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12.20.2011

Grief is no easy thing to bear

Talking about death, like other complex issues, is always tough with children. We don't mince words about dying around here, or use vague euphemisms, but even plainspeak can be confusing. Both of the older boys and I spent a lot of time since they were very little in the local graveyard because it was a great place to play. It has roads, a dirt pile and out of traffic. When they became old enough to understand the significance of the stones we played around and the words on them, I was very clear about who was under them, why they were there, and the respect we need to take while in their presence. They never made a mess there, never dug up the lawns or rode their bikes over the graves and they had a lot of questions over time to understand it all.

Doc didn't have the same experience and since he's also so much younger, he's the most befuddled - asking plain questions like if dead people can wake up, see things, feel anything when they are buried.etc.. But the big questions are left unanswered. Where does our personality go? Is there heaven? Will we meet again? Are those we lose in pain? All good questions with not many real satisfying answers. Tish is a Catholic. I'm not even an atheist because, while I don't believe in God, I won't say there is no God. I simply don't know. I don't mind if all that exists is what we have here on Earth but that's cold comfort to children who have just lost their beloved Gramma. Tish speaks of heaven with them, even though they have no religious upbringing, and uses metaphors to ascribe a place where we all might meet again. On this, I guess it's my job to keep my mouth shut. My pragmatism has no place in this discussion.

The third and more immediate issue is to help them deal with grief and loss. Their first reaction was to be stunned and then to feel, well...nothing. They don't know what to feel or think or do and, the older boys especially, are surprised and even a bit guilty about feeling nothing at all. They know about grief and how awful this is, it has yet to hit them so they are reluctant to share how they feel for fear of being told they are heartless or uncaring. So they say they are sad and nothing else.

"We all respond and feel different things at different times," I said to each of them privately. "There is no wrong way to deal with death or grief. When you go to the funeral you will see people reacting in many different ways. Some will be crying, some may seem angry, some quiet. Don't feel like you have to feel those things because others do. You need time and room for your own mind and heart to figure out how to deal with it and what to feel. You will have your moment of grief when the time is right for you. In the meantime, don't feel you have to pretend."

After I said this each of them found a voice, a voice of relief that something wasn't wrong with them for not being distraught. "There's no rush," I said. "Gramma is never coming back. I know you will miss her all your lives. You have plenty of time to work out how you really feel."

They left this evening for the services tomorrow. God be with you all.