I remember being 7 and riding home from some family trip, waiting for hours and hours in a virtual parking lot, hours earlier what had been a bustling interstate highway. It wasn't the frustration that I would have experienced as an adult--I had no plans, no place to be.
Finally we came across the reason for our delay...a semi truck on the side of the road, the driver cab smashed down to just a few feet in height. Even as a kid I knew...whoever was in that truck was dead. They weren't coming home to their loved ones. I remember feeling sick to my stomach, but the feeling eventually passed.
That night while getting ready for bed, I thought about that driver. Who was his family? Was there a family somewhere crying their eyes out, missing their daddy for the first night of many? And then suddenly it hit me: the finality of death. The randomness. The "no matter how much you love someone, people will come and go in your life" thing.
I remember calling out to my mom, telling her I was scared. I didn't want to die. I didn't want her to die. And for some reason, I really fixated on my grandparents. I remember her being kind of annoyed that I wouldn't go to sleep. As an adult, I know the feeling and tone: it's been a helluva long day, and now here you are crying about something I can't possibly fix. You're just tired. Go to sleep. I promise you if you stop crying for 2 minutes, you'll be asleep. No, she didn't say any of these things, but I remember feeling like I couldn't or shouldn't say anything else. I remember crying myself to sleep that night at the realization that the people I loved the most simply wouldn't or couldn't stay forever. I struggled with that for awhile at that age, but never really discussed it again with my mom, even when a childhood friend died when I was 12. I've never felt comfortable "grieving" in front of my parents. Not even when my grandparents died. Now looking back i don't know if it all stems back to this...I suppose it could, but I don't know.
Fast forward to bedtime tonight. my 7-year old Zoe, suddenly teary-eyed (me thinking: ohmygodjustGOTOBED), Mommy, I don't want you to die! Me: what do you mean? She went on to tell me how a friend was crying at school because her baby cousin had died. And somehow in that conversation at school Zoe realized what we all come to learn someday. That death is inevitable. That sooner or later, someone you love is going to die, and you have no choice but to say goodbye.
But I don't want you to die! I will miss you so bad, what will I do? (You'll have your sister.) I'll want to die too. (No.) But what happens if you die? (I plan to be here for a long time, that's why I try to take care of myself, so that I can be here a long time and watch you grow up.) But why???? Will you go to heaven? Will you come back to see me? Will you be smiling? (I think that your spirit lives on in some way. I think the spirit is happy. And I'll always be with you in spirit.) I think i will keep your body with me. (side eye glance/a moment of humor...'no, i don't think you can do that.')
And then she cried. And cried. She sobbed a deep, bellowing cry that eventually rendered her exhausted. Sleep finally came, and I held onto her even though I didn't have to anymore. She's been sniffling throughout the night, but she's right here by my side.
Glad I can be here for her, even if it doesn't change the outcome of her newfound reality. Poor thing. Life lessons are sometimes tough to swallow.
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