Losing a loved one is a painful experience. Mourning, accepting loss and coping with the emotions that accompany the death of a loved one is extremely difficult. What I have recently discovered that is even harder than mourning, is watching my child struggle with losing a loved one. My six-year old daughter has been grappling with and trying endlessly to understand and accept that her Papa has gone to heaven. As a parent, I find myself feeling helpless. The questions she asks are difficult, and I am not always confident I have the best answers.
Over the past month my daughter has realized, in the innocent way only a six-year old can, that with death comes finality. There is no coming back for birthdays, for Christmas, or for afternoon pushes on the swing. Her emotions have overcome her on several occasions: at the grocery store, visiting his grave, and in school. The sadness I feel watching her mourn is hard to express in words. Each time she breaks down I do my best to validate her emotions. I explain to her that crying because you miss someone is perfectly normal. I comfort her and assure her that the many other people who loved Papa cry because they miss him as well and that she should not feel badly or embarrassed about her emotions. I have cried with her. I explain to her that she is safe and that there are many adults she can confide in if she ever wants to talk about her feelings.
The moments of emotion over the past month have been valuable lessons in helping to teach my daughter how to mourn. But what has become blindingly apparent over the past few weeks, is that for every instance in which I believe I am imparting wisdom on her, she is actually guiding me. My daughter is emotional and intuitive in a way I someday hope to be, and her ability to feel and sense has always astounded me. The day after Thanksgiving she began to cry thinking about her Papa, we talked, reflected, hugged and tried our best to move on with the day. About an hour later, she emerged from the toy room with a smile on her face, looked at me and said, “I just talked to Papa, he said he is glad everyone had a great Thanksgiving.” Her statement gave me pause and sent a shiver down my spine, but I was quick to dismiss it, after all, she is only six.
Last week my daughter had a particularly difficult day at school, missing her Papa. She came home and kept trying to explain to me that she had a “memory stuck in her head;” she was hell-bent on finding the picture that corresponded to her memory. After much looking and a few phone calls we tracked down the picture, which immediately made her feel better. A few days later, as she was preparing the picture for show and tell, she came out of her bedroom, showed me a drawing she made near the picture, it said, “Remember, I’m in your heart, but you can’t see me. Don’t be sad. I love you.” She explained to me that Papa had told her that, and it was ok for her to write it down and share it with us.
As someone who isn’t a strong believer in things that I can’t touch and validate with my own two eyes, I am blown away by the faith and spirituality that my six-year old has in her belief to talk with her Papa. For as much as I believed I was helping her mourn, she has opened my heart and helped me learn to accept the presence of lost loved ones into our lives. I recently read an article outlining the six most common ways loved ones who have passed let you know they are still with you, one of them talked about leaving small objects in your path, such as a rock, stone or coin. As we were leaving the grocery store last week, my daughter went to jump into the car, but something caught her eye, she bent over and picked up a penny. She turned to me, gave me a huge smile, nodded her head, and mumbled “fourth one in a week, I knew it.” Silly me for thinking I was the teacher in this situation. Wherever Papa is, he knows there is an open heart waiting to hear what he has to say. And he is laughing – laughing at me for ever second guessing Parker.
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