By Laura Simon
This is perhaps not the best day for me to write a blog post. In fact, the safest thing for me to do is to hunker down in my bathroom and avoid contact with the outside world.
Today is the eighth anniversary of my dad’s death.
I’ve noticed that, whether I like it or not, this date brings a whole heap of mercurial emotions, and there’s no telling what you’re going to get if you encounter me out in public. I actually forgot today’s date – and its significance – for a whole four hours after I got up. I was trying to figure out what on earth was wrong with me when my cousin sent me a Facebook message and it all came together.
Side note: you might be a tad overwhelmed by life when your cousin by marriage remembers your father’s death and has to remind you.
Nevertheless, it seems this day is ingrained far deeper in my being than my conscious self can realize. Feel free to psychoanalyze me to your heart’s content. All I know is that on this date, eight years ago, my life changed forever.
I was 36 weeks pregnant. I remember frantic calls to my OB’s office. My husband and I were both concerned about the impact of this sort of stress on the baby. It turns out that researching the impact of maternal stress on an infant is a rabbit hole from which you might never emerge. Don’t do it. The nurse who took my call that day could share my pain, having lost her husband while she was pregnant. She reassured me that her son was a thriving young adult, in spite of the stress he experienced in utero. Bless her for using her experience for good. I so desperately needed to hear it.
The subsequent months were marked by colic (I mean, really?) and therapist visits, where I interrogated my counselor about the potential impacts of a loss like this so soon before a child is born. I mean, will my children be scarred forever by the loss of the grandfather they never knew? Will pervasive grief make it impossible for me to parent my children well?
The short answer, in my experience, is a resounding no. In fact, I suppose as a result of hearing us talk over and over about their grandpa in heaven, my children talk about death and eternal life and all things related without even the hint of fear. My mom and I have never shied away from talking about Grandpa Tom, and the kids feel like they know him. They talk about wishing they could meet him. My soon-to-be eight-year-old dropped this particular bomb on the hairdresser while he was getting his hair cut last week. I mean, how do you respond to a small child who says his grandpa died when he was born and he wishes he could have met him? But to my kids, it isn’t nearly as tragic or dramatic as we think it is. It’s simply their reality, and they really are OK. If anything, it has made them more comfortable and less fearful when discussing death. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
I’ll be the first to admit that losing a parent directly impacted my desire for a larger family. As an only child, I felt especially alone as I mourned my dad. My sister- and brother-in-law were absolutely supportive, but there wasn’t anyone who shared that unique childhood experience with me. I wanted my own children to have siblings to lean on as they aged, and they have several. It might depend on when you ask, but most of the time I think my kids would tell you that having siblings is a tremendous gift.
And parenting from loss has also made me more willing to seize the day. We’ve never been a family that can afford fancy vacations, but we’ve made a point of seizing the opportunity to go to the beach or the mountains whenever the weather and schedule allows. After all, my mom and dad planned a trip to the Grand Canyon for years and never went. You know how it goes…budget, kid in college, job changes…all the life that happens and drains that emergency fund. They never went, and then he died. Several years later, my mom and her cousin – in their mid to late sixties – summoned all the courage they could muster, got on a plane, and went to see the Grand Canyon. Because that’s what loss taught us: get on the plane and go. Don’t put it off until all the stars align. I have yet to muster the courage to get on a plane with three young children, but when a road trip presents itself, we take it. I think my kids’ lives are richer for it.
I sacrificed my primary career to stay at home with my children and homeschool them – because I want to be with them NOW, while they’re growing up. They might not always appreciate this particular decision, especially during handwriting practice, but my time and presence aren’t things I can duplicate down the road. I don’t subscribe to the idea that there’s some sort of right or wrong when it comes to working or staying at home, but this is the decision that worked for us. When I did work outside the home (and I did for many years when my kids were young), this meant leaving work at work and sometimes putting other things off in order to be present with my kids. What matters is carving out that time, however you do it. I have no regrets.
I’d give almost anything to see my dad be a grandpa. He was one of the rare men who seek out babies; he was always scooping up great nieces and nephews and spoiling them. He would have been spectacularly smitten with my three. But I can tell you that parenting after loss has made me a better parent. It’s made me more intentional, more aware, and more grateful for the things we take for granted.
Every minute I get as mama to these babies is a gift. And I can’t say I would have appreciated it in the same way had I not stood at my dad’s graveside and listened to the bagpipe play “Amazing Grace” while my first baby kicked away in the womb.