(Mac made this at the McLean Fletcher Center for Grief. It is part of Hospice Ministries in Jackson, and he went for several months, and he loved it. Iti s a wonderful local resource for any of you reading this whose children are dealing with loss.)
A few weeks ago, we were at lunch waiting on our food, and I was scrolling on my phone and came across an article that basically said Grandparents Who Babysit Live The Longest. My mama was sitting across from me, and my kids were spending the night with her and their Aunt Pants that night, and so, laughingly, I read her the title.
My son, Mac, was sitting next to me, and when I read it and laughed with Mama, he said, to no one in particular, “Not really. That’s really not true at all.”
I don’t know if anyone at the table realized the significance of his statement, or, if in that moment, we just wanted to get through lunch without becoming puddles, but I knew exactly what he meant.
His Charles, who “babysat” Mac every chance he got, didn’t live nearly long enough.
He didn’t live long enough on purpose.
And Mac may not talk about it, but he sure thinks about it.
I saw it. He may not have meant for me to see it, but I saw it.
Though I feel like my entire tribe has done everything we can to keep a pulse on Mac as we all guage how Daddy’s leaving has affected him, giving him every outlet we can find, reassuring him every chance we get, prodding him to talk when we feel like he may want to talk, noticing a change in 9-year-old behavior when it has been a particularly hard day and trying to forgive just a little more than normal, talking about his Charles without crying, trying so very, very hard to create a safe space for him to just feel whatever it is that he needs to feel and say whatever it is that he needs to say…..
………and then, we are at lunch and I read some dumb Facebook article title, and he responds, and I realize…..my 9-year-old may get through the day-to-day stuff better than I do, but he is still just aching.
And he doesn’t know what to do with his ache.
And heck…I don’t know what to do with mine. How can I expect more of him?
The helplessness is overwhelming…..because there is nothing I can do, nothing my tribe can do, to take that ache away.
I can hold him so tightly.
I can tell him how much I love him.
I can talk about his Charles in ways that I don’t think will make him sad.
I can talk about his Charles and not cry, just so he will tak about him again.
I can let him know he is safe.
I can tell him how ridiculously deeply his Charles loved him.
And yet…..he aches.
And I can’t take it away.
Because he knows The Truth, and The Truth is contradictory. It is confounding.
He knows how much his Charles loved him. He KNOWS that.
And yet his Charles left him. On purpose.
And he KNOWS that.
I wrote in an earlier post about the moment that Leelee realized that Daddy wasn’t coming back. I referred to this post in that one, though I had not written it yet. It has taken me a while to be able to go back in my head to that time, but somehow, it felt important.
So, last summer, before he went back to school, I had two different members of my tribe tell me about conversations that Mac had with them that led them to believe he may not completely understand how Daddy left. See, as soon as I was told that I needed to go to my parents house to check on my Daddy, I knew how he left. No one told me. I asked my friend Joey, and he didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He knew he wasn’t the one to say that to me, but I didn’t have to be told. I knew.
But Mac didn’t know, and I had not prepared myself well for the moment when I would crush my baby’s world to smithereens, when I said to him, “Mac, Charles died.” But I had not prepared myself at all for the next, natural question, which was, “How?” And because I had not prepared myself, I didn’t know what to say. And I couldn’t say those words, those awful words, even though I knew I was the one who had to say them to Mac. I knew it had to be me. But I hadn’t prepared myself as to how I was to actually form the words that would give him The Truth. So, after what seemed like forever of him staring at me, waiting for me to answer him, I said it in the softest way I knew how: He did it to himself.
Those were the words I used to convey The Truth. Because it was The Truth, and to say it any way but that way made it a grotesque horror of a truth that my 9-year-old couldn’t handle. Or, at least, I didn’t want him to have to handle it.
But I became afraid that The Truth may not have been clear.
So before he went back to school, I needed to have the heart-wrenching conversation with Mac to make sure that he did understand, and that he understood because his Mama and Daddy explained it to him, since my Daddy’s leaving made my friends have to have that same hard conversation with their own children, and they knew. Mac’s friends knew.
So I couldn’t let Mac go back to school with everyone around him knowing, and him not knowing. I was afraid that, if some innocent child said The Truth, and Mac didn’t really know The Truth, that he would end up socking said kid in the mouth. So I had to make sure.
His daddy and I took him outside on a warm summer night and (as I best as I can recollect) I said, “Mac, I understand that you asked Say-Say and Ms. Shea that you weren’t sure what I meant when I said Charles did it to himself. Do you know how Charles died?”
And he answered: Suicide?
That completely took me aback. So he did know The Truth, after all. But how did he know that word? I had no idea. But, I kept going….because he was confused about something, apparently, or he never would have asked my friends the questions he asked.
I answered: Yes.
How? Not with a gun?
Yes. With a gun. How did you think?
I thought maybe he held his breath until he just fell asleep.
the pain i feel in typing that takes my breath. that he had reconciled daddy’s leaving with something painless, non-violent, bloodless, was all his little head could bear. knowing i had to take that away from him with The Truth makes everything inside of me quiver with anger. there are just some things that children should not have to know.
So we went on to talk about Daddy being sick, though I have no idea if he really was truly sick, but Mac knew that Daddy had not been himself for the past few weeks. I had limited him with Daddy…wouldn’t let him call him 9,000 times if he didn’t answer the phone, wouldn’t let him ask him to take him somewhere every 15 minutes as he endured boredom like only a 9-year-old can. I had never done that before in Mac’s little life.
He could call his Charles whenever he wanted. And his Charles wanted him to do so. And if he didn’t call, his Charles was calling him. Or just coming to look at him. Or coming to pick him up.
He was very used to getting his Charles whenever he wanted him, and getting anything he wanted from his Charles.
But last Spring, when Daddy just wasn’t Daddy, I didn’t want him to be “bothered,” and I didn’t want Mac to do the bothering. I wanted to let him have some rest, some peace. Maybe that was the right thing; maybe it wasn’t. I have no idea.
But I do know that Mac knew Charles had not been his Charles lately, so it was easier to explain than I thought it would be that Charles’ body wasn’t sick, but his mind was, and it was the sickness that led to his leaving.
He nodded, nodded and then looked up and said, “Just wanted to get it over with, huh?”
I write these things, not to create the saddest post in the world, but to describe how it feels, not just as a daughter whose Daddy left, but as a mother who is watching her son know and process The Truth of his leaving.
Mac’s knowing The Truth is part of the stuff, the stuff that is part of the aftermath, the stuff that is what we all sort through and try to catelogue and figure out what to do with. It is just a part–but one of the very worst parts–of this big jumble of stuff that accompanies his deeply felt void in our world.
He should not have to know The Truth. I wish more than anything I could protect him from The Truth. I can soften it the best ways I know how, but it is still The Truth, and he knows The Truth is not soft, even if I try to make it so. I wish that I could really explain to him The Truth.
But I can’t.
Because even though I know The Truth, too, I don’t understand it any better than he does.
So I ache. I ache even more than I already ache…because aching for your child is a totally different kind of ache.
I ache for all of the moments for which he knows his Charles should be here, and he has the moments without his Charles anyway. I ache watching him wonder, question, grow angry, grow defiant, be afraid of things he was not afraid of before.
I ache over all of the things he won’t say to me out loud.
I ache over all of the things that he will.
I ache knowing I read a Facebook article title and it made him realize: Grandparents Who Babysit Don’t Necessarily Live Longer.
His didn’t. And he KNOWS that.
And he aches.
So I ache.
And ache. And ache. And ache.