How?

How?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

How?

It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.

James Thurber

We stood together at the funeral parlor, mother and son. I squeezed his hand hard to let him know I loved him as we said good-bye to his daddy.

Travis was ten years old. How would he understand? How would he get through? I worried to myself.

I slipped a locket into the casket. It held a picture of Travis and me. Travis placed a Hot Wheels car on the satin. Two gifts. Two good-byes.

He grieved quietly, to himself, sobbing only when we were in the privacy of our home, when he was behind his closed bedroom door, far away from my touch and concern, deep under the comfort of his blanket that muffled the sound of his voice.

“It’s going to be okay, honey. You’ll see.” Mother words. Comforting words. What did they mean? They sounded plastic and empty, even to my own ears. How could I replace a man? How could I replace a father? How could I fill that hole?

Travis’s daddy was his hero. No one was as strong. No one was as fast. No one was as funny.

His teachers used to say, “Travis is so full of life.” And he was. But now? Helplessly I watched grief chip away pieces of his heart. He didn’t laugh like he did before. His eyes lost their mischievous sparkle.

“Everybody else has their daddy,” he told me. “Why can’t I have mine?” How do I answer that?

He quit karate classes: “It’s no fun without Daddy watching me.”

He quit Little League: “It’s no fun if my daddy can’t watch me play.”

Honey, if I could bring him back, I would. If I could put salve on your scratched heart, I would. But I’m not God; I’m just a mother. I don’t understand why it happened, either. I have questions, too, like, “How do I teach you about girls? How do I teach you to be strong? How do I teach you to be a man?” Time doesn’t heal wounds completely, but it does make the scars a little lighter.

Little by little he rebounded. Day by day, part of the natural process, his infectious laugh returned, his sense of humor, the life in his eyes. Once again we were wrestling on the living room floor and playing baseball outside in the yard.

My boy was back, but my questions still remained. Who would be his role model? His hero? He had uncles and grandfathers, but they weren’t in his life every day. He needed something more. Someone who cared deeply about what happened to him and who would move heaven and earth to help him be the best he could be.

“Please, Lord,” I prayed, “show me how to be the kind of parent he needs.”

I wasn’t sure if I could be any kind of parent then, wondering if my half-hearted attempts were enough. His dad was my childhood sweetheart, and I was dealing with heartache of my own. I read books on grief and bereavement for my son and myself, and it all made sense on the surface, but not underneath. I was a social worker, supposed to know the answers or be able to find them, and normally I did, but now I was the one who needed a social worker, someone who could say the right thing, tell me where to go, how to manage the turmoil of emotions. My emotions for my son were tidal waves crashing in, and all I could do at the time was give it all to the Lord.

About a year after my prayer, I sat on the porch swing, and he came to sit down with me, carrying a book of beautiful muscle cars—Mustangs, Novas, GTOs, Chargers, Dusters.

“Remember when you got me this book last year, Mom?”

“Sure do.”

“And, remember when you took me to see that classic car show?”

“I sure do.”

“And the time you took me fishing?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“And bowling? And skating? And swimming? And the time we built an igloo?”

“Sure. I remember all of that.”

He smiled at me and handed me a folded piece of paper.

“Open it up and read it.”

I did, and it was a paper he had written for school. A big red A was at the top of the page.

The title of the paper was, “My Hero,” and the words read: My hero is my mom. I want to be just like her when I grow up. She teaches me right from wrong, and she wants me to be a good man.

Hot tears filled my eyes, and we hugged.

“Thank you, Travis,” I whispered. “I love you.”

Tammy Ruggles

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