Monday, June 17, 2013

Grief and the Young Gifted

Almost a year ago (a year in September, actually) I lost a friend of mine to a sudden heart attack. He was fine, felt a little off that morning but the doctor said he was okay, and then BAM. Gone. Because we're homeschoolers, and I'm the only SAHM I know, when I rushed out of Mooselandia for the funeral, Monkey came with me. We had a long talk on the way about Mr Dan's heart stopping working, and how no, he wasn't going to get better. We went straight from our house to the visitation, about a nine hour drive. When we got there, Monkey was confused. He looked around at the people, he looked at the pictures, and he watched his mama say goodbye to Mr Dan. He inspected everything, read the mood... and then burst into tears. He took the whole room with him.  He did it again the following day, when it was the two of us for the funeral. He wanted to give Mr Dan a flower, and keep a flower FROM Mr Dan, and give Mr Dan a flower from Aunt Kelli, and... Then he was really confused - they lowered the coffin into the cement box. He didn't understand - how was Mr Dan going to get out? So we had more talking on the way home, and he seemed to understand.
This morning, I found out that my uncle passed away last night.  He was feeling off, went to the doctor and was pronounced fine. He started vomiting, and had extreme vertigo, so he went to the hospital. He had a massive heart attack and died.  So I have to explain this to Monkey, as again we're running out the door at the drop of a hat for funerary services (very near literally - the burial is the day after tomorrow). I went ahead and started making preparations, and dealt as best as I could with my own grief (which, as usual, involved shouting, cut-short cursing, and extreme restraint from throwing things), then tried to explain to Monkey. He remembered Mr Dan, and told me he missed him, but Uncle T went to the hospital, and they make people better there.  The sweet little soul was trying his best to comfort me, knowing I was upset. So, I had to explain that sometimes the doctors and nurses can't help, and people die anyway. He looked at me and nodded, saying "like Mr Dan?" And I said, "yes, honey, like Mr Dan." He paused, then said "his heart stopped working? And they couldn't fix it?" I nodded, and he continued, "But, the rest of his body would be alive - they could get him a NEW heart." It was utter hell. Trying to explain to my sweet boy who is trying to rationalize any way he could why Mama's Uncle T couldn't be dead, while knowing his mama believed he was.

Monkey, as you may note, has an extremely good grasp of the human body. We went through the heart as a pump, and how if the pump breaks, oxygen can't make it to the cells, so the body dies. But Uncle T is out there. We don't know where, but he's not truly gone - we just can't see him in his body anymore. Monkey nodded, and after a minute turned red and said, "Mama, there's water in my eyes." So I held out my hands, and he came to me for a huge hug, and we cried together for a while.

He could feel this enormous grief for a man he didn't know well. He felt all this compassion for me. He had such an extraordinary grasp of what was happening, and what he felt he could do, but he wanted to fix it. He is determined that when he grows up, people's hearts won't stop working like that anymore.

Going into this parenting gig, I was not at all prepared for a four year old who could understand the nature of death, and then immediately come to a conclusion as to how to stop it. Who could care so much about everyone, even though he's barely older than a baby. This child surprises me at every turn - he is clever, bright, capable, thoughtful, kind, compassionate, sensitive and intense, and no matter what kinds of trouble that brings, I wouldn't trade it for anything.