“Mom, it’s the funeral tomorrow. I want to go.” She said, as she handed me and her dad a piece of paper with the number on it to call Elly’s father. It was late and we had just come home from her annual school program which she had already missed gymnastics for, and I mean this kid LOVES gymnastics. It’s what she breathes and practices and does nonstop headstands for every week. She doesn’t miss it for anything, and she had been so relieved to find out she could still make up for the missed class the following morning.
And that’s when we realized it would be at the exact same time as the funeral for Elly’s Mom. Now Elly is one of my daughter’s best friends at school and we had seen the effect it had on her, when she had found Elly crying at school and realized what had happened to her mother and yet it caught me by surprise when my daughter suggested she wanted to go to the funeral. Now here she was and her only chance to make up her gymnastics that week and I thought for sure she would change her mind.
In fact I secretly kind of hoped she would, because frankly. What FUN is there in funerals?? There were about fifteen other things I had on my list of “fun things to do” on a Saturday, and going to a memorial service was not one of them.
We don’t even know these people, I thought. (I had only chatted with the mother via text and briefly met the father once when he had dropped Elly off at our house for a play date after school) “It might be super awkward” and “are you sure you want to do this??”
My wiser and more *fearful* adult self stepped in and wanted to give her a list of reasons why this might not be a good idea.
I thought that maybe she “doesn’t know what she’s getting into”, so I I started telling her about what happens at funerals and how they’re not really fun and people cry and they’re not play dates and I wanted to make sure she knew, but she stopped me before I could finish-
“yes, I know Mom”
And then turned to go get herself ready.
Part of me wanted to preserve that hurting grieving part of me and not have to stare at my own pain and my own loss (again), but the other part also wanted to protect my daughter from this awful reality. The reality that sometimes mothers get cancer and sometimes mothers die and sometimes girls just like her wake up without a mother. Up to this point I had been pretty open about my own experiences with loss and have always been a champion of not hiding negative emotions and experiences from our kids, but suddenly I didn’t want her to experience this. I didn’t want her to know what it felt like to lose a parent, especially a Mother.
I wasn’t ready.
And there she stood in her best dress and her Sunday shoes telling me she was ready.
“I told Elly I would be there.”
I took one look at my daughter’s face and knew that even if I could I did not WANT TO dissuade her. She was so sincere and innocent in her desire to be there for her friend, I knew I did not want any of my adult worries to put a damper on that. Plus wasn’t this what I had spent my life speaking and writing about? Loss, and how our society pushes it aside and tries to hide its pain? And wasn’t I just talking to a friend about how I wish things were different and that I wish we would all embrace loss a little more and that we wouldn’t run away from death and funerals and terminal cancer?
And yet here was my 8 year old showing up so full and brave for this and I was the scared one. I was the one wanting to run away.
So we decided to go. It was the right thing to do…for my daughter, for her friend, for us. My husband said he would take her. And before we knew it, she had gotten herself fully dressed, done her hair and wrapped a gift for her friend. She had found a small chalkboard of hers on which she drew a picture and wrote the words “you and your Mom”, and then wrapped it up neatly with a bow and a little note that read:
“Even if your Mom is not here for you, your family and friends are here for you. I’m so so so SO so sad for you.
your mom died!!!”
I couldn’t even read all of it before my vision got blurry and my heart started running down my cheeks. It was then that I realized I had done the right thing and that maybe I hadn’t needed to hide this from my daughter after all and that there was actually a gift in my daughter’s empathy. There was a lesson in her compassion. Perhaps I didn’t need to hide my pain at all or the fact that I had burst into tears the day I picked her up from school and she had told me that “something really sad happened.”
Perhaps there had actually been a gift in it even for me. And maybe there had been a blessing in the awkward, a moment of tenderness, a message of love that I needed in the uncomfortable of that conversation and IN the pain. I realized that somewhere in my own journey I had become one of the wise ones and the doctors and I had forgotten how to just let something hurt. I had forgotten how to just be with what is and what I am feeling and not excuse it or diminish it or brush it away.
Because some things don’t have answers and some things can’t be explained or fixed or understood. They can only be felt.
And isn’t that what it means to be human? To ache and to feel with another human, and to carry each other’s burdens, to feel each other’s pain?
So there I was with my 8 year old, feeling my own grief and the loss of this family like I had never felt before and trying not to hide what I was feeling. There I was, overwhelmed in a new way, a brand new crushing way with my child and the loss of my own parent and trying not to run, but to be as brave she was and just let her words hurt and heal me as they needed to.
And so I cried and this time I did not apologize as I walked her to the door and watched her gather up the flowers from my kitchen table to take to her friend. This time I stood in the doorway in my big brave tears and watched her walk away with her dad and I thought about her love for her friend, I thought about her compassion…
and I let it change me.