‘Triggers’ seems too simple a word to describe how your whole world upends itself based on a small, unexpected event. I like this much better. Kind of feels like a slap too.
I was invited to a Facebook group tonight for when my son enters Kindergarten this Fall. My head nearly exploded when I read that he would be graduating high school in 2033. As in, 13 years from now. As in, I will be 53 years old. Even better, I now know that I will be 55 when my youngest graduates.
And to some, that probably isn’t even that old. It isn’t in the grand scheme of things, it’s just not what I planned for me. It’s just that little reminder how off kilter things went.
We had Darcy when we were 28 and Benny at 32. I wanted to be a younger mom. Not because it was this great life plan, but because my mom had me when she was 33. And she died when she was 49. I wanted my kids when I was younger because I wanted them to have as much time as possible with us. I was so constantly concerned about something happening to one of us.
How disgustingly ironic my life became those 7 years ago. I was so worried about something happening to us because I never thought that anything could ever happen to one of my children. None of us do until it happens.
So here I am again, in a bitter twist of fate freaking out at how old we will be come graduation time in 13 years. So much can happen between now and then. So much can change. And it freaks me out. My mother wasn’t at my graduation. Or my wedding. She wasn’t there when her grandbabies were born.
I know that I’m very lucky to have my rainbows. I just need a moment to catch my breath and scream at the Universe. This anger has caught me by surprise because it’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way over everything. The need for control is rearing it’s ugly head again and I just need to shake my fists a bit to release this energy building up inside.
How many of us do this daily? We walk around with a smile on our faces while in reality all that we really want to do is cry. Because we are dying on the inside missing the hell out of our loved ones.
Look, people mean well. They want you to feel better, they want you to move on. Even those closest to you. They want you to be happy. How much of our happiness is derived from someone else’s needs?
I have children, so my grief sits somewhere in a back corner. When my son died my daughter didn’t want us to sit around crying. We did, everyone did for the first few weeks and then slowly it became less and less. I still cry, in the shower, in the car, putting the toddler to bed, in the pantry. My lovely private places.
Why the hell can’t I show this to my kiddos? I have no problem showing them anger, happiness, why not show them sadness? Why not show them that grief can be handled healthily? Why do we hide our sadness?
I’m legit asking. I wish I could explain why vulnerability is bad. I wish I could understand when I was taught this concept. Maybe it’s a coping mechanism I’ve picked up. Who knows?
One of the only places that I can be my true grieving self in at my grief groups. I can be real with my anger and sadness over my son’s death. And it’s ok. It’s my ‘Benny time.’ And I look forward to it all month because it’s like offloading so much that has been stuffed down deep inside.
And here obviously. Here I am still in my protective bubble. And I know that most anyone reading this gets it. And even if they don’t, they can empathize. Because wearing this mask is exhausting sometimes.
I was home with my little rainbows the other day when my four year old son came over to me with tears in his eyes. I was potty training with the 2 year old, which consists of whisking her through the house before she can pee on my carpet whilst she screams at me that she has to ‘go right now!’. So I’m in the middle of wiping butts and washing hands when her brother approaches me with big crocodile tears running down his cheeks.
‘What’s wrong buddy?’ I’m asking not really paying attention as I’m trying to clean up the mess his little sister made. ‘I really miss Benny. I’m sad that he died.’ he replies standing there clutching his big brothers picture in his hand.
It was as if someone punched me in the gut, or maybe more accurately, the heart. This beautiful child of mine never even met his older brother. He was born nearly 2 years after he died. It completely throws me when this little 4 year old has these very intense moments of loss.
Later in the day my son was talking about music and how sad music makes you feel your feelings, especially when someone dies. Then you cry. This little guy may be more emotionally mature than I am.
And what am I supposed to do with this? Never in a million years did I expect my rainbows to feel the loss of their brother they never knew this deeply. The whole thing is baffling and overwhelming. My older daughter who knew her brother has been in therapy for years and we’ve all been getting the help that we need. I guess I figured that Benny would be an abstract idea to these ‘after’ children.
Maybe it’s because we have pictures of Benny up all over the house. We talk about him and share stories. We celebrate his birthday and visit him in the cemetery. My children have been raised surrounded by tragedy and death and the realization that young people die too. It’s awful to even pen these words.
I wish I knew how to best handle these moments when they happen, or at least be able to be better prepared for them. But like most instances in parenting, it’s learning as you go.
So I got down on his level and hugged him tight. I told him that I was sorry that he missed his brother and it’s ok to be sad. I cried because it made me miss his brother too. It made me miss everything my boys never got to do together.
As I collected myself the kids became busy with Batman and my son had moved on. He accepted the fact that Benny was gone and he was ok with it, for now. I wish that I could be as resilient in grief as children are.
**Spoiler Alert for Frozen II**
Clearly I am on a Frozen II kick this week! If you don’t have little kids, or haven’t seen it, you have missed Disney getting grief right. I know that I’ve posted other songs/lyrics from the movie, but this one was a gut punch. I have never been so bowled over by a scene/song in an animated movie before. And I was prepared!
It all started when my oldest came home one day to tell me that Olaf the snowman dies in Frozen II. I knew we would be taking the kids to see it, so I needed to be prepared. We love Olaf over here (I swear my 4 year old son is part Olaf), so I was worried how my kids would handle this. I was concerned it would be triggering for my eleven year old, who is the only one to know her brother before he died.
I reached out to a friend, who reminded me that this was a Disney movie (in other words , everything ends well), but that that scene was sad and Anna sings a song about loss. So I knew what was coming. And I sat in that theatre and I cried my damn heart out.
I watched Anna hold Olaf as he was being reduced to snowflakes and my God it took me back to the last moments of holding Benny and saying good bye. And the lyrics to the song that Anna sang during that scene were probably the best description that I have ever heard of how to handle early grief.
I follow you around
I always have
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity
It pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing
Can there be a day beyond this night?
I don’t know anymore what is true
I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone
The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor
When it’s not you I’m rising for?
Just do the next right thing
Take a step, step again
It is all that I can to do
The next right thing
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath
This next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing
And with the dawn, what comes then
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again?
Then I’ll make the choice
To hear that voice
And do the next right thing
Nearly seven years later I’m still stumbling around trying to do the next right thing. Some days are easier than others. Some days there just don’t seem to be any right things.
I guess that’s all we can do when we are confronted with such a huge loss, is realize that the life we knew is gone and try to figure out what is next. And that can seem very overwhelming.
Anna reminds us to measure time slowly at first, break it down to make it more manageable. You shouldn’t try to figure it out all at once.
But we always must go on. Even though we don’t want to and the grief is so heavy. We must make the choice to keep moving. And keep doing the next right thing.
Some more great lyrics from Frozen II. Very empowering.
We have little ones, so naturally we have seen Frozen II. I think I am more excited than my children are for when this movie is released on DVD. Disney has wrapped so much feeling and emotion into an hour and 43 minute movie. Now that I have memorized all of the songs from Frozen II (we play them on repeat constantly), I am desperate to watch it again. The lyrics are so unbelievably poignant and speak to me on many different levels.
If you haven’t seen the Frozen movies, the premise of this particular song is when the snow man, Olaf, is trying desperately to make sense of something that makes no sense. He was created by magic in the first movie, so he is younger and is seeking knowledge. He also tends to be very dim witted (yet lovable) and seems to think that age equals understanding.
Last Friday I turned 40. And even though I had been listening to this song over and over on repeat for the last month, I didn’t realize the message in the lyrics. And how absolutely absurd and hilarious they actually are. I can tell you that no matter what age you are, everything will absolutely make no sense.
The more that I have tried to rationalize the awful things that have happened in my life, the more I have realized that that is not possible. With age, the only thing that seems to make sense is that nothing does. I have changed my thinking from an ‘Everything happens for a Reason’ type of person to a ‘Shit happens’ type of person. Because sometimes things that happen that have no meaning or reason.
When we try to justify something tragic, we do harm to those involved by disregarding the severity of the situation and their feelings towards it. The only one that we make feel better is ourselves because we are creating distance between ourselves and their tragedy. I have been guilty of doing this and I’m sure it’s just a survival instinct, along the lines of ‘that couldn’t happen to me.’ I am now of the mindset of ‘know better, do better.’
I have learned that death, love, loss, tragedy and human emotion don’t make much sense. And I’m making my peace with that. It’s a process to retrain your thinking, but a sudden tragedy will do that to you. Thank you Disney for recognizing how silly of a concept trying to make sense of the insensible is.