35: My Son

35: My Son

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

My Son

If you suppress grief too much, it can well redouble.


I didn’t like Tommy. Love him? It seemed unlikely that I ever could. I knew our differences had to be resolved soon or I would have to stop trying to be his stepmother. Tommy’s natural mother had died a year before and he and his brother had gone through a series of housekeepers and sitters, and now us.

When Tommy’s father and I married it seemed like an ideal arrangement. His sons would have a mother and my daughters would have a father. Death and divorce leave many refugees and here were six we could combine to establish a real family.

Tommy was chubby and constantly stood in front of the open refrigerator door gulping gallons of milk. It wasn’t necessary to correct him about anything, because with just a look in his direction tears flooded his eyes. I was certain that if his lower lip trembled one more time I would scream. I knew I treated the boy kindly, yet I was drowning in feelings of guilt about him. It was easier with Tommy’s younger brother, though I never understood why.

When Tommy wasn’t crying, or gulping milk, he was pulling on his T-shirt and stretching it. Sometimes he locked me out of my bedroom when his father was home so he could visit with him and I couldn’t. Tommy would block the television screen so my daughters couldn’t watch. In my eyes Tommy was rapidly developing into a thoroughly obnoxious child. He was only seven.

We’d been married several months and tension was building at a phenomenal rate. Each night I dreaded the ritual of tucking Tommy into bed and kissing his fat little cheek as he glared at me.

I prayed for guidance.

Tommy’s father had told me about their loss. Nancy had been ill a long time and when he called the boys into the house to tell them she had died, Tommy’s only response was to ask if he could go back out to play. My husband, caught up in his own sorrow, interpreted this as childhood innocence and avoided acknowledging and resolving Tommy’s grief. The boys did not attend the funeral and the subject was closed. The prevailing attitude was that life was for the living, but part of Tommy had also died.

I was pretty certain the difficulty with Tommy was related to his loss. With no training in psychology, and no personal experience with death, I knew that by addressing the issue I might be opening a Pandora’s box that I was ill equipped to handle. I had to take the chance, and with God’s help I was provided insight and courage.

That night, as I tucked Tommy into bed, I sat down close to him. “Do you miss your mother?” I asked.

There was no trembling chin, no shining tears or hateful glances in response to this question. This time a volcanic eruption of grief burst from the little boy. As he cried and sobbed, I held him in my arms and for the first time we really touched. My hugs and kisses were given by choice, not duty, and his reception was honest and real. After the tear storm subsided, we talked.

“I understand her eyes were blue like yours,” I said, still holding him. He nodded. I refused to allow him to withhold the rest so I probed deeper.

“What do you miss most about your mother?” I asked.

“I miss her pizza. She made really good pizza,” he said. The sobs had quieted and now he was ready to talk.

“I met your mother once when she came to pick up your father after work. I worked there, too. She was a pretty lady.” Tommy couldn’t remember the incident but agreed that she was a pretty lady.

Though I knew he hadn’t, I asked if he had gone to her funeral. We talked about where she was buried. He had never seen her grave. We talked about her relationship with God, which I already knew was good.

I stretched my memory for any details I knew about his mother so that we could talk more about her. I knew so little. After a while our conversation drifted on to current, less emotional matters.

When I kissed the chubby cheek and hugged the little boy that night there was love in the kisses we shared. At last we had begun to communicate, and I was able to sincerely give of myself to him and he to me.

The next morning, when Tommy came into the kitchen for breakfast he casually called me “Mom.” I hadn’t asked him to. He just did.

I knew I would never take his natural mother’s place. I didn’t want to. She would always be special in Tommy’s heart but Tommy also needed a real live mother every day. He chose me and I love him and his brother completely.

~Lorna Stafford

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