As a Dad, quite possibly the worst thing in the world is having your kids hurt and knowing there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. Most of the time, that’s not something you have to be concerned about. There are skinned knees. Sam, my son, once went into a bounce house with a bunch of 12-year-olds and got tossed out, quite literally, and cracked his head open. I picked him up, carrying him to my house, spotting the gash and realizing immediately that he needed stitches. I arrived in the ER looking like I’d walked out of an AP photograph from Beirut – blood coating my shirt and Sam crying. At the end of the day he was more upset he didn’t get a balloon from the party, looking up with his big blue eyes until the nurses all said “awww” and gave him a balloon from the Cancer Ward.
Abbi once put her bottom teeth through her bottom lip . . . she tried jumping from her bed to her sister, Hannah’s crib. Needless to say, she missed, landing face-first onto the floor. After an hour in the ER, the nurse sprayed some saline on it, charged me $150 and sent me on my way.
But this weekend was the kind of circumstance that put us in familiar territory – territory none of us had thought we’d face so quickly.
The kids’ grandfather, Andrea’s Dad, passed away exactly one week ago. This came, for me, about a week after my own grandmother passed away.
Grief itself wasn’t what was hardest, though, it was a location.
After you lose someone, things spark your memories and your sadness at the most random times. Sure, in the first week or so, nearly everything makes you crazy. But even today, for me at least, the most random things can throw you into a place and a time for which you were never prepared. Walking by the Bath and Body Works the scent of a body lotion wafts into my personal space, and I’m in bed feeling the warmth of Andrea’s presence near me. A James Taylor song comes on the radio and I’m back at Methodist Hospital at a birthing class . . . by myself . . . because my wife went to a James Taylor show with her best friend informing me I had to attend our birthing classes. The smell of pumpkin puts me with the kids at Valla’s pumpkin patch in Omaha. The sound of a train has me both in Texas, stopping by the railroad tracks and getting out of the car with Noah and his mother so he can see the Tarantula Train go by in Grapevine. The smell of hot chocolate has me singing the song from the movie Polar Express with Sam and Hannah.
Friday, though, was a torrent of memories I knew were coming, particularly for the kids, and I couldn’t stop them. There’s no way to stop them.
Hal Andrews, their grandfather, had a memorial service at the very same mortuary I used for their mother. It’s not the cemetery so much, though that had its effect on some of the kids. It was the mortuary itself. None of us had been inside that business since March of 2011. There really was no need. But Friday came barreling at us with the thunderous sound of a locomotive.
The kids were not prepared for what was coming.
Two in particular, Sam and Abbi, just didn’t spend any time at the cemetery. Not that they had to, mind you, but having avoided the place created a conflict that was as unavoidable as being tied to the train tracks by Sindely Whiplash.
Understand, there were relatives, lots of them, who had not been here since Andrea passed away. That being the case, they all wanted to go up and see Andrea. This didn’t bother me, as I’ve been there more than a few times. It bothered the kids.
“Oh, Dave, what are we doing here again,” was a line Andrea’s uncle asked me, and it was most appropriate. That was likely the thought going through the kids’ heads that day. Abbi came inside for quite awhile and then went out to the car under the guise that she needed a bottle of water. In reality – and she voiced this – she hated the room. She hated the large, multi-benched, soft-lit room that was going to stage the memorial service. This was the room where they first said goodbye to their mother. Hannah and Noah went to the grave, put flowers down, all of that. Abbi avoided it until all the relatives were up there and she realized she should go.
We all grieve differently, so bear that in mind. But they avoid the grave, cemetery, all of it like the plague.
“I can’t go up there, I just don’t want to. I don’t like it. I don’t like dealing with it. I’d rather avoid it,” were Abbi and Sam’s responses.
“Well…it’s just a place,” I told them. “It’s not her, it’s not where she is. It’s just a stone and a piece of land.”
They wondered why I go up there. I’ll be honest, I go more than I thought I would. Not every day. Hell, not even every week. But there’s a reality that the kids don’t understand, and likely won’t until they’re married themselves. We talked all the time…about everything. Now, when it was midnight and I wanted to go to sleep and she decided upon hitting the pillow that she wanted to have an in-dpeth conversation about whatever was bothering her . . . an hour or more conversation . . . that I wanted to scream to the heavens. Still, silence that conversation, permanently, and things change, drastically. The entire dynamic of your life changes. So sometimes I need to talk . . . even if it’s a monologue and not a dialogue. On those days, at my most confused or most difficult, I go up there and talk to her.
But when my kids had to face it, I had to simply be there, watching. I spoke at the memorial. Andrea wasn’t there to say goodbye to her Dad, so I felt I should as her surrogate. It wasn’t brilliant, nor was it prosaic. But it said what I needed it to say.
It also showed that in the worst of circumstances you can face the worst with grace. I told the people facing me that this was a hard room for the kids and myself to enter.
By day’s end, at the reception, my oldest was consistently ready to go home and leave the grief behind. I wouldn’t let her, not because I am mean or pejorative in my authority. It was because sometimes you have to deal with the bad things that happen around you. Sometimes bad things will happen . . . and this last couple weeks have been filled with bad things.
Sometimes you stand against the storm . . . because you know you just can’t stop it.