When A Parent Dies

Grief defined my childhood. Not that I could define it or understand it. But I knew that grief was all-consuming and it sucked. . .not that I even used that word then. The void that surrounded the sorrow in my house proved unbearable to my 6-yr-old self. But soon, I learned that silence was a survival skill, so I choked on the words as I swallowed them. 

No one talked to me. Silence grew large. And did any of those grown-ups know that a 6-yr-old isn’t smart enough to ask questions? Did those angry, grieving adults have any idea that I was in pain, too? I needed answers. ..but I didn’t have the questions.

We circled each other. No words were spoken, no arms were provided for comfort. Each of us slugged through our days and cried into pillows at night. The only thing I knew for certain was that my Mama was gone, in the grave, at the cemetery. The Sunday ritual was to visit her grave. I watched my Daddy, Nannie, and Granddaddy take out handkerchiefs to wipe their eyes as they looked down at the grave, heads shaking. Still, no words. 

Many years were to pass before I would begin to understand the trauma a child suffers when losing a parent. Many do suffer this loss. Most survive. Some are scarred for life. My thoughts today go to Beau Biden’s little children. My heart breaks for them. Their world will never be the same again, and they will always ask the question, “What if?” They will wonder what their Dad would have said to them at their graduation or on their wedding day. They will have to imagine what he would have worn on Saturdays. They will never know what he would look like as he grew older. And they will never doubt that life can be cruel. I hope the grown-ups around these children are not speaking platitudes like, “It’s God’s will” or “Your Dad’s in a better place.” Children see through this shallowness and know, on some level, that they need more. I hope instead the adults in their lives, even through their own pain and grief, will hold the little children close, talk to them, let them know that tears are okay and find a way to explain that the snarling beast of loss is anger. I hope, too, that they will give the children memories of their Dad to sustain them through the dark days ahead and well into the future.

Ribbons of white and black and brown 
No longer beautiful but finished.
In its youth pristine snow sparkled
Invited me to linger and listen
Lest I miss the moment
Which I did—

I do all too often.