This begins the second part of my series on grief. I’ve decided to “write it all out”, defining this feeling and expressing just how hard it is to mourn with small children.
The Big Blows
Throughout my life, I was compared to my dad’s mother. My laugh, my body type, my sense of humor, my love of reading all seem to have come from this spunky old woman. In the last decade, after I not only became an adult but really became aware of who I am and where I’m meant to go with my life, I became really close to her.
I talked to my Grandma Lucy at least once a week for at least an hour each time for almost 10 years. I shared everything with her, and she listened and talked and guided and laughed with me. She was, truly, a mother to me. Lucy talked to me not like I was a grandchild to be doted on or coddled but like another adult. We talked like we were old friends who had much wisdom to impart to one another. And that meant so much to me.
She became ill shortly after I became pregnant the second time. She entered a nursing facility as I entered my third trimester. My son was born shortly after her birthday, right at Thanksgiving last year. Lucy returned home at the beginning of the year so she could die in peace.
I buried my grandmother on a bitter cold, snowy day while clutching my newborn son.
My husband was my rock. He guided me, he cared for me, he helped with the children, he answered our daughter’s questions, he listened and provided.
Mourning Needs More
But what he couldn’t do was completely take over the care of both of our kids while I gave into the grief. I’m a SAHM with a duty, and our son was exclusively breastfed at that time. I couldn’t drop everything, curl up on the couch with tissues, and spend days sobbing in my pajamas instead of eating or taking care of myself. I couldn’t stop caring for my children, either.
I didn’t have the luxury of giving into my grief.
I have a family I need to care for, and I have two littles that require me to function and provide for them.
When my father called to tell me his mother had died, I fell to the floor. I literally dropped to my knees. I took a deep breath, thanked him for calling, and asked if I could call him later. I let myself have one big gulping sob and then I heard my daughter ask, “What wrong, Mommy?”
Immediately, I had to suck it up. I had to pull it together and use my words and try to explain the situation. Through the next few days of buying the kids funeral-appropriate attire and booking a hotel room and arranging for someone to feed the cats, I also had to make three meals a day and change diapers and stick to a routine.
Which left the dark of night the only chance I could really cry. And even then, I had to do it quietly so as not to disturb my slumbering family.
You Try to “Move On”
Life carried on afterward, as it does. Like my friend warned me, the grief does creep up on me sometimes. There are days where I look at the framed photo of Lucy and me, and I smile; there are days where I get tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat when I am reminded of the loss.
There are also the days where something wonderful happens and I immediately think that I need to call Lucy and tell her about it. And quickly the joy snaps to grief and the yawning cup of sadness becomes thick as it reveals how full it still is because I recall that I can’t call her, I can’t share this with her.
Yes, there is the part of me that knows she did see it, she did share it with me, but we all know that accepting your deceased loved ones are in Heaven isn’t the same as talking to them on the phone or visiting with them in your home. Is it selfish, or even unfaithful, for me to say that I don’t think that is good enough? That Heaven isn’t good enough? I just want to call her.
We knew my grandfather would follow his wife within a year. It had been half-joked about in the past, and Grandpa even said at her funeral that he was ready to go with her. It took a few months, but he did join her. Frank passed in July, just 5 months behind Lucy.
Since our wedding anniversary and the Angel’s birthday are close in date, we generally take a short family vacation in early July. I made plans for us to spend a few days in the city where I was born and had visited so often because my grandparents lived there. I wanted to show the BHE and the kids the places where I played and went to school, learned to swim, got bit by a peacock, and ate my favorite meals. I also wanted to make sure we visited my grandfather.
That was one of the hardest things I’ve done since saying goodbye to my grandmother.
He didn’t know me. I knew from a few brief phone calls and the reports from my father, uncle, and brother that Grandpa wasn’t really all Grandpa anymore. But to walk into their home, that still smelled like her, and have him look at me and not know who I was… was just too much. The BHE handled it well, guiding the conversation and intently listening as Grandpa’s mind moved around his history: he wasn’t here with us in the present but jumping about his own life’s chronology and remembering people and places we didn’t know. I busied myself with the kids.
A few weeks later, when my dad called to say Grandpa had died, I again hit my knees. I again thanked him and said I’d call him back when I got it together. I again took that long, keening gasp. And I again had my little girl get in my face and ask, “What wrong, Mommy?” Once again, I had to pull it together, tamp down the grief, explain in terms a 3-year-old could understand, and proceed through life with a lid loosely fitted onto that cup of sadness.
Now, though, the cup was fuller, the contents pushing against the bottom of the lid. In some ways, that made the funeral and all that entails a bit easier to deal with. We had just done this: we knew what was expected, how to act, who we’d see, what needed to be done, what wasn’t so important.
In other ways, the grieving was that much harder, as I was grieving the loss of both of my grandparents rather than just the one. I had not yet lost myself in grief over losing the woman who meant the most to me in all my life and here I had to keep that tamped down as I poured more grief on top, more sadness that I couldn’t express, as we buried my grandfather.
Mourning with small children is a luxury.
Giving into the sadness, letting the cup overflow so that it can wash itself out and be, not empty, but calmer and easier to deal with, just isn’t an option when so much is expected of you.
I don’t want to scare them. I don’t want to abandon them. I need to feed them, clothe them, bathe them, et cetera… but I also need to guide them. I need to show them what grief looks like but really show them how to handle it, how to experience an emotion without it overriding your senses or your life.
Really, though, I wanted to let that cup fill up and splash out. I wanted to wallow in my own misery for a few days. I wanted to not care for a bit and wear every ugly emotion on my sleeve just so I could get it out of my system. But I couldn’t. I can’t. That isn’t responsible parenting.
Why I Have to Write
So I’ve written this post time and time again in my head. I have sat down at the laptop to pound them out only to keep hitting the backspace because I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say. I tried to write it all out but it just wasn’t flowing right. I wasn’t saying with my writing what I meant to convey. The point of my blog is to share my experiences to enlighten and guide others, to show where I’ve done it wrong as much as where I’ve done it right, to speak to that bit in all of us that doesn’t want to go it alone and needs to know that someone somewhere gets us.