family Grieving story

“Daddy what happened to Momma’s skin?”
“What do you mean, when she was sick?”
“No, when she died.”
“So you mean when we put her in the Earth?”

Her question wasn’t just about skin, it was about the shape of life.
Who am I really?
What will become of me as I live out each day?
What is love in the face of death?
What is Mommas journey like now?

“Well the soil, creatures that live there, slowly break her skin down and turn it into more soil. Thats something Momma really wanted, to return to the Earth what she’d been given, so her body could be useful again.”
Tadg:”Yeah, to grow plants and things.”
Me:”Yes, thats something Momma wanted very much.”

Truly seemed satisfied, but I could see more questions growing quietly in her, like an overflowing cauldron percolating with feeling. All this happened while we were driving home from school, out of the blue. She hasn’t talked about Momma in a while, but there it was, that story, still unfolding in her.

How can someone who is so small, young and vulnerable also have the entire universe spinning so wildly inside her?

One of the blessings of having young kids when you’ve lost your partner is that you never doubt you’ll be able to love again. Seeing them both grow is an invitation to fall in love anew every day. Grief can make fertile soil for love. If I can just make sure there is room in our little world for her full self, for that cauldron to keep bubbling.

We wanted to be with you,
in the place where dirt
rests against you,
where you get to be the magic you always wanted,
calling out to the tiny, carnivorous
creatures that will finally have you,
seducing them
with your soul-body love-song.

You always needed that borderlands
when we were together,
a place to be free and held,
useful and mercurial.
We all want to be citizens there with you,
to have Neverland adventures
beside a roaring fire
with time stopped,
and monsters dancing
just beyond the darkness
exploded by the firelight.

But our living feet,
moore us helplessly
above you.

So I’ve decided to allow our children,
to move into me.
Staging plays in my head,
building pillow and cardboard forts in my belly,
treating my heart like a junkyard
for mad projects.
Shit is everywhere.
They’re making me into
the wreck
you always knew
I could be,
if only I tried
a little harder.

Truly’s been much more affectionate lately. We’ve always cuddled but she’s not sought me out so much. Now time spent on the phone while she’s at home is frequently interrupted by requests for me to cuddle with her on the couch. Of course its not always warmth and wonderment. She kept telling me she’d cleaned her room when she obviously had not touched a thing. The floor was almost invisible beneath piles of materials she was endlessly taping and gluing together in new ways. After an hour I lost it, stomping into her room gathering up cardboard boxes, pieces of plastic, tape, circuit boards demanding she either put it away or I’d throw it away. I started pulling piles out into the kitchen while she cried, Tadg watching over it all, making sure Papa didn’t pop his cork entirely.

“You have to understand you can’t keep your room this way. Its not clean, its not safe!”
“Its clean to me, I like it that way!”
“Because when its messy it reminds me of home and then I don’t feel so sad.”

Well that did it. Now I felt like a total asshole. Of course she had a good reason for doing it and of course she would understand that reason better than I. I sat down like a big lump in the middle of the mess, a pile added to the many piles, watching her cry, waiting for her to calm enough so I could hold her again. Its not like I gave her a great room, somehow it never really clicked. She needed something different than what I set up.

I took a deep breath.
“You need a workbench don’t you?”
“You need a place where you can glue and hammer and keep all the stuff you’re building with.”
“I am so sorry sweetie. I didn’t understand how important your work was to you feeling happy.”
She let me hold her again.
“Tomorrow we’ll go back to the Habitat For Humanities store and look for a workbench for you.”

We wound up just buying the desk I’ve been promising to get her, but it was longer than a regular kids desk, with generous drawers where she can cram her endless piles of materials. She knows she can hammer on it without me raising an eyebrow. As soon as it was installed she moved into her room in a way she hasn’t since we arrived. Also, she has been more productive judging by the number of contraptions she’s produced.

She has made new habitats for her Hamster, a laser gun, some sort of weird antenna and several traps for her brother. What was once a mess is now a constellation of creation, and a mess. No plastic-towered, battery powered, electronic featured toy has escaped her careful deconstruction. Every gift I’ve given her in the past few years thats not a stuffed animal has been reduced to its component parts. She’s removed batteries, wires, “micwowe-chips”, and plastic, plastic, and more plastic.

I’m not sure if she’s building her way out of something or into something.

She’ll be turning 7 in just a few weeks. She’ll be doing it without her two front teeth, she managed to lose both in one weekend. Everything she does seems to make herself stronger and brighter. I really don’t know how she does it. She just needs us to show up and respond to her honestly. Thats pretty much it. Incredible.

Her question took me back to Terry’s burial, to her body, laying in the Earth exactly as she wanted it. Somehow feeling her body there makes my own grief feel more sane, more like it belongs here on the planet Earth. Just knowing her body is with the Earth makes me feel more at home. I feel the fertility of her in Truly, right now it feels like thats really the only thing she’s made up of – renewal.

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.

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