A New Strength

A New Strength

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

A New Strength

When someone dies, you don’t get over it by forgetting; you get over it by remembering, and you are aware that no person is ever truly lost or gone once they have been in our life and loved us, as we have loved them.

Leslie Marmon Silko

“What’s wrong, Mommy?” One by one, three small figures straggled into my bedroom, navigating through the darkness to my side of the bed. The ringing of the phone and my crying had pulled them from their sleep in the few minutes before sunrise.

“Mommy’s very sad right now,” their daddy answered for me. “Mommy’s sad because your Grandpa Bastien died early this morning.”

All three climbed onto the bed and started stroking me, each trying to comfort a pain I thought they were too young to understand. Three sets of innocent eyes stared helplessly up at me, watching unfamiliar waves of grief ebb and flow.

They did not know their grandpa the way I had hoped they would. A gap of seven hundred miles saw to that. Their memories of Grandpa Bastien came from visits at Thanksgiving, long-distance phone calls and pictures displayed in photo albums. They did not know the big, strong man I knew and loved so much. And for once, I was glad their little hearts were spared knowing him so they would not feel the depth of losing him.

None of them had ever seen or heard me cry so openly. Through tears I reassured them I would be all right but there was no way to explain the grief. There was no way to tell a four-, six- and eight-year-old how their mommy’s life had changed. In an instant I had gone from having a father to having memories. At that moment, thirty-four years of memories and pictures seemed small and insignificant.

It would have been selfish to give words to my tears, explain to them that I would never again hear his voice, send him Father’s Day cards or hold his hand. No, I knew it would be wrong to make them understand this grief, so I held back the words and released only the tears. They continued their vigil, sitting quietly, patting me tenderly with little hands.

As the first hint of morning light filtered through the blinds in the bedroom, they began to talk softly amongst themselves. One by one they hugged me and kissed me. One by one they scooted off the bed and left the room.

Off to play or watch cartoons, I presumed, and I was glad grief had not touched their innocence.

I felt helpless, though, watching them walk away. With one phone call, I had crossed this ominous bridge between my father’s life and his death, and I didn’t know how to return. I didn’t know how I would learn to laugh or play or be the mother they needed me to be in the midst of this grief. After lying in bed for what seemed like an eternity, I dried my eyes and decided I’d try to explain my sadness to them in a way they could understand. While still formulating the words, they walked back into the room, each with knowing eyes.

“Here, Mommy,” they whispered in unison. “We made this for you.”

I took the little package from eager hands and carefully peeled away a layer of leftover Christmas wrapping paper. Inside I found a note written by my eight-year-old: “To Mommy: We love you. Love, Shae, Andrew and Annie.”

“Thank you,” I told them. “This is beautiful.”

“No, Mommy, turn it over,” one of them instructed me.

I turned over the note and on the other side discovered a paper frame, decorated with crayon lines and hearts, and inside the frame was a photograph of my dad, smiling his contented smile, hands folded across an ample belly. It was one of the last good pictures I had taken before he died, before sickness had taken the sparkle from his eye.

My well-planned speech fell away, and I knew no explanation was needed. They understood my tears, and their handmade gift had given me new strength. As I looked at the picture, echoes of childhood memories flooded back, filling the emptiness. Yes, grief had touched my children, but they had their own special way of dealing with it. In their innocence, they taught me that the things I had thought insufficient, the memories and pictures, would be the very things to keep my dad alive.

Kara L. Dutchover

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