Grief Through The Eyes of a 3 Year Old

Dear Grownups,

I need you to read me "Nana Upstairs, and Nana Downstairs" by Tommie dePaola just one more time today, to see if Nana gets to come back this time after she dies in the story. I need to keep asking you if my Grandma is coming back and if I can visit her again. I need to hear the same answer, over and over, like a call and answer refrain. I need time to truly understand and process what "gone forever" really means. I need to play with my dollies and pretend that one dies over and over, comforting myself by allowing her to come back to life with my magical thinking within my pretend world.

I need you to know that I feel your big feelings, even when you think you are hiding them from me. I see the tightness in your jaws, the weariness in your puffy red eyes, the way your shoulders droop. I see your furrowed brows as you answer emails on your phones. I hear snippets of harshly whispered conversations and phone calls. I hear the tension and impatience in your voices, and I see through the false cheerfulness that you're using to cover your own fears, sadness, anger and confusion. I need to ask you why people seem so sad and mad, and I need you to reassure me that it's not my fault.

I find it distressing to hear comments like "She's in a better place", or "She will live forever in our hearts". I'm confused because dying means gone forever, but people say she is living and in another place. Why isn't she living with her family? Why can't I visit her?

I was frightened when I heard someone say, "Dying is like sleeping forever", because that means I don't ever want to let myself or anyone I love fall asleep or else we might die, too.

I'm scared because you told me my Grandma was sick and that is why her body stopped working. My daddy has a cough. He's sick. Now I worry that he is going to die. I don't want my mommy lying down in her bed because it reminds me of my Grandma lying down in bed when I visited her. I have to ask about all the people I know who are older. I have to know if they are sick. I have to ask if they will die, too. I need you to reassure me again that my Grandma's illness was different, that every cough and sniffle will not equal death.

I need you to understand that when I get easily frustrated with tasks I could easily do last week, that I need some patience and compassion instead of your criticism. When I wet my pants instead of going to the toilet, I need you to know that I am not being defiant, but rather, struggling with connecting to my own elimination cues as I struggle to understand the sudden changes in my schedule and the emotional reactions of the big people in my life. I am processing all of the huge feelings that are within and around me. When I ask you to help me put my shoes on or to hold the spoon for me while I eat a few bites of my dinner, it is not because I can't do it myself. I just feel really insecure right now and need someone to help me feel loved, cared for, and nurtured.

I need the safety net of my routines now, more than ever. I need regular meals, snacks, play, rest, and sleep. I need my bath and my bedtime story. I need my snuggles and my songs. I need my blankey and my stuffies, and everything that helps me to feel safe. I need as much "normal" as you can give me in the coming days and weeks.

I need you to understand that I may want your attention and love one moment, then may want to retreat into my own quiet space the next. I need you to understand that I am sensitive to all of the lights, sounds, smells and movement that come along with large gatherings, and that I may be easily overwhelmed. I need to not be tasked with being "on" as the "entertainment" to distract adults from their own feelings, and that I may shut down or melt down if I am the centre of attention for an extended period of time. I need you to protect me from becoming overwhelmed, and to help me when it's all become too much.

It's okay that you cried when you told me that my Grandma died, because it showed me that it is okay to cry when we lose someone we love, and that expressing big feelings is a safe and healthy thing to do. It's okay that you cried when you read me "Nana Upstairs, and Nana Downstairs" the first time, as it taught me that good readers make meaningful connections as they read texts, and that good writing can evoke powerful feelings.

In this time of hurt and healing, please don't forget about me. I need you. I need you to model healthy grieving and self-care coping strategies. I need you to take really good care of yourselves so that you can take really good care of me.

Love,

Your grieving child

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Father’s Day Musings

Father’s Day is this Sunday. For some it is a day of celebration and joy. For others it is a day wrought with pain and despair. Many of us are stuck somewhere in the middle.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” -H. Nouwen

When my father passed away in 2002, after a long battle with cancer, my boyfriend (now husband) quietly held me through my grief. He didn’t try to act as my therapist, like many of my well-meaning friends attempted to do. He didn’t try to “cheer me up” by buying me flowers or cards. He didn’t advise me to “take comfort in memories” or to “focus on the future”. He just held me and let me cry. And cry. And cry… Until I could cry no more and was emptied of the day’s grief, and the aching subsided enough to allow for stillness and sleep to seep in for a few precious hours. He did the things that I desperately needed someone to do for me but did not know how to articulate or ask for–to be present with me, to witness my pain, to allow my pain to exist without “fixing” it, and to calmly and quietly experience it with me. I spent an entire night crying in his arms, and it was possibly the best therapy I have ever received. I knew that he was the One. I knew then that I wanted to have a family with this man, that I wanted him to be the father of my children.

Last year on Father’s Day we were coping with the death of both of our cats, as well as the news that we had just lost a pregnancy. Father’s day is always hard for those of us who desperately want to be parents, but last year was the worst Father’s Day I have ever experienced. I was missing my own father and wishing he were here to hug me and love me through my pain. I was angry at the unfairness of a Universe that would tease us with the possibility of long-awaited parenthood and rip it out of our hands on the very weekend that fathers in North America were being given sloppy toddler kisses and handmade cards in the shape of ties. Up until this point, I had been coping with my childlessness every year by celebrating “Cat Mother’s Day” and “Cat Father’s Day”, including exchanging cards, insisting that we were, indeed, parents in our own right who deserved to feel loved and celebrated on days that make many couples feel “less than”. My trademarked powers of positive thinking, gratitude and silver linings were depleted. I was spent. Empty. Adrift. Hallmark has yet to create a card for that.

I know that this weekend will bring up some tough feelings for many people. Perhaps you have lost a child or lost a father. Perhaps your father abandoned or hurt you. Perhaps the father of your children has passed away, or has disappointed, hurt, or left you. Perhaps you wanted to be a father but life has not worked out in a way that satisfied your heart’s desire. Perhaps the very sight of a Father’s Day card makes your stomach churn.

I will always have a daddy-shaped hole in my heart. I’m hurting over the loss of my own father and my daughter’s loss of ever knowing a biological grandfather, but I am so blessed and overjoyed to finally no longer be aching over the loss of the dream of seeing my husband holding a child of his own. This is the very meaning of the word bittersweet.

To those still in the trenches of the pursuit of parenthood, I salute you for your courage and determination and wish you strength and hope on the journey, wherever it leads you.

To those mourning the loss of a father or a child, I send hugs and comfort, knowing that no words will ever be enough.

To those embroiled in anger and confusion, I wish some moments of peace and clarity as you navigate your way through this emotionally charged weekend and the days and years ahead.

To my husband on his first Father’s Day: Thank you for the gift of seeing you raise our beautiful miracle baby. Thank you for showing me what a wonderfully patient and loving daddy you would be long before we had a child of our own. Thank you for your strength, love, and perseverance during the past several years of this journey. It was worth it. All of it.

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