People post comments on my blog fairly regularly, though most of them come from family and friends I’ve known for quite some time. Sometimes, however, I get comments from strangers. They might be other widows who’ve found me through social media or people who knew about Shawn professionally. But there’s one comment that I re-read constantly. It’s from a woman named Maeve, who I don’t know at all. Here is what she wrote (with a few minor edits):
“I don’t know you or your family, but my father passed away from cancer when I was 9. My mother gave his eulogy too, and I still can’t believe what strength that must take. I’m 25 now – losing my father young was so hard, and it’s an understatement to say that my mother had some very hard years. But that loss made me strong, grounded, and appreciative. I turned out okay, and I want you to know that your kids will too. They will be strong.”
When I first saw this comment, I immediately read it to my family who was in town that day. I had tears streaming down my face as I tried to convey to them how important it was to read – from a total stranger no less – that my kids were going to be okay. I know intellectually that my kids are resilient, but then I see the daily struggle that we are going through right now and I doubt everything. I can’t so much as go upstairs and brush my teeth in the morning without Tommy crying. Austin refuses to sleep the entire night in his own bed. And Claire breaks down in tears sometimes and then tells me she doesn’t really know why she’s crying. Every day it just seems like at least one of them is falling apart.
God knows I have my own grief that creates a specific lens through which I view their struggles. I worry every day about what the absence of a father will mean as they grow into teenagers and young adults. They are so young and such a huge portion of their lives are in front of them. There are so many things I want for them, but there are also so many unknowns going forward.
Now, a few months from the death of their father, some of those things that I’ve always wanted for them are starting to seem less important than they once were. A year ago, I think I would have said that there were a number of goals I had for my children. By the end of preschool, Tommy should know how to spell his name and identify much of the alphabet. By the end of first grade, Austin should be reading much more difficult books and should definitely be involved in at least one sport. Maybe he’d even start taking music lessons. By the end of third grade, Claire should be doing much more advanced math and Spanish, and she should be really developing her guitar skills.
Of course, some of this has happened, and some of it has not. (Okay, most of it has not.) Take Spanish. Claire and Austin both take a class before school two mornings a week. They have always gone somewhat happily, and I never minded the early drop off. But now it just seems like a total slog. I am exhausted, and the morning is the worst. Tommy screams when I leave without him, and neither Claire nor Austin do their Spanish homework anymore. I always thought learning Spanish was essential. I always wished that my parents had insisted that I take classes earlier. I always emphasized how important it is to know another language and how vital the Spanish language is to living in America and being a citizen of the world. I hired a Spanish-speaking nanny that cared for my children for four years to make sure they were exposed to the basics. I want them to know Spanish. I do.
But I really don’t care anymore. I actually want to care, and intellectually, I want them to know Spanish and develop language skills early in their lives. But Claire was crying this morning as she got ready for school. She is not a morning person and that’s only gotten worse since January. She didn’t want to go to Spanish. She just wanted to take her time eating her cereal and putting on her shoes.
I made her go anyway, but after I dropped her off, I thought, “really?” Do I really care about this? How important is it that I keep pushing her in this one specific way?
The death of a parent shouldn’t mean that a kid stops learning in school, and both Claire’s and Austin’s teachers have been great about continuing to treat them like normal kids academically. But Shawn’s death has refocused me. As I’ve written about before, I no longer worry about things that don’t matter, like lost objects. But it’s also made me question what my kids really need.
I don’t know if I should keep my kids in Spanish, or in baseball or guitar for that matter. I think they need to learn perseverance and new skills, even if this is a hard time in their lives. But I also am questioning my ideas about everything I’ve ever thought they should do. I’m starting to re-imagine what I really want for my kids.
I want them to speak Spanish and play the guitar and know how to throw a ball. But really, I want them to emerge as whole human beings from this time period. Shawn’s death has shattered our world, but I do not want them to be broken forever.
What do I really want for my kids as we all move through this year, and the years ahead? I want them to remember Shawn fondly, and I want them to be able to say what Maeve said about the death of her father – that the loss was awful, but that it “made me strong, grounded, and appreciative.”
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.