Grieving like a child was my path to healing
You said move on, where do I go?
When my brother, my only sibling, was taken by AIDS on March 10, 1994 at the age of 35 and I miscarried my long-awaited, desparately wanted unborn son just two months later, I thought I would not survive.
I’d hardly had the easiest of lives. Abuse had sent me to the streets at age 15, the streets had sent me to a juvenile institution at age 16 where seven months of terror and cruelty gave me a lifetime of PTSD. I married at 17 because a married woman is an adult and out of the reach of the authorities; the moment I said “I will,” I was no longer a ward of the court. I was no longer a ward of anything. I ran from my home state and immediately failed at that marriage. At that point, it seemed like there were few moments where I was not in agony. I honestly did not think that the pain of being an unloved, disliked, bullied child could not be topped.
I was wrong.
I found out I was pregnant seven days after my brother died. I had wondered and now it was real – the only good thing to come of a time of agony I had never expected. I’d grieved for my brother on the installment plan from the moment he told me he was HIV positive right up to the last days when I was only just reluctantly letting go of hope.
How I loved that baby, nestled sweetly inside my body. I couldn’t stop working or I would have had no health insurance, but I came home from my part-time position and went straight to bed where I curled around my belly, telling him how much I loved him, how we would nurse and play and snuggle in this bed and how I would do everything I could to help him grown into a healthy, happy, kindhearted man.
Mid-May I felt two sharp tugs in my belly – short, hard and painful – and I knew he was gone.
I only thought I knew pain when Steve died. I called his answering machine just to hear his voice until his partner changed the message.
I didn’t know pain. I was so crazed with grief when my brother died that I got lost in the town where I had lived for 21 years. When I lost my child, I lost all heart and soul. I had children to live for, a partner to remain for, so I really never considered ending it, but I thought perhaps I would never be happy again. Ever.
Somehow I had gotten to the age of 37 without ever having lost anyone I didn’t expect to lose, like grandparents. I had never learned – had never had cause to learn – the skill of grief.
I found my grieving spot in the front yard, in the ugliest and most comfortable chair, where I watched the walnut leaves swim gently against the blue sky and gazed mindlessly at the gauzy insects lit in their mating dance by the brilliant sunshine and I let myself percolate.
How do people survive grief? Who survives it best? It certainly isn’t a grownup. We’re terrible at it, controlled as we are by the influences of adulthood in this society. We’re expected to grieve decorously and quickly. If we aren’t “over it” in a week, a month, a season, there’s something wrong with us. The process of folding, spindling and mutilating ourselves into the narrow shape of social expectation leaves us with horrific scars, often unable to move emotionally for years, if ever.
No, the people who grieve the best are little kids. If grownups leave their grieving process well enough alone and just love them through it, little kids come out the other side pretty much in one piece.
So how do little kids grieve?
- They cry really really hard whenever they need to, up to and including full-throated roars of rage and anguish.
- They get kisses and hugs from those they love and trust, whenever and wherever they need them, with no embarassment or hesitation.
- When it all becomes too much, they drop out of the whole damned thing and play, because they need the break and they know perfectly well it will all still be there waiting for them.
Little kids do these three things naturally, like the lovely little mammals they are, and they come out with a permanent cache of sadness, but still, relatively unscarred. They move on. They find joy again. They are not stuck in an endless cycle of grieving, like the ghost in the room where the loved one died who lives that moment of loss over and over again. They come out as whole as any of us can when a piece of our heart has gone missing.
So I resolved to grieve like a little kid, and that’s just exactly what I did. I made noise. I howled and wailed as much as I needed. I got kisses and hugs from husband and friends at any given moment. I didn’t exactly play, but I sat under that walnut tree in that hideous chair and I blew soap bubbles and watched my grocery-store pinwheel spin round and round as the sun flashed on its holographic sparkles. And, little by little, I felt better.
I was reflecting to my daughter, a wise woman born, if ever there was one, that I was not sure that I could be happy again if I was to lose her. She replied, “Mother, and would you be pleased if I was never happy again if I lost you?” Honestly, she’s right an unseemly amount of the time, but right she is. It’s important that, as part of this clean, honest and childlike grieving process, you aim yourself at regaining happiness. It’s important. It’s what your loved one would have wanted for you.
It’s what you would want for them. Right?
This is dedicated to everyone who has or will ever grieve, but particularly for those who have been captured by it. Big hugs and nose smoochies…