September 20, 2020

What My 10-Year-Old Son Taught me about Grief. 

I opened my computer to send a message to a friend.

Some sort of glitch happened, and I couldn’t seem to bring up his Facebook page—when I searched his contact info it also wouldn’t pull up.

I needed a favor. I hadn’t spoken to him in over a year, but he was the kind of friend I could call after a long gap, and he would drop what he was doing and gladly come running.

I quickly google-searched his business name to call his work phone. Instead of his business info, an obituary flashed in front of me.

I felt my knees go weak.

This had to be the wrong guy. As I allowed my eyes to take in what was there, I saw the line: “a passionate architect”…I knew then—it was in fact him.

I lost my friend forever without a chance to tell him how important he was to me and how many times a day he popped into mind and made me smile, knowing the world was okay just because he was in it somewhere.

He was 47. He died alone in his apartment—a victim of this vicious virus.

My grief over the past few days has been a roller-coaster.

How do we grieve correctly?

How do we make it sit a little softer?

How do we share the grief with our friends in a respectful way?

Do we put it out of mind or out of necessity?

Do we busy ourselves and trudge through a normal day?

Do we scream, cry, and allow the anger and disbelief to consume us?

Yesterday, my youngest boy, Lincoln, 10 years old, called out from upstairs in a tone that I knew needed my attention.

His little furry buddy, Biscuit the hamster, was cold and not moving. I gently took the small creature from his unsteady hands and prayed the hamster was merely sleeping. I felt the dread rise in my chest. I thought, why do we get these little pets who are sure to leave us too soon?

I had to look into his sweet cherub face and tell him that Biscuit had died.

After a moment, Lincoln asked for his tiny friend back. He held him close to his heart and crawled into bed. He asked me and his brother to get in with him, and he sobbed with his whole body. He continued to let the sadness ring through him without hesitation or self-consciousness.

He let us hold him, while he held his tiny pet. Once his heart had calmed, he immediately emptied a cherished box that he kept on his dresser and filled it with the fluff that biscuit loved best. He carefully placed a few special treats in the box and then put the hamster in, too.

He talked to him. He told him how nice of a companion he’d been and how much he loved him and would miss him. He thanked him and lamented that he hadn’t gotten the chance to say goodbye.

After carefully picking a burial site among the flowers outside his bedroom window, he set out to making a small headstone out of a smooth rock and some markers. He took his time with this, wanting to know the exact dates and choosing the design and his words carefully.

When he was ready, he asked the family to join him for the “service.” We had a proper burial, and he asked us all to hold hands. He cried more and asked for hugs.

Throughout the day, he visited the spot and sat quietly a couple of different times. He specifically asked his brother to come sit with him one of the times. He talked to everyone about how he was missing him—he even asked if Biscuit would be going to heaven.

He wondered out loud if he had been a good caretaker and looked for reassurance that he had. Later that night, he was able to laugh and feel the little moments of joy that faithfully followed his pain.

I was struck at how his grief had mirrored my own. His approach to this experience was heart-wrenching, raw, and quite simply perfect.

This is what I learned on grief from my son:

>> It is okay to be present with all things—the good, the bad, and the seemingly ugly.
>> All connection is sacred—from the smallest mouse to the biggest, deepest human ones.
>> It is okay to ask someone to hold us when we need it most.
>> It is okay to feel all emotions with our whole selves.
>> It is okay to wonder and ask if there is a heaven.
>> It is helpful to speak out loud our love, gratitude, and loss.
>> It is essential to identify those relationships that hold and nourish us and to seek the presence of those anchors.
>> It is important to physically memorialize our connections and the transformations of them.
>> It is healing to go quiet and sit with our loss as many times as we need to.
>> You are allowed to spend time in reflection and even in self-doubt—to ask for the reassurance that we loved in the ways we wanted to.

This beautiful, messy experience—mine and his—reminds me of the awesome impermanence of all things.

The joy, the sadness, the friendships, and the mistakes—all of it.

Our work here is to trust, to feel, and most of all, to be really and truly present.

Remember that you are someone’s friend who will drop everything and come running to help. Metaphorically, you are someone’s furry, warm, and constant companion.

Honor your roles—someone is those things to you, too, so honor theirs.

Give yourself the gift of being wholeheartedly where you are.

Open your heart to connections—big and small.

Allow yourself to love and lose deeply.

Hold each other tight—always.

And please, please trust the universe to light your way.

It feels to me that this year has been a profound cracking open. We have all felt loss—loss of normalcy, togetherness, sense of safety, income, and maybe even a loved one or a deep connection.

We can do this, and we can do it with grace if we honor where we are and what we feel.

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” ~ Alfred Lord Tennyson



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