I wrote most of this over a year ago. Right after this happened. I never finished it until Momastery asked for posts about the messy beautiful parts of life. I’d definitely been avoiding it, but this fit the bill. Hard. Messy. Painful. Connected, Beautiful. Raw. Honest. Brutal. That’s why Glennon calls it: The Brutiful Life.
I always loved kids. I’d been a teacher and a nanny and I’d read all the parenting books. I had even written one myself so I thought I’d do a pretty good job raising a human being. And of course I do.
We all do.
But, like you, I didn’t know how tired I’d be. Or how angry I’d get. I had no idea how much it would freaking hurt. I didn’t know that the stakes would feel so high and the losses would loom big and scary. Parenting is SCARY AND PAINFUL. It’s like once you are a parent your pores open up and more of life’s stuff gets inside you. You can’t screen out the horror stories about what happens to little children because there is a little child on your lap now, and you can’t help thinking: “Oh my God, what if THAT happened to him?” And that’s only the unfounded worry! Other painful things are bound to happen. It’s a simple fact of life.
A while ago we buried a family pet in the backyard. We were open about it. We petted the dead cat and put him in a box and talked about the Tenth Good Thing About Barney. This happened to fall about a week from the anniversary of the death of my grandmother. I didn’t make the connection until I was woken that night by the sound of my almost 5-year-old crying next to me. He had crawled into my bed and was shaking and sobbing with sadness. He could hardly talk and I was instantly alarmed. I felt his head for a fever, but he was not hot.
“What is it Bubba?” I asked.
“When, y-y-you die and g-g-g-o to the u-u-u-universe, I w-w-won’t be able to s-s-see you anymore.” I could barely make out the words through his choking sobs.
I wanted to say, “NO! No, that WILL NOT HAPPEN. I will always be with you and you will always be safe and you don’t have to feel this pain because life is rainbows and silliness and birthday cake and fun!” But that would have been a lie. That would have been hiding the brutal to the detriment of the beauty.
“Oh sweetie, I know.” I shook off my sleepiness and looked him in right in his sweet face.
“Mom,” he blubbered, “Wh-wh-wh-hen you are d-d-d-dead, I will put up s-s-s-so many pictures of you.”
I burst into tears. I burst into tears every time I read that and remember how sad he was that night. My boy. He woke up wondering how he will cope when I die. He felt this deep sorrow and he came to me for support. So I gave it.
“Oh, I know, I am so, so sorry.” I hugged him tightly and we cried. “Pictures are a really good idea. I know that is so hard to think about.”
He cried hard and I said nothing to talk him out of it. After a bit I suggested that we go sit in the rocking chair in his room. He asked for tissues and curled up on my lap. We sat together in the glow of his red rocket ship night-light. We rocked.
My husband got out of bed and went downstairs. This got him thinking.
“I want Daddy to die first because I love you more Mommy,” he stated.
“I know, that’s okay,” And because I knew there was so much more pain underneath that statement, I reminded him, softly, “You will miss Daddy too when he dies.”
“I know,” he wailed, “When Daddy dies, who will make the stir-fry?!”
I held him. He cried. He had started to grieve the eventual loss of us.
Losing your parents. That’s a scary thing to think about. It’s a scary part of life. I imagine that he feels less scared now. He felt some hard feelings. He wasn’t alone. He felt things and survived.
I can only hope that he will be more prepared than I was for The Bruty of Life. This is why I love Glennon’s approach so very much. Because we tend to numb out. We try to hit the middle notes in life while altogether avoiding the highs and lows. Or we look only to the high, fake, all-happy-and-sunshiny places. That’s what I did when I was young. I bounced up and fell down and tried not to feel much at all. Until I learned that grief and sadness and terror would not kill me, and I could stand it, I was miserably shielded from both the beauty and brutality in life. You can’t block one without blocking the other.
Some day (God willing and a long time from now) I will actually die and my sweet son will lose me. He will have to feel the waves of pain wash over him. I only hope we have shown him that this is right and OK. I hope we have succeeded in helping him build emotional competence. If he has practiced a thousand times with smaller pains and losses he will be ready.
It will still hurt, but he will be ready.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!
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