By Kim Hamer
The power of grief, and how a parent can help a child cope with the loss of a loved one.
The 95th day after my husband died, my daughter walks into our bathroom where I am leaning, hunched over the sink trying to remember what comes after I wash my face. Moisturizer or that stingy stuff?
My daughter’s eyes are ringed in red, her lids barely able to contain the pools of water.
“What are you doing up?” I say with barely tempered frustration. I have spent my energy today opening up more condolence cards and walking from room to room trying to remember what I keep forgetting, my own private circle of birds, fluttering around my head like the ones in cartoons. I have nothing left to give her.
I turn to her, not in softness but in a “this had better be quick” stance.
“I just realized….sob…. Daddy’s not gon….sob….na be here for my sob 10th bir….sob….thday.” Her tears drop from eyes, as if their lives depended on them reaching the linoleum. “It’s an important birthday.” She looks up at me as if I do not know. “I’m turning double digits.”
I watch her. I don’t gather her to me. I don’t change the subject or ask her to think about “happier times with Daddy.” I hold myself still, giving her the space to grieve, giving me just one more moment in the anger.
What I want to do is to knock her aside and take on the grief. I want to attack it, rip it, and shove it into my mouth, tearing at it with my teeth as pieces drip from my chin. I want to ingest it.
I want to swear and yell, “You have no right to touch her with your loss and desolation and pain. She’s only 9!” I want to flail and punch and scream. I want to make the grief hurt back.
Instead I stare at my daughter as I stand with her in the inky, sticky, black grief and I watch her. I acknowledge her loss—which means I have to acknowledge my own. And I witness how the grief makes her shrink, how it bends her 98-pound body, making it look like it might snap.
Finally, she swipes at her eyes, staring at the bathtub and says. “The kids in my group say it will get easier with time.”
It is then that I embrace her. And from me pours the deep wonder at this person that Art and I have created and her strength. I think, I’m the lucky one. Hopefully, (cause clearly nothing is guaranteed anymore) I will get to see what kind of remarkable woman she will become.
Kim Hamer is a widow and only parent to three relatively well-behaved children as well as author of 100 Acts of Love: A Girlfriend’s Guide to Loving a Friend Through Cancer or Loss, and runs a blog of the same name.
Photo by Scott Boruchov