It’s hard to predict what things will “stick” in our children’s minds years from now. What memories will become indelibly lodged in their brains and psyches. What events will be life changing. What words will be mulled over repeatedly. What action or inaction will never be forgotten, and will alter the way they think and behave forever.
Will my girls remember the words I carefully wrote and practiced on the topic of not caring about what other kids think? Or will they remember that I shouted and took their phone away when they didn’t come home on time? Will they remember me saying you can do it, you just haven’t done it yet? Or will they remember me crying about my failed cooking attempt at the end of a very long day?
Parenting is a such a huge responsibility. In fact, it’s absolutely terrifying if you really stop and think about it. Our behavior is one of the primary things responsible for how our children’s lives will play out. They have free will and so will, of course, make some choices as adults that we would not (which in some cases could be a very good thing!). But the way we speak to them becomes a voice they hear in their head throughout the lives. The way we handle adversity in their lives and our lives becomes a lesson they will refer to time and time again. The way we choose happiness, the way we choose avoidance, the way we live with or without moral principles, the way we embrace faith or fear, the way we prioritize – they all teach our children something, even and especially when we’re not actively thinking about our choices.
Almost 4 years ago now, our beloved cat Sammy passed away. It was a chaotic weekend of visits to an emergency vet without all her normal paperwork, which led to concerns she was not up to date on her shots even though I knew she was, which ultimately ended with animal control keeping her body for rabies testing. We didn’t have Sammy’s body to bury, but I thought that the girls having the ability to say goodbye before she died and our talking about seeing her again one day in heaven were all things that would help them through the grief process. What I didn’t realize then, that I’m keenly aware of now, is that (1) the grief process is unique to every person and (2) the notion that grief is a 5-step process is a load of doodoo. Grief does not have a finite end, which is the implication of a process that ends with something called Acceptance. And in fact I think grief is likely a lifelong experience.
Our lives are all filled with ups and downs. With happiness and with disappointments. With change. Our lives will inevitably involve the death of loved ones and the death of people we didn’t know but who moved us in some way. Our lives may include the loss of a job whether by our own choice or someone else’s, perhaps the loss of a pet, a marriage, a feeling of safety, an innocence, a fall from grace, an expectation of what life should have been like. Grief is just a part of life.
We will grieve all of those losses and while we will hopefully move past the initial intense feelings associated with our grief, we will remember the loss or change throughout the rest of our lives. We will remember the circumstances and we will remember our pain, and we will remember the way others reacted and grieved. And something as simple as a song or scent or photo will bring it all back in a flash food of emotions.
So the things that become really important as it relates to grief are that for a time we commit ourselves fully to it instead of avoiding any part of it, and then we don’t allow ourselves to wallow in it forever. We have to purposely pursue healthy grief – so that when we are faced with those inevitable flash floods of emotions that will come days, months and years later, we are able to navigate those waters.
Each loss in our lives, even if it’s a loss that’s different from others, can remind us of any and all other losses. The suddenness and unexpectedness of a family pet’s death parallels the suddenness and unexpectedness of our family changes. And so the loss of Sammy in 2015, which I didn’t handle with as much thoughtfulness as I should have, is now something we are thinking about and experiencing again. I didn’t think twice about not having her body to bury or cremate because I didn’t need that to grieve, but others missed it because they grieve differently.
Sammy was a contradiction in many ways – a loner who liked her space and yet loved to take naps on my chest, a kitty who loved play in her younger years but embraced a bit of laziness as she aged, fiercely protective and purry and lovey and a bit cantankerous all on the same day. We honored her this weekend by talking about her and looking at her pictures, and at Audrey’s suggestion, we painted and decorated rocks for our yard to honor her and remember her.
We grieved purposefully. We grieved bravely.
Will the girls remember our stones for Sammy? Stones painted on a cold day when the sky was crying big raindrops? Or will they instead remember the smell of my overcooked crockpot orange chicken? Perhaps they will not actively remember anything about this day at all, but carry within them a sense of peace because we took time to acknowledge that Sammy will be a part of their lives forever.
“You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly – that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.” ~ Anne Lamott