Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Love, Grace, and Courage in the Face of Grief

B has been teaching me things since before he was born. As a sensitive, spirited, and engaged little boy, he has taught me to trust my instincts, never underestimate the power of snuggles and hugs, and to approach the world with a kind of empathy and compassion that I never could have imagined.
He has been asking for a necklace recently. He loves beautiful things, and he loves jewelry. I asked what kind of necklace he’d like, whether he wanted something specific on it or for it to say something (he knows that mommy’s necklace says I can do hard things). He thought for a moment, and he said confidently, “I want my necklace to say ‘Ben is loved’. That’s what I want to remember always.” What a wonderful thought; the world would be a wonderful place if we could all remember and be reminded that we are loved.
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He was proudly wearing his necklace, a Valentine’s Day gift, as he went to work on Friday. My uncle died unexpectedly last weekend, and Friday was the funeral. I had spent a good part of the week with family in the town where I grew up, and my husband brought the boys down for the funeral. It’d been a chaotic week where our routine was tossed out the window which I knew was hard for B with his sensory issues and anxiety. I knew the funeral would be especially hard as he is overwhelmed by new places, lots of people, and the intensity of people’s emotions. I explained to him that people would be very sad but that they were all looking forward to see him. I told him that he could be a little ray of sunshine in the middle of a very sad day.
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It was a very sad day. My uncle was a wonderful man who died too young leaving behind a wife and three children not to mention extended family, friends, and coworkers. Personally, the funeral was probably the hardest I’ve ever attended. And B was a little ray of sunshine. As I cried in the pew, he’d scoot himself over to snuggle into my arm. He’d reach out and hold my hand when he could see how hard it was. He offered sweet smiles to those who greeted him. He shook hands and gave hugs to people he didn’t know because they asked. And, he sang the liturgy that he didn’t even know (a Catholic service is just different enough to confuse me!) with his whole heart.
The next night when I returned home after another night with family, I sat and talked with B at bedtime. I thanked him for his hard work, and he was so proud. He declared, “I was a ray of sunshine. When people asked to hug me, I hugged them. I felt shy but I shook their hands anyway. Sometimes I felt nervous, but I know you trusted me to help people.” I hugged him so tight, and I was so grateful for him, for his wisdom. Rooted in the knowledge that he is loved, by God and by his family, he was able to do hard things just like his mommy tries to do. He is such an example of courage and love to me, and I told him that.
The grief remains. My heart aches for my aunt and cousins. I feel a hole in my heart and feel sick when I think that the hole in theirs is a hundred times larger. But B continues to ground me. The other night, I was crying after receiving a text message from family about how things were going. I was trying to put B to bed.

B: Mommy, why are you crying?

Me: Oh I’m just sad because Aunt J is so sad.

B: Why is she sad?

Me: Because she misses Uncle L. But it’s ok, B, I’m ok. Sometimes we feel sad just because we hurt for others who feel sad.

B: Do we have an envelope? Paper?

Me: yes, B.

B: Can I send her a picture? I will draw a picture of them together with a big heart around them.

Me: That’s very nice B, how thoughtful of you. I am sure she will love it.

Here I thought it would end. He snuggled in, and it was time to go to sleep. But then he rolled over to look at me and I could see the hurt and worry in his eyes as he asked “What if it is not enough?”
I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. It’s not enough. It can’t be enough. That’s why I had been crying when I got that text. People I love are hurting so much, and I can’t make it go away. This little boy put words that I hadn’t been able to find into the heaviness on my heart.
I took a deep breath and gave him the only answer I could come up with, “We will do more. We will go visit. We will spend time with them.”
He got quiet again, and then I heard him mumbling. When I asked him what he was saying he explained, “I’m just trying to figure out what we will do after that if it doesn’t work, what will we do next.” That’s exactly how our minds work, isn’t it? Fix the problem. Keep trying until we come up with a solution. Make the hurt go away. Something will have to work. But, it won’t.
I sighed and squeezed him, “Oh Ben, we will just keep loving them, however we can. We’ll figure it out as we go.”

Not to be deterred from his planning, he thought for a few minutes and the conversation continued,

B: What will I do when I go visit?

Me: Oh we’ll play. They would love to play with you. We will play and visit.

B: (nods)

Me: Maybe you can even read to Aunt J. I bet she would like to hear you read.

B: (looks nervous)

Me: Or you don’t have to, we can do something else.

B: no, I will, if she will like that, I will read to her. And I’ll be a ray of sunshine, right?

That’s right, B. You will be a beautiful ray of sunshine. That’s your gift. And when people hurt in ways we can’t fix, we can love them. That’s all we can do, but there is great power in that. The world hurts, we just keep on loving. The world needs us to love. It’s hard, but we can do hard things because we are loved.
I’m in awe of this little boy, his love, grace, and courage, and I am blessed to be able to love who those hurt alongside him.
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  1. This is beautiful. Please tell B he is a ray of sunshine to a total stranger today. As are you...


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