The Wisdom of a Child

The Wisdom of a Child

From Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul

The Wisdom of a Child

You’re surprised when you find out that you’re going to make it. . . . There is some kind of ability we all have that just shows up on your front porch.


Never had life been so difficult. As a veteran police officer, exposed to the constant stress and pressures inherent in the profession, the death of my life partner struck a hammer blow that pitched me into the depths of depression. At twenty-eight years of age, my beloved Liz had suffered a perforated colon as a complication of Crohn’s disease and died tragically after several operations and six agonizing weeks in the intensive care unit. Our firstborn son, Seth, celebrated his fourth birthday the day following his mother’s death, and Morgan, our youngest boy, would reach his third exactly three weeks later.

Liz, who had been a stay-at-home mother, excelled at cooking, housecleaning and all the other domestic chores that embellished our lives. In true macho-cop, chauvinistic fashion, I had taken her generosity for granted, never having time to take on any of these responsibilities myself. As a result I found myself suddenly, in the midst of my grief, thrust ranting and screaming into the role of maid, shopper, driver, launderer, childcare professional, cook and dishwasher. We had moved into a heavily mortgaged new home only weeks before Liz’s death, and our financial situation was already precarious. I soon realized that police work, with its rotating shifts, would necessitate a live-in nanny, further taxing my already overburdened salary. To my great dismay, the constant demands for attention from two preschoolers left me exhausted and irritated, until I began to resent their very existence.

In the following days, loneliness and pain gave way to guilt, anger and, eventually, self-pity. I spiraled deeper and deeper into despair, and it wasn’t long before my body began to display its inner turmoil. Despite my efforts to veil my grief from the children, my eyes became dark and baggy, my weight plummeted, and on one occasion, the boys watched me spill milk all over the table as a quivering hand thwarted my efforts to fill a glass.

Although I dreaded the moment, I knew at some point I would have to delve into the task of sorting through Liz’s personal effects, cleaning out the closets and boxing up her clothes and other belongings. One evening, the boys tucked away for the night, I began. Each dress, that scarf, this pair of shoes, one by one, evoked its treasured, if not painful, memory and feelings of overwhelming guilt. It was in a small fold, deep within her purse, that I found almost by accident a neatly folded, tiny slip of yellowed paper, its creases, tight and crisp with age, protecting a carefully printed message.

“Dear Kevin,” it began, “these are all the reasons that I love you . . .” and as I read on, her words obscured by tears, my heart ached and my body shook with convulsive, painful sobs of loneliness. I had hit bottom.

Slowly, in that hopeless fog of despair, I became aware of two small arms wrapped around my legs as I sat at the edge of the bed. A small voice asked in all the innocence of his three years, “What’s the matter, Daddy?”

“I feel sad, Morgan, that Mommy’s gone to heaven, and we won’t see her for a very long time,” I said, struggling vainly for composure.

“Don’t worry, Daddy, we’ll help you. When Seth and I get up in the morning, we’ll put the cereal on the table and all you’ll have to do is make the toast.”

With those few, simple, loving words, my three-year-old child taught me a greater lesson than any other. His thoughts were sunlight filtering into the dreary, winter landscape of my soul, and I knew at that instant that life would be okay.

Kevin D. Catton

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