Archive for the 'Grief and Loss' Category

It’s Just a Song.. I know.

There’s a Ray Charles song that I can remember my grandmother singing when I was a girl. Everytime I hear it, I can picture her singing it - it is so vivid I can remember the sound and pitch of her voice and the way she smelled and the way she would sing half in spanish….. 

When my mom came to visit, we were playing the Ray Charles CD and when the song came on - my mom teared up and said that it was her mom’s favorite song.  She was crying only because she missed her mom - she died when I was ten and it was a pretty traumatic event for all of us as she was a huge part of our lives. 

Today, it made me cry as I listened to it taking my son to school.  I didn’t cry because I miss her, which I do.  I stopped crying about missing her when I had my kids.  I realized that I didn’t have to miss her - she was everpresent and I could feel it.  Hard to explain unless you have had someone close to you die. 

No, I cried because the song is confirmation of my deepest suspicions that she was unhappy in many aspects in her life.  Her marriage was a mess.  Her choices in life didn’t work out the way she thought.  There was a marriage before my grandfather that resulted in the pregnancy of my aunt.  Her first husband wanted nothing to do with the child or the pregnancy and he abandoned her.  Which is when she met and married, at a full five months pregnant, my grandfather.  He was as good to her as he could be and I love my grandfather, despite all of his mistakes, huge personality flaws and adultery. The song is “I can’t stop loving you” - which is a heartbreaking ballad in itself.  The fact that my strongest memory is of my grandmother incessently playing and singing it breaks my heart. 

I cried because I want more for her life.  I want her to have a chance to relive all of those incidents and accidents and not be resigned to swallow it down with a forced, martyred smile on her face.  I want to picture her strong and capable, not degected and a victim of her slim choices, as many women of her time were.  She loved us with all of her being - and all that love that she poured out onto everyone, I’m afraid, was never returned to her from the men in her life.  And, being in the marriage I am - one that is beautifully composed of respect, admiration, pride and passion, I feel nothing but sadness that she never had that.  Because she deserved to feel all of it - she deserved to have more.  I want more for her.  But it is too late.

And, then, I look at my daughter - and myself - and I think that it can’t be too late.  We are how her life becomes rectified.  I know she is watching me - the choices I make, the way I will show my daughter how to be better than I could ever be, the way my daughter and I will expect more from any relationship that we forge in our lives, and the way we will remember her for all that she was and all that she couldn’t find the strength or support to be.  And I know she is proud.  But I am sad.  And, I don’t know that her sadness will ever be washed out of my heart. 

Posted in Relationships, Grief and Loss, Daily Living | 1 Comment »

How To Tell The Little Ones

My kids were close to our friend Will, who died this past weekend.  He was young and interesting - he made art that my son found fascinating.  My son and Will both shared a renaissance sort of mind - the kind where you think about art, beauty and science simulteanously.  It is fair to say that my son looked up to him a great deal.  So, my husband and I weren’t sure how to deal with this.  How do we tell a six year old that someone who is not old or sick has died?  We both, initially, thought that we shouldn’t tell him at all.  Of course, he could tell something was wrong with the both of us - we have been walking around either in a zombie like state or sobbing our eyes out for the last three days.  And, aside from him noticing our emotions, it wouldn’t be fair for him to be left in the dark and thinking that he would see this wonderful man agian one day (when we would go to art openings, my son would seek Will out).  So what to do:

Your child’s capacity to understand death - and your approach to discussing it - will vary according to your child’s age. Each child is unique, but here are some rough guidelines to keep in mind.

Until kids are about 5 or 6 years old, their view of the world is very literal. So it’s a good idea to explain the death in terms that are basic and concrete. If the person was ill or elderly, for example, you might explain that the person’s body wasn’t working anymore and the doctors couldn’t fix it. If the person dies suddenly, like in an accident, you might explain what happened - that because of this very sad event, the person’s body stopped working. You may have to explain that “dying” or “dead” means that the body stopped working.

Kids this young often have a hard time understanding that all people and living things eventually die, and that once a person dies, it’s final and that person isn’t coming back. So even after you’ve gone through this explanation, your child may continue to ask where the person is or when the person is returning. As frustrating as this may be for you, continue to calmly reiterate, in concrete terms, that the person has died and can’t come back, and that your child won’t be seeing him or her again.

This article has offered us alot of insight as to how my son might be interpreting all of this.

Posted in Communication, Grief and Loss | 3 Comments »

Helping My Daughter Say Goodbye To An Old Friend, “Bear.”

Bear In MouthWhen my daughter first met Bear she was only a few months old. Although my wife and I called him Bear from the beginning, he was known as “mnguh” by my daughter. This was true even when her phonetic ability was such that she could easily pronounce the word bear. As she reached two-years-old, only then did she even consider exchanging his name with Bear.

From day one, Bear was attached to her mouth. She would suck and chew on his nose for comfort and to help her go to sleep. As time went on, Bear’s nose became, how do I put it … totally disgusting. As she got older and began to eat food other than her mother’s milk, that food got transferred to Bear’s nose. Bear’s nose went from a cute white nose, to a brown stinky snout.

It got to the point that we had to wash Bear every other day or worry that something nasty would grow on his nose and make her sick. Through the frequent washing, and also my daughter’s tendency to literally chew on his snout, a hole appeared underneath his chin and above his snout. The holes quickly got worse, and stuffing started to come out of him. Since the material was so frayed, we didn’t really have the option of sewing him back together.

The only option left to us was to replace him. My wife and I looked everywhere for a new “Bear,” but he had been discontinued years ago. After an extensive search on the Internet, including eBay and some obscure collector sites, we gave up looking for him. That left us with only one option, Bear had to go.

Bear SnoutMy wife and I talked about how to best get rid of Bear and how we thought my daughter would handle it. As we discussed it, we had visions of screaming and crying as we took Bear away from her. We would soon become the meanest parents ever. After talking about it off and on, and not being able to come up with a good solution, the idea hit me one night to just have her say goodbye to Bear.

The other night, as I was getting my daughter ready for bed, I saw Bear laying on the living room floor looking as nasty as ever. My wife was putting our 2-month-old son to sleep in the back, and I knew that I had to seize the moment. I snatched up Bear and asked my daughter to come over and sit on my lap. I explained to my almost 2 ½-year-old daughter that Bear was broken, and that we needed to say goodbye to him. She looked at him with a serious face, and then pulled him close to her face and kissed him on the large gaping hole beneath his chin. She then stuck her nose up to his snout, took one last sniff — as if to save a sensory memory of his existence — and then pushed him away, and said, “Goodbye Bear.”

Suddenly, she jumped out of my lap and ran back to her room. I got up and walked to her room and found her clutching a much larger stuffed animal (a puppy dog). I asked her if she wanted to sleep with the doggy, and she said yes. So I placed him in her crib, and said that she could sleep with him instead of Bear. She seemed content with the change.

The story isn’t over yet. This morning she asked my wife for Bear. She replied that Bear had to go away, because he was broken. She replied, “Bear, come home.” Only time will tell.

Posted in Parenting, Grief and Loss | 1 Comment »

All Hail the Queen: Remembering Coretta Scott King

The first time I heard her name, I was a scrawny seven year old army brat knee deep in red Georgia clay…. I can remember that summer, days before I began second grade. The wind still blew in the summertime in 1984 - there always seemed to be a breeze, even in south georgia in the middle of august… and I can still hear my mom’s voice calling for me across the park where I dangled upside down from metal monkey bars, my blonde hair floating underneath as the red sky glowed a quiet sunset that was always my reminder to head home.

I can remember, just as vividly, walking into Mrs. Stenson’s second grade classroom. She had the usual posters of Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Kennedy and kitty cats tangled up in yarn with the quote “hang in there!” smattered here and there throughout the room. And then she had a wall full of people that I had never seen before. Sojournor Truth, Harriet Tubman, Jesse Jackson and the beautiful and steadfast Coretta Scott King, poised on stage and singing. And then, aside from that iconic picture that she had in a golden frame on the wall, she had this picture in an intimate frame,that kind of frame you would put a picture of your mother in, on her desk:

Coretta Scott King

Within that year, I believe I learned more about life, reality and the kind of person that I hoped to become, - the kind of person that I hope I have - at least mostly - become. We all know her story and the life she led in the wake of tragedy - that alone is worthy of pedestal placement. But there was something else - maybe perhaps that next to a man who seemed so mighty and capable of escaping human charactersitics like hate and violence, she held her own ground and, once he was gone, she kept showing us the way toward peace. I dunno, I have always found her remarkable for something other than the obvious reasons though - maybe it is not for words, and maybe it is not just me. We probably all feel that way about her - and, truly, we all should.

As much as I tried, I couldn’t stop myself from crying at the dinner table the evening of her death. We always listen to NPR at dinner time and they had a poignant piece in which you could hear her speaking in Memphis after her husband’s death. She spoke with honor and in a voice that only she could muster after having had such a man taken from her family. I couldn’t hide it from my son, a fifty eight year old trapped in a five year old’s body - he notices everything. He brushed his hands together as if he had been working in the coal mine all day and was shaking the soot off and said “whelp, I guess she was the last wise one we’ll see for awhile”. Several things hit me, one being utter confusion about how someone as scatterbrained as me has had such a well put together, perplexing and thoughtful child, the other things had something to do with the passing of time and the remarkableness of people who are great and even those that are not so “great” within that time. Without getting too sentimental (perhaps it is too late) I will just say that she was a great lady that made me realize what I am capable of, both within myself and within my community. that’s all. I will miss knowing that one of our last “wise ones”, as my son put it, is no longer around.

Visit NPR to hear the 1968 speech in Memphis and to read other interesting facts about Mrs. Scott King.

Posted in Lifestyles, Grief and Loss, Faith | 1 Comment »