They say time heals all wounds, but we know that’s not true. It’s been ten years of not having you here, and my wounds are still just as deep, and the heaviness I carry with me never goes away. I have learned to live on this earth without you, but as time goes on, life without you feels harder. You are forever with me in everything I do and everywhere I go. Take today, for example.
Poppy has been taking piano lessons for a couple of years. Her piano teacher recently retired, so she connected us with somebody new. It is a Sunday, and I am rushing your sister out the door to lessons with a new teacher. I have an idea of where we are going as I put the directions on my phone, but the location doesn’t register with me until we pull into the parking lot. Until this point, I am lost in a conversation with Poppy. She is talking non-stop in the back of the car about her theories on religion. She wants me to explain Scientology to her. I tell her I don’t know enough about it, and I need to research it a bit more before telling her the premise. She heard it’s about aliens, and she wants to know who came up with that. Mind you, she is eight, but she is eight going on 18, and I am constantly in awe of how her little mind works. As we pull into the parking lot, I feel my stomach sink. I know this place, and I used to know it well. It is the parking lot of your preschool; I feel my stomach drop. I spent a year there with you in a mom and tots class. We never got the chance to return the following school year because you got sick.
I hold Poppy’s hand as we search for the classroom where she is taking her lessons. Out of all the classrooms here, she is right across from the room where I was with you. The memories come flooding back, and I see a sixty-second movie reel of our time here together. I see your plaid shorts, your polo shirts, your mischievous smile, and the way you looked at me like I was your everything. I see you sitting in circle time. I see us reading books and playing with trucks and legos on the carpet. I see the little playground where I help you dump the sand from your tiny little shoes. I feel the tears wanting to fall from my face, but I cannot break down now. I have to meet this new teacher, so I somehow find it in me to hold on to my composure. I talk with Poppy’s teacher for a few minutes and leave Poppy with her while I make my way back to the car.
The tears are now falling, and I know there is no stopping them, so I let them continue down my face. As I am walking to my car, my mom calls. For a long time after you died, I would have ignored her phone call for one of two reasons. 1) I was ashamed of my pain. My grief. My tears. Of not being strong because, as I was told by many, strong people heal, and strong people move on. I was not doing either, and I spent many years thinking I was so fucked in the head for constantly aching for you. 2) I wanted to protect my mom from my pain, and I thought the easiest way to do so was by putting up walls and shutting her out. After a lot of therapy from Dr. Jo and a lot of self-reflection, I realized everything I had been told about grief was not only wrong but damaging to my healing.
I picked up the phone when I saw who was calling, and as soon as I said hello, my mom said, “What’s wrong, sweetheart?” She can tell from my “hello” that I am not ok. It takes me a few minutes before I can answer her because I am crying so hard. I feel horrible, knowing I am making her worry, but she sits and tries to calm me down. I am finally able to tell her where I am and what I am feeling. She talks me through things with a soothing tone and acknowledges my pain. I know she hurts so much, too, and that will forever gut me. We speak on the phone for a few more minutes, and I tell her I love her as we say goodbye. I know I have to head back to Poppy’s lesson soon, so I pull down the mirror in my car to check my appearance. I look wrecked. My face is puffy, my eyes are red, and I wonder how to explain my face to her piano teacher. It is more than evident that I have been crying. I put my face mask on and head to her classroom, telling myself I don’t need to say anything. I don’t owe anyone an explanation for my pain. Plus, awkward. I’m not ready to share Ronan’s story with a woman I just met. I thank Poppy’s teacher for the lesson and grab her tiny hand as we make our way back to the car.
“What’s wrong, mama?” asks P. Nothing gets past her, especially when it comes to me and my emotions. I consider lying to her and hiding what is going on, but then I remember, that’s not how I do life with her. I don’t keep secrets; I let her see me in my rawest, human form. I tell her what’s going on. I start to cry again. She steps up into the car, turns towards me, and wraps her arms around me.
“I love you, mommy. I remembered that Ronan went here; I knew that would make you sad. It’s ok to be sad; I’m sad, too.” I kiss her little face and tell her how much I love her. We drive home, and she proceeds to tell me about a new project she is working on at school. She knows I need a distraction from the thoughts in my head.
At home, Poppy is busy playing with her legos, and I am busy changing the boys’ bedroom sheets. My sadness is still apparent as he walks into the room. He takes one look at me and says, “Uh-oh, my darling. What’s going on?” I look at him and then down at my feet. “Nothing. I’m just having a hard day; I’m ok.” He grabs my hand. “You’re not ok. And that’s ok. Talk me through what happened because that is what we do with one another, remember? That is why we are who we are with each other.” I start to cry again, but I know my tears and pain are safe with him. He spends the next few minutes validating my words and tends to me with a cup of tea and tears of his own.
My pain is acknowledged.
My pain is valid.
My pain is safe.
My pain is nurtured.
My heart is his.