Several months after losing Kate, I became aware either by a friend, a child’s grief book I may have been reading, or a personal realization (Who can remember such things at a time like that?) that I would have to relive Kate’s life – and death – at each stage of my children’s lives. That as they grew and matured and reached new levels of awareness and understanding, they would need me to explain to them -once again – what had really happened that December morning.
At that stage in my grief, I welcomed that thought. I was very desperate that Kate not be forgotten. I was searching for ways to keep her memory alive; ways to keep feeling connected. I vowed to myself that I would not exclude Kate when I was mentioning my other children, that I would always be open to discussing her life and death with the kids so they could know and understand who their sister was, and that I would include her in our meaningful times as a family.
Today I broke my vow.
Oh, I am giving myself grace (well, attempting it because I am so unpracticed at it). There are times when the heart simply cannot bear another burden, and must turn inward to protect itself…and today was one of those times. But it makes me realizes that this weight I carry – the weight of a mother who has lost a child, the WAIT of a mother who has lost a child – is always present, though at times it feels light or even forgotten.
My breaking point today was a cd.
One of my clever sisters made a collection of songs (2 separate times, actually) each containing the name of one member of our family for Christmas presents several years ago. My dad Will was represented, mother Betty, sisters, spouses, children..you get the idea. (Didn’t know there was a song with the name “Becky” in it, did you?! Two, in fact.) Kate was included in both cd’s – one posthumously – and my children LOVE these cd’s so we listen to them quite a bit.
My 4 year old Colt is especially excited about his song these days so he requests it often. (“Rag of Colts” is the name of the song, in case you were wondering.) Because the songs are arranged youngest family member to oldest, Kate’s song is only the fourth on the cd so we always have enough time to hear it. I often carpool when I take the boys to school, and the conversation among the 4 & 5 year olds in the car when this song comes on is something like this:
C: What song is this?
C: What happened to her again? Oh that’s right; she died.
T: How did she die again, Mom?
M: She got a sickness in her lungs and died in her sleep. (quickly realizing this might make the kids afraid to go to sleep) It was a very rare sickness that doesn’t happen to many kids.
H: My mom’s cat died. Somebody hit it. Her name was Gabby. I didn’t know her, either.
T: What’s it called again, Mom?
Ma: I know people who have pneumonia. They didn’t die.
M: I know. It doesn’t happen very often. Kate’s little body just couldn’t fight it off.
H: Is Kate the one we send our balloons to?
T: Paige said she choked on M&M’s.
M: No, Paige was just very little at the time and didn’t understand what was happening.
C: I love M&M’s. I hope I don’t die from them.
M: I’m sure you won’t. Just chew them up carefully.
You understand my point, perhaps? While this conversation is endearing and even sweet, it happens every time we hear that song. It is both charming and heart-breaking to hear their conversation. To hear these little beings talk about death so matter-of-factly is something I want to honor because they are just learning and figuring things out as they should be at these ages.
The vow bids me patiently explain why they will not know Kate in this lifetime. The weight/wait bids me hide, protect my heart.
There is no middle ground, no compartmentalization – it is bitter AND sweet. It is joy AND pain.
Today I skipped her song. Tomorrow, I will try again.
“Sweet Kate, sweet Kate. Rest your heart, and be still. I love you now and always will.” (author unknown)