Helpless or Hopeless?
Apart from death, one of the worst pains to endure is seeing my children hurt, without any way to remedy it. The first dose of that anguish was came in 2015 while visiting our pediatrician. During check-in, Ledger’s oxygen level measured 89% – he was transported via ambulance to the hospital where we spent the next 7 days in PICU. I felt helpless, and I couldn’t sleep most nights. I would track the cords that led from my son’s feet and arms to the monitors, trying to understand the patterns and the data on the screens. His blood-oxygen level on his worst night fell to 68% – and I was completely powerless. Being helpless is something I’d expect most people to experience; when we are children, at the very least. The helpless child is vastly different than the helpless parent. My first encounter was an unshakable experience that travels with me continually; every cough now adds a new weight on my shoulders. Within two weeks, life calmed back down, and I was able to shake the helpless fog that had surrounded me the week prior. Unfortunately, death is not shaken that easily.
I’ve not had an experience comparable to the loss of my husband, nor a moment causing similar grief. The most obvious difference is that death is not reversible; when someone dies there are no fixes available. Those of us who continue are offered counseling and other distractions; some healthy, and some not. The aspect of hope is missing. When we are sick, there are doctors, imaging, and medications to hopefully help solve our ailments. Death has no doctor, medications, shamans or occult methods to bring them back. Since we are lacking those securities I’ve offered reminders that we were lucky to have him, and acknowledge the unfair situation and their feelings behind it. At the end of the day their minds and hearts may have filled up with a bit more love, but there is no fix. Meaning, it continues day after day; I get to revisit my pain and the pain of my children daily and sometimes hourly.
Hard Questions & Harder Answers
Many times, I don’t have the words to say. I’d much prefer speaking to them about a fish that passed away, a mean kid at school, or a balloon that popped. Instead, I’m holding conversations about their father – a man we are all grieving. The first few weeks after Aaron died were even more troublesome; I had to “keep it together” long enough to answer the colossal questions I was asked. My son’s inquiries were things like:
“When is he coming back?”
“Where is he?”
It was a fight to not allow myself to become lost in emotion. I cried around them, sure – but I did not cry like I wanted to. I needed to ensure the children didn’t wind up more unsure about the world around them. My five-year-old, who is autistic, blatantly refuses to talk about it. My best attempts are made when he refers to him in the current tense, by filling in what is actually going to happen, not what used to happen. I’m able to finish the conversation sometimes, but to this day I do not think he understands or isn’t willing to accept it. Our youngest is barely a year-and-a-half-old, and much too young to understand what death is. I do think she knows her Daddy is gone – though she can’t grasp the permanence of it.
Ledger has asked me some of the most difficult questions I’ve ever had to answer. He’s said things that don’t have an adequate response.
“Are you going to die, Mommy? ”
“Is my brother going to die, or my sister?”
“Where is Daddy”
“Why did he die?”
.”But I miss him.”
“But I Want to Say Goodbye”
“I just want Daddy to give me a hug.”
Grief in Motion
Every answer is truthful, and those that aren’t are only to preserve the hope and beautiful ignorance children should have. This video is of a short encounter from earlier this week, of my son expressing his feelings.
“And I cried. I wanna cry too. Nani put me to bed and did not talk to Aaron on the phone and I’m very sad.”
“Why are you, sad honey?”
“Because my father died. My father and my house. It died.”
“I love you”
“I love you too”)
So what do should we say, then? The answer to that is obviously whatever you feel is right for the child and you. Of course, there are books of processes and tips to explain grief to a child. But there’s not one method, stance, or instructional booklet that can fix everything for every child; what is read in these books are nothing but cautionary, and implementable, suggestions. Those books are manuals, and just like complicated situations, new experiences, and IKEA furniture – it is up to us to use the things we see and hear as a guide; thrusting our own experiences to the forefront in the pursuit of preserving and lengthening our children’s hope and happiness.
“I love you” works, too.