Saturday, August 17

Moment of Grief, Moment of Good

There was this quiet little moment this week.  It was the moment my middle son with grit and delight walked out to his first day ever of full-time school.  His first day out from under my wing.  The first day I had to trust someone else to be there for him.  And my heart waited, subdued breath, for the return of his lucent smile.

But when he re-entered our home that afternoon I couldn't leap up and welcome him.  I was frozen.  I couldn't offer him the cookies I had planned.  I hadn't made them.  I couldn't offer much but a lingering hug and an honest inquiry for him to tell me all about it.

I had my mom-game-face on.

His father and I had been sitting on the couch letting the time tick away toward the meeting during which, we'd learned, he was going to be fired.

And yet this moment was important. In this moment our affirmations and joy would breathe confidence into our son's heart.  It was the moment he would decide his posture toward the next day.  So we pushed ourselves to get there, to be there with him, to sit face-to-face and let him spill his story of the good day, and knowing it was going to end badly.

Oh, to be able to go back and have the day to repeat.  Why couldn't the grief have played out on another day, not the milestone day, not the day when I'm already melancholy weepy-eyed?

Grief doesn't wait for us to invite it in. It moves in and thrashes about like a snake, crushed head, taking down everything with his thrashing tail.  For hours and maybe days we brave the fight until at last its energy subsides, heaving descends, body collapses and the corpse lays bare on the heart until it can fall to ash and blow away.

Grief begins already in the lead.  And we have to let it roar and rampage before we can catch it.  That evening when we told the children their father's fate they raged and wailed.  We whispered, "I don't know why" as often as they breathed in their shaky, sobbing breath.  And when the children were done crying we dried them off and assured them and put them to bed with all gentleness and then we, ourselves, wept over their pain and later went into their room and helped them vomit and prayed at their bedside.  Grief was winning.

Maybe this was the more important moment.   This was the moment when we let it all be played out in front of the kids; the puzzling explanations, the shock and fear.  When we all had a question to ask, bouncing between compassion and gasping.  This was the moment we taught them to fight the snake:  in spite of the hits and stings you just keep crushing.  Maybe this broken moment was the one that would matter more.

Maybe we keep our grief guarded and circumspect.  Children publicly feel pain and disappointment but see adults calm and collected.  Maybe we ofttimes have the answers before they can ask the questions.  Maybe we can learn to grieve by following their lead:  feel the pain rather than stuff it, share it, grasp for one another.  When the circumstances involve them, we shouldn't do their grieving for them, filter out the hardest emotions in hopes of sparing them.

In the morning he was weary, but he left again for school, doing the hard thing of moving forward in affliction.  In that moment, that important moment, he was learning that grief would lose its hold, that strong living crushes the dying. And when he returned home, all I could do was wrap my arms around him and ask about his second day knowing that in time overcoming the grief would breathe confidence into his heart and help him set a posture toward all the hard things that were yet to come.