okay. He later admitted he felt guilty for not crying anymore.
“We all grieve in our own way,” we told him. We assured him that he wasn’t disrespecting his Grandie’s memory by smiling or being happy and that in fact, she would be proud of him for living his life.
Nine months after her death, seemingly out of the blue, he sharply felt the full weight of the loss. He confessed after school one day that he felt sad. “I miss Grandie,” he said. “I wish I was five and didn’t understand death. I’m not an adult and I can’t handle it like you and daddy can. I’m in the middle and it’s hard.”
It is hard. He’s right about that. He’s also correct that he’s at a difficult age for dealing with something so incredibly sad. It’s not like he had the chance to tip toe into grief by losing a distant relative first. His first experience with death was with one of the most important people in his life.
He said he knows that this is only the first—that other people we love will die one day. I told him the only thing I could—that he was right. But, that if we could get through losing somebody as special as Grandie, we can get through anything. Together as a family, we’ll be okay no matter what.
These moments are difficult, but I’m glad we are able to have these conversations. It’s important for everyone, kids especially, to feel safe to express their emotions—to get them out and to know that what they’re feeling is normal.
He told me what he missed most about his Grandie and that he can’t believe that she is really, truly gone. He asked for details about the final moments of her life. He said he needed to know. He cried and said he worried that his sister wouldn’t remember Grandie as well as he will because he’s older.
Well. THAT is never going to happen. Avery and Rota had a very unique relationship. They understood each other in a way I can’t explain. Avery still talks about her every day, at least once. Now this is a child who through a random genetic deletion has significant memory issues. Facts and concepts are exceedingly difficult for her to recall, but emotions…those stick. She remembers details and experiences surrounding her grandmother that amaze us.
In the middle of the grocery store tonight she suddenly burst into tears. Something triggered a memory and she buried her face into my hip and cried, “I miss my Grandie.”
She continued to cry as we made our around the store. To onlookers, I’m sure Avery must have looked like a tired, cranky kid who was unhappy about not getting her way.
As we stood in the pasta aisle at Longos, we both cried. I didn’t expect it. But like I said, grief has a way of sneaking up on you.
I wiped Avery’s nose on my sleeve and we carried on and bought a giant cinnamon bun to share because sometimes only a sugary pastry will do on the days when every little bit of sweetness helps.