It’s been a few more weeks of firsts, in this year of firsts: my birthday, the start of summer, Father’s Day, the annual county fair. I had my first encounter at the community pool with a mom I hadn’t seen since last summer. “Where’s your other son?” she asked brightly. “My guy is so excited to swim with him again!”
I paused, exhaled, and explained simply that Kai had passed away in October. She looked stricken. I apologized profusely. And then she did something amazing, and beautiful. “Why are YOU apologizing?” she said. “You don’t have anything to apologize for, ever. Can I just give you a hug?” She told me how much her son, a few years younger than Kai, always looked for him at the pool. Kai always included her son in “The Big Kid Games.” Later, her boy approached me and told me that he was sorry about Kai, and that he would miss him. <cue tears>
Today, at the fair, I thought of Kai a thousand times. He loved the crazy rides, the fried anything, the carnival games, and the annual smoked turkey leg he shared with his dad. Last summer he was finally tall enough for the Really Big Kid Rides, the ones that twist, flip, jerk, turn upside down, and leave riders feeling pukey. I did one turn on one ride, screaming like a little girl, knowing Kai would have cheered for me from the blacktop below.
Truly, I was afraid for the school year to end and the fair days to begin. It’s not that I mind being with my kids, even the overly energetic and exhaustingly talkative five year old. I was terrified of having so much unstructured time to just sit, and think, and remember. I was afraid of finally having time to do the work of grieving, and no real excuse for avoiding it. But in these first lethargic weeks of summer, I’ve learned something.
Grief isn’t something I have to do right now. It’s something I just have to allow.
Somehow, in my mind, grief had become this series of gates I needed to pass through, and I could only do that by consciously invoking Kai’s memory. I felt like I needed a workbook or DVD series, something that would tell me “this is how you do the work.” A dozen self-help books perch on my nightstand and I’m sure I could glean some direction from them, discern some kind of path.
Eventually, I may need that, when my perspective is longer than a day, or a few days. The truth is that right now, each day is still its own struggle. Every morning before I push the bedcovers back, I breathe the same prayer: “Help me, Jesus. Help me. Help today be a good day. Help me to be of service. Help me to love You more. Please help me get through another day.”
I still need help to get out of bed. I still need help holding it together in public when the tears well up and start to spill over. I still need help pushing away the recurring thought that I’m not ready to die, but that I don’t want to live without my son. I still need help taking care of the people who are closest to me. I still need help admitting how much I struggle, and need, and function moment to moment.
When I take the time to pray without words, what I hear is this: Quit trying so hard. You’re wasting precious energy trying to force this thing, baby. You can’t fight your way through this. Either you can keep swinging, or you can surrender. Just allow it, and allow Me.
What I visualize is a room with wide plank floors and windows open onto a pastoral scene. I’m sitting in an old cane chair, looking towards the verdant hills, and there’s an empty chair next to me. Grief comes into the room, quietly, gently, and sits in that chair. Slowly, she extends her hand towards me. Without looking at her, without even turning my head, I slowly reach out and take the upturned palm into mine. And we sit there, together, in silence, peacefully watching grass moving in the wind outside.
It’s a relief, such a relief, to just quietly accept her presence. There’s nothing I have to do, change, or move right now. I just have to surrender.
Today, when we got home from the fair, sun crisped and sugar sated, I paused to offer up a thank you prayer. Grief was with me all day but I didn’t have to work to find a space for it, for her. I allowed her, and I allowed His help. And as much as I missed my son at the fair, today was still a good day. It was a good day.