A few months after my son Bobby died, I had lunch with a few friends. I still wasn’t up to socializing, but I agreed to go anyway. One of the women said something that made me want to jump across the table and grab her by the throat. I know she meant her words as comfort, but at that time it was like rubbing salt in an already gaping wound. It’s now been five years and I can remember my visceral reaction that day.
Here are two things NEVER to say to a grieving mother:
He/she is in a better place.No he’s not! He should be here with his family. With me. How could any place be better?
If you just do X, you’ll find closure. Really? What does closure mean, exactly? Do you think one simple act will help relieve the unrelenting aching of my empty arms?
As any mom will tell you, after 5 years, 10 years, or even longer, there is no such thing as closure. Writing my book, BECAUSE OF GRACE, didn’t bring closure. Putting a brass plaque with Bobby’s name on the Children’s Memorial Tree in South Lake Tahoe didn’t bring me closure. Closure is like trying to grab smoke.
Has anyone ever said anything to you like this? How did you respond?
Have you noticed that in many children’s movies, someone invariably dies? In the list of Disney’s top grossing animated films, here are ones which include death: Frozen, Bambi, The Lion King, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Mulan, and Sleeping Beauty. These movies touch our hearts, make us cry, and carry us into a deeply satisfying ending. In spite of the death scenes, our children ask to see these movies over and over.
But I’m confused. Why do we let our kids watch Mogli die, yet shield them and ourselves from the reality of death? When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, we say things like, “You’ll be fine. You can fight this. It’s not the end.” Yet it often is the end.
I’m convinced children accept death better than adults. Shortly after my son passed, I was talking with my then five-year-old granddaughter. She pointed to a photo of Bobby and said, “That’s Uncle Bobby. You know, he died.” I know children are notoriously narcissistic, but maybe I can take a lesson from my granddaughter. Maybe we can teach each other about life, death, and eternity.
When someone is dying, the atmosphere is rife for raw emotions to bubble up and splash onto others. I’ve become tense watching my mother struggle with the will to live. My tension radiates to Mike, and he radiates it back to me. We come at each other like two Edward Scissorhands, thrusting and parrying. We’re both exhausted. Emotionally, physically, spiritually.
Grief is much the same. It grabs us by the throat and won’t let go until we weep and moan. I rely on Mike to make decisions. He shrugs off my neediness. He wants to be taken care of. So do I. What do we do?
We talk. Not in the heat of the moment, but when we’re both relaxed and can let down. Sometimes over morning coffee, sometimes over a glass of wine at night. Talk, talk and more talk. It’s how we roll.