I felt fortunate this year that my son’s holiday season was a happy one. In fact, he made out like a bandit. In my book, that’s as it should be. As we do every year, we also bought gifts for needy children, something he has come to appreciate and we enjoy doing as a family.
His happiness was particularly important to me this year. That’s because he suffered his first significant loss with the death of his grandmother just before Thanksgiving, and two days before his birthday. This was his mother’s mom, with whom he was particularly close. Although she had been ill for some time, it was a very difficult process for him to go through, and one that he — and I — were a little unprepared for. It was, after all, his biggest loss since his mom and I split up, something I’m still learning to navigate in one form or another, albeit on a less frequent basis.
It was helpful for him to mourn with his mother, and the two of them shared their grief in significant and helpful ways. My initial concern was that he tried very hard to be a “big kid” about it, and did not want to be overly sad about it. He appeared more concerned about his mother’s wellbeing than his own. I credit him for that, but tried to assure him that he needed to mourn also. During the memorial service he started to break down, and was visibly overwhelmed by all the mourners who kept assuring him that his grandmother loved him dearly. I took him out of the room and we took a long walk together before coming back to the room.
I eventually realized that I needed him to mourn in his own way, and that perhaps I was projecting my expectation that he should be more broken up. He was, but in his own way, and it would happen slowly over time. The break-down moment for me came a couple of weeks before Christmas, when he was assigned a tribute poem for school. Of course, he wrote it about his grandma. It was therapy for him, and it was the outpouring of emotion that I feared he was bottling up inside. I felt it healed him to a large degree.
But the entire experience left me doubting myself, and how I dealt with it. Horrible as it sounds to say, he will suffer the loss of those close to him in the years to come, and I wonder how I would handle it differently if that comes to pass. I consulted several online resources for advice, and “found this at kidshealth.org”:http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/death.html and also “this at hospicenet.org”:http://www.hospicenet.org/html/talking.html for suggestions. Still, one learns from experience, and I think the best lesson for me was to let him be while reassuring him that it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to express yourself when you’re ready.
It’s not something you want to plan for, but you do need to be ready. That was my biggest lesson.