My other children were five and three when J.T. left. How was I going to make this OK for them? How was I going to get them through this? Why do they, at such young ages, have to deal with this? My three year old lost his best friend that day. He kept running to the door expecting J.T. to come home any minute. At three, just don’t get the concept of death. Anytime the garage door opened or the doorbell rang (which was often since we had people in and out) he would run and say, “J.T.’s home! J.T.’s home!” It tore my heart wide open each and every time. Not only did it tear it open because of my pain, but also because of my son’s pain. Having to explain again that J.T. would not be coming home, his body died and he can no longer use it just wasn’t getting through. I didn’t make sense to me. How was it going to make sense to a three year old?! It’s so unfair, I would think. How is this ever going to be OK for him? It’s just not fair. I get a little chuckle out of that last sentence. J.T. used to say that all the time. He always thought his brother and sister got more fairness than he did. I’m sure he’s laughing right now.
J.T.’s sister was suddenly the oldest living child. I know that weighed heavily on her. She was the invisible middle child, and then suddenly, she was very visible. She tried so hard to fill her older brother’s shoes. She really took so much on as her own when it really wasn’t. I was very concerned about her – she seemed to bury her grief because she didn’t want me to see it. She felt if she was strong for me, I would be alright. At five years old, you should not have to be strong for anyone! Convincing her she didn’t have to be the family rock was a feat. I would open a little of grief in front of her just to give her the opportunity to cry also. When she would cry, I would tell her that crying is good. It releases stress and hormones and other chemicals that weigh the body down. Little by little, she felt more at ease with crying.
I found at the same time, though, I needed to limit showing my grief in front of my children. All the advice I got was the same – let your children see you grieve. This is true to a point. There is a point at which you have to let your intuition tell you enough is enough. That point for me was one day at the cemetery. I took my daughter with me. She wanted to come. I started to cry. She sat in my lap. I asked her a question…not sure why I did, but I’m glad I did. I asked, “you know I love you, don’t you?” She said, “No, I don’t” I was a bit shocked. I asked, “Why not?” She replied, “Because you don’t cry for me like you do J.T.” I was stunned. So all the grief I had shown her for her brother made her think I loved him more. If I loved her, I would be crying for her, too. You can’t really explain to a five year old, “Well, you’re not dead, honey, so that’s why I’m not crying for you.” That makes no sense at all! I realized right then that there is such a thing as showing a child too much grief. It very much depends on the child. I did not “eliminate” my grief altogether, but I did parcel it out in little chunks for them. I spent a lot more time at the cemetery alone so I could mourn without feeling like I was under the microscope. Cemeteries are great places to let it out. No one expects you to be happy there. No one expects you to “move on” there. No one expect that you won’t scream, cry, stomp, have a tantrum or curse God there. It is a very good place to mourn.