Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Holidays

The holidays are tough for grieving families. They're tough for a lot of people, really. There is so much expectation, so much obligation, so many memories to replicate and create.

In our last bereavement group we talked about how they are hard, and why they are hard, and how to make them less hard. I think part of why they hurt is that we're not used to having Christmas without Henry. We're used to not going to the grocery store with Henry, but this is only our second Christmas without him.

Last year we went out of town, to a cabin we'd never been too before. It was a very good decision, and made the holiday bearable. We'll be home this year, and I can feel the heaviness setting in my chest again. I've been very tearful this week.

It's such a struggle to honor his memory, honor our love of him, yet not feel so profoundly sad about it all of the time. Some days I push him away, to avoid the sad and hurt, but not on Christmas. This year, like last year, we assembled a small tree in his honor. It's got "his" ornaments on it, as well as a number of small wooden toys he assembled and painted during his last few months. This was a favorite activity of his.

We've also added a candle. I read another bereaved parent blog who described how her family used a candle to commemorate their son and brother, and thought it was really nice. I feel a need to be able to communicate with my family that Henry is really in my thoughts on a given day, without needing to say something sad that can easily affect everyone else's moods. It's a neutral expression of love for him. It's also really nice to walk in the room and see the candle lit and realize that someone else who loved him was thinking about him too.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Death is at your doorstep
And it will steal your innocence
But it will not steal your substance.

You are not alone in this
You are not alone in this
--Mumford and Sons

Last week my 95 year old grandma died. I flew to Portland to try to be with her as she passed, and also to try to get a grip on how to handle her estate, as I am executor now from 2500 miles away.

It was an altogether unpleasant experience. She, though largely comfortable, held on for a lot longer than anyone expected, to no one's benefit. The upcoming act of distributing/dismantling 95 years of collected stuff that no one else wants feels incredibly heartless. Her aloneness for the last several years, to a large degree self-imposed, was equally sad. How does a woman who has photos of family all over her home end her life so alone? There is a disconnect there that I'm not sure I understand fully, and never will.

I've decided I'm going through a premature mid-life crisis. There has been so much sickness and death in the last 3 years for me. It has stolen my innocence. I don't mind it so much, it's just another stage of life...but helps me understand why I see my peers approaching this stage of life differently.

Henry's death was so tragic, so heart-breaking. My father's death was not, but reminded us all how tragic and heart-breaking his decade-old head injury, that took him from us, was. Mimi's death was the opposite of tragic, it was time for a woman who had lived independently to the age of 95 and whose health was starting to fail to die. It was her life that was the sad part.

Mid-life crises are supposed to be about fearing death. I don't fear death, I fear a sad life.

But you are not alone in this
And you are not alone in this
As brothers we will stand and we'll hold your hand
Hold your hand

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


My middling suffers from anxiety. Mild anxiety. Scary movies, thunderstorms, news stories about people dying or hurting each other often came up again at bed time. We've had to shelter her from those things where possible, in ways we never had to do with my tween. It's been what I consider fairly typical: dark basements, heavy wind, unrecognizable noises at night. Around Henry's death it was worse; we couldn't say the word "fire" within a few hours of bed time or she couldn't fall asleep. Hurricanes, tornados, tsunamis all chased her as she lay in bed. Not to mention the kid in her class who watched too much History Channel telling her OVER and OVER according to the Mayans the world was ending in 2012.

That's all gotten better lately. In fact, we've been able to watch the Harry Potter movies with her, which even 6 months ago she couldn't have tolerated. She is now able to identify that as fantasy and cope with the fear that it gives her as entertainment.

This week she and her sister got into a tiff at bedtime. It was insignificant, but left her feeling upset. Which prevented sleep. She got tucked in twice, shed a few tears, and I thought she was off to la la land.

I was in my living room, knitting and unwinding as I do at the end of the day, and she walked over to me, looked me straight in the eye and said,

"How can I overcome my fear of dying?"

I made her ask me twice more, at first thinking she was joking. She had a small smirk on her face, but she does that when she's embarrassed. She sat on my lap and we talked about 15 minutes, and she asked to fall asleep there.

It was the first time since Henry died that one of my children fell asleep on my lap. It was really nice. As she pointed out before she fell asleep, she's too big for me to carry, so I had to wake her to take her back up to bed.

I found her question so profound. Of course that's what all the natural disaster angst has been about. I just didn't know she realized it. She said to me, "I think when you are dead you're just gone," and I didn't argue with her. She was afraid of her 9th birthday coming next week because it meant she was older, and therefore closer to dying. And she asked me about Henry's room. She didn't specify what she was getting at, and I didn't press...I think a lot of the time she doesn't know, and I didn't want to push her. But I think his room bothers her. I feel so blind to that...it makes me sad to see his empty room and his ashes on his bookshelf every time I go up the stairs...but his door is right next to hers. She sees it more than I do. How vapid of me.

I didn't give her answers; I don't have them. I told her that even grownups are afraid of dying. I told her that I don't know what we will do with Henry's room. I told her I get sad and scared too, and try to think about other things. I told her that's why I knit so much. She thought that was funny. I wonder if it would have been easier to have some answers: afterlife, souls, heaven....but those answers beget new questions as well.

My middling is a thinker. She always has been. I'd like to think that she gets that at least in part from me. It's fun to see her brain continue to mature, to let her cognitive abilities catch up to what she tries to understand. When she asked me that question, I couldn't breathe for a second. But I'm proud of her.