Sunday, May 08, 2011

A Different Grief

Pallas and Langston

It was a lovely evening. I could feel the exhaustion running all the way into my finger tips and for once I welcomed it. It was 9:30 pm. I checked the clock 7 times to make sure I hadn’t misread it.

9:30 pm and for once all three of my children were in bed and….asleep.
A self-congratulatory smirk (accompanied with a sigh of unimaginable relief) passes over my lips. I’m in bed at 9:30 pm!!! I close my eyes doing a happy-skip-run-prance towards sleep.

I am exhausted. In an effort to take care of myself I have run myself into the ground. Eating healthy and answering all those kid questions, paying attention to the long and drawn out stories, making orthodontist appointments, and ordering skin cream and buying bikinis and getting my 9 year old to SLEEP IN HIS OWN DAMN bed and getting a break from them and running a business (two now….) and trying to have a social life and exercising and trying to spend quality time with each of them so they don’t feel further abandoned and teacher meetings and volunteering (which I admit I HAVE TO STOP doing) and talking to a new widow 3 times a week and remembering who has what game/doctors appointment/play date when

9:30 is huge fucking triumph!!!

I drift into my triumph

At that mother sleep level, the level that allows you to hear the cough, the sneeze, the bathroom runs, the talking when you are asleep but not quite wake up, I hear him rise from bed. I hear his heavy methodical one-foot-slightly-dragging footsteps make their way towards the bathroom. Only they don’t stop they keep heading my way. I think “Lie really still. He’ll just go away.”

I remember those nights when all three kids just seemed to keep getting up, Art and I would pretend to be asleep so the other one would get up with whichever kid had just wandered into our room. I remember how the person who “won” would feel guilty and would hold open the covers.

So I’m pretending and it’s not working because Art’s dead and I’m the only one here. Langston, my oldest, says to me, almost pleading, “Mom I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.” His voice is nasally, stuffed up, then that mother awareness memory kicks in. He’s been blowing his nose….a lot. My big man-child has been crying. A lot. Him in pain jolts me awake.

“Hey … kiddo, what’s going on?” I hesitate using ‘kiddo” it’s what Art called him. I let my mother imagination fly … drugs, girls, bullying and suicide. He won’t tell me. He won’t alleviate my anxiety. He repeats over and over again “I don’t’ want to go to school. I don’t want to go to school.”

I repeat “I need to know what’s going. I need to know what’s going on. “

After the seventeenth “I need to know what’s going on.” He shouts, exasperated, “Never mind!!” and storms out. I get up, go into his room, he’s not there. I find my crocks, grab my sweatshirt and head out the front door, that I just noticed is ajar. And there he is. Sitting on the front stoop.

“I want to be alone.” He says. I pretend I didn’t hear him. I sit next to him. I put my hand on his back wondering when did this back become the back of a man, and not of a little boy. His man back is shaking as he cries.

My heart, that feels so fragile, begins to tear at seams that have been mended over and over and over again.

“Sweetheart, tell me what’s going on. It’s safe. I promise you it’s safe.” I say
“It’s everything.” he says “I miss Daddy and no one understands. Only one of my friends gets it.”

I say “Yes, that’s true. Many of my friend’s don’t get it and it makes me feel lonely.
But you know people who get it. You can talk to them.”

Then he says
I want to laugh.
I’ve been waiting my whole parenting life for one of them to say that to me.

“You don’t,” he catches a sob in his throat, “You don’t have to walk past his office every single day!

Rip…the seam is completely undone.

Langston attends school where Art used to work and he does walk past his old office every day. I thought it didn’t bother him.

I’m such as ass.
Such a mother ass!
I know better than those not-knowing people who act all surprised at my sudden tears over Art’s loss and say “Are still mourning?”

“I think about him all the time, Mom. All the time, every day and I don’t want to think about him every day.”

He’s sobbing. He’s almost pleading. My 6 feet-225-pound-14-year-old is sobbing. I'm trying to use my 5’7”-130-pound frame to comfort him and it feels entirely inadequate.


I can’t fix it for him.
I can’t protect him from this loss.
No amount of words, or actions or back rubs will take his pain away.

It is like watching someone drown because I am unable to swim.

I’m silent. Every day he walks past Art’s office. Every day. How many of those days does he think he might see his dad? How many of those days does he just want to punch that door?

It feels like for the first time I am seeing his world, a world that doesn’t include potential other fathers the way my world includes potential other husbands.

He lost his father. There will be no other.

I breath deeply. He is not ok…he has been hurting all this time? Shame rises and then falls. In Art’s death I feel the lack of motherhood omnipotence.

He’s right. I don’t get it.
I don’t understand because I don’t walk past Art’s office every day. I don't understand because my dad lived till I was just one day shy of 40, not when I was 12.

Then he says, “Mom, it was so hard having you and Pallas and Ezra fall apart but I couldn’t.”

I let out the kind of sob that hurts my body.

“I know, baby. It must have been so hard for you to lose Daddy and then have me not being able to function. Sweetheart, I’m here now, I’m functioning. It’s ok. We survived it.”

He continues, “I felt so powerless. Unable to do anything to help you.”

This is when I hear my heart shatter.

I stifle the sobs. “I know how you feel.” I say.

He just sits there and cries. And I sit next time him, my hand on his back, or stroking his hair, his neck. I do what I wanted so many others to do for me.

I witness him.

I witness his pain. I honor it. I validate it. I don’t hand him a tissue, I don’t say “It’ll be alright.” I don't distract him with "You know your father loved you." or "Your dad used to...." stories. I just sit there until he’s cried out.

I put him to bed and he lets me rub his back as he falls asleep. I notice that it takes longer than I remember to traverse the distance from his left shoulder to his right, then down diagonally to his waist and across.

He has grown in the last two years, inside and out. Another loss for me. I feel like I am seeing him for the first time in two years, since Art died.

And in those long strokes, I send him courage and strength and love, love, and love. I sit in my powerlessness, finding that I do have some power.

My power is not in protecting him but in honoring his journey. My power is in not lying to him, telling him it will be ok because it will never be ok. His father is dead.

My power is in letting him have his feelings and making them ok. My power lies in showing him that the bad is followed by the good, which will be followed by the bad and the good again.

My power is in teaching him to hold tight to those moments…all of them because they are what will make him so wonderfully approachable and human.

I see his grief and my grief as separate. I always saw it as the same.
He lost a father, someone that cannot be replaced.

I mourn his innocence.


I finished writing this, the eve of Mother's Day, and for a moment I can't think. I keep wishing everyone else a Happy Mother's Day and forget that it applies to me as well.

I'm not sure how I feel about it or that I should even put much thought into it. The man who is partially responsible for me becoming a mother is dead, but I'm still a mother. A very, very different mother than I would have been if he were still alive. I haven't thought about the ways I've changed till now.

But when I re-read my post I see. In Art's death, I am becoming the mother I always wanted to be. The approachable kind, the kind that my kids (and others?) know will love them, will honor them, their triumphs and foibles. I am impatient, but real (I'm sorry guys. I don't have the space right now to help you.) I am harsh. (It's because when I was your age I didn't have the chance to do it. It may not make sense to you. But you are doing it anyway!) Above all I hope my kids see that I am human -- flawed and imperfect, courageous and terrified and still moving, changing and forever growing. I have never felt more like a real mother than I do today, at this moment.

Art's death freed me to be this kind of mother.

So to all you widow-mothers out there -- I love you. Our journey through motherhood without husband's is an imperfect one, full of bad words, horrible feelings and unwise actions. Yet we not only live it but find the courage to grow in it.

That truly is the miracle of motherhood.


  1. Wow. I don't really know what to write Kim, only that this made me cry and I so respect you as a Mother. Your kids are lucky to have you.

  2. Truly a miracle in all ways. Motherhood is that. You capture a tender moment. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Beautiful post. Your kids have a great mom.