“Are you going to Colorado tomorrow, Mom?”
Sydney stands in front of the refrigerator and asks the question for the third time this morning.
“No, honey. Two weeks, remember? In two weeks.”
I gently nudge her out of the way to open the door and place the milk jug on the top shelf.
“Two weeks. Yes.” She repeats to herself. “So, not tomorrow?” she asks, stepping towards me.
“Nope. Not tomorrow,” I say, bending around her to put the oatmeal in the cupboard.
“Where’s Dad?” she asks, following me to the sink where I rinse breakfast bowls, our conversation a déjà vu of earlier when I ladled the hot cereal into these same bowls.
“Dad’s at PaPa’s, remember?”
Sydney typically wants reiteration of our comings and goings—repeating the schedule outloud makes her feel secure—but lately, she’s been needing extra reassurance that her Dad and I will be around. Lately . . . since her grandmother died of leukemia.
“Yes, at PaPa’s house. They’re watching movies and having dinner,” I answer, placing the dishes in the dishwasher.
“Having dinner?” She echoes.
“Mm-hmmm,” I reply, looking below the sink for the dishwasher detergent.
Sydney clears her throat, then coughs into her elbow.
“Um, Mom? Is Dad coming home tonight?”
I take a deep breath. Patience, Lisa.
“No, remember? Dad’s staying the night to keep PaPa company so he’s not sad and alone.” I pour soap into the dispenser, shut the lid and press the start button.
“Because MeMe’s dead, right?” she adds.
There it is. I wipe my hands on a dish towel and come close, bending down to look at her.
“Right, honey. MeMe is dead.”
Her eyebrows shoot up and her eyes open wide. She pushes her glasses up on the bridge of her nose, sniffs, and tucks the hair behind her ears. But she doesn’t cry. She hasn’t cried.
Children grieve differently than adults, and differently from each other. Refamiliarizing myself with the work of Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, who in 1969 first proposed the five stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, reminds me that the phases can be in any sequence, intermittent or overlapping, or even skipped altogether. As a parent, I need to help my children with their grief work as well as tend to my own.
Both girls have been a bit stoic—they can’t possibly understand that their lives have changed irrevocably—though I expect when Thanksgiving and Christmas and their birthdays come around, MeMe’s absence will trigger a new level of realization. And especially with Sydney, I wonder how much she can conceptualize about the permanence of death. They both loved their grandmother and will undoubtedly miss her, but it’s been concerning to me they don’t seem more upset.
A package from a dear friend arrived like a long distance hug. Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss, written by Pat Schweibert is a consoling story of Grandy who, after suffering a big loss sets out to make tear soup from scratch. Haley and I cuddled up on my bed and read how Grandy chose her largest pot to make her soup because she would need plenty of room for all the feelings and tears to stew in over time.
“. . . she slowly stirred all her precious and not so precious memories into the pot. Grandy winced when she took a sip of the broth. All she could taste was salt from her teardrops. It tasted bitter, but she knew this was where she had to start.”
As I read this sweet but profound metaphor, my own tears began to flow. Haley had voiced sadness, but hadn’t cried yet.
“I want to cry but I can’t. I feel like my emotions are locked up in a drawer and I can’t find the key,” she confessed precociously.
Page after page, the book poetically and artfully validated the human experience of bereavement. Paragraph by paragraph, the words described our unique, acute experience of losing MeMe, and as we read, Haley found her tears. “Tear Soup is helping us cry,” she said, laying her head on my chest, letting her tears fall on my shirt. Together, we made tear soup of our own.
As I’m putting the girls to bed that night, Haley says, “Mommy, I miss MeMe.”
Matter-of-factly, Sydney says, “We have the same name: Sydney Kay Kent, Linda Kay Kent.”
“Yes, Sydney,” I say. “You are named after her.”
Haley asks, “Why aren’t you sad, Sydney?” her chin quivering.
Sydney answered calmly, “Well, I feel a little bit sad. I heard Mom cry and I heard Dad cry and PaPa. But I heard MeMe say, ‘I love you.’ And . . . I danced for her.”
Which was true. After two hours of greeting friends at the visitation, Sydney had kicked off her shoes and pirouetted across the room to “Wind Beneath my Wings,” closing her eyes and moving expressively to the music in front of the podium which held vases of overflowing yellow daisies, a framed picture of Mom and a small wooden box holding her ashes, beautifully hand-crafted with a ceramic angel atop it and a plaque that read:
“Linda Kay Kent,
June 25, 1944 – September 7, 2013”
Haley’s eyes squeeze shut against her now-copious tears as she says to her sister, “Don’t you know you’ll never see MeMe again?”
I sigh thinking, no, she doesn’t know. Sydney doesn’t understand and might not ever.
But then Sydney says this: “Mom, every morning I wait for the bus. I feel her. MeMe’s in the wind.”
Elusive as it seems, she’s onto something. Maybe Syd is keeping her MeMe close in subtle ways that we can’t quite grasp, sensing her presence with a calm knowing; sensing her everywhere. Maybe she doesn’t feel the same sense of loss because for her, MeMe isn’t completely gone.
Wrapping my arms around both my daughters, I reach for the same reassurance; for myself and for them. Although I miss her, I take comfort in the thought that if I look, I can yet find her; in the wind through the trees, in the birds as they soar, and in the sun’s glorious rays that break through the clouds. If I listen I can hear her voice and her laugh and feel her live on in my heart.
Our tear soup will be brewing for a long time. The loss is painful, the memories are sharp and bittersweet, but the love shared is bigger than all of it. We’re going to be alright.