Up until last week, my children had not experienced someone that they knew dying. Then we got the news that Samantha’s aunt had passed. Despite her being a distant relative to the girls (she lived in Baltimore), it was an opportunity to walk them through the circle of life. What happens when people die? How do you honor someone that you love when they’re gone physically, but their memory is always with you? Most importantly (and one I’ve been thinking about a lot), how do you learn to live each moment as if you’re dying, so that you really live? We watched old family videos with Aunt Toni so that they could remember her, she was after all the life of any party. We wanted them to appreciate her, while also giving them the space to process the change.
It was also a chance to help them understand grief from the perspective of empathy. Everyone responded a bit differently to her passing. The girls watched as their grandmother, mother, and aunt all came together to comfort each other in their loss. Olivia, our most empathetic daughter took on the task of asking questions to gauge feelings. Even Riley got in on the act by writing about her aunt in her journal. London was simply London, reminding grandma several times over that she loves her. And even Sloane managed to lighten the mood with some smiles.
It seems like we go through seasons of change, some sudden, and others planned. Though we can’t control when the winds of change blow, we can choose our response. My favorite part of last week was seeing my sister in law come back to Atlanta to be with my wife and her mom as we all spent time together as a family. Remarkably, for a family of their size (Samantha’s grandmother has 8 children, each with their own children and grandchildren, and a few great grands), they’ve experienced little in the way of death. So this is new for them. Meanwhile, over the decade prior to the girls’ birth, I lost 3 grandparents, 2 great grand-parents, and a great aunt who all were instrumental in raising me. In many ways, this week reminded me of my own unresolved issues with death.
Yet, I’ve tried to fight my go to reaction which is to bury any emotional response and plow forward towards the next thing. I actively found myself on a call Friday practicing some of my tips from the book Rising Strong which I’m currently reading. One key practice: repeating the phrase, I’m having an emotional reaction to what’s happening right now and I want to understand. Being curious about my emotions is a new thing for me, definitely un-chartered territory. But I’m finding that it opens up a whole new dimension of connection with my daughters who are all (at least the older ones) super sensitive and aware of their emotions. It also helps me to better process my own changes that I’m going through in a way that I don’t believe I did growing up.
Speaking of growing up, being raised as a military kid, I used to hate it when people would use the phrase, well adjusted to describe us. What does that even mean? Now I understand that it points to how we’ve learned to cope and adapt quickly to change. In many ways that’s a good thing and I value the gift of being able to lean on this discipline when changes occur, big or small. For example, this week my wife will be out of town, both in Baltimore with her family for the home-going services and also in Maryland for a training. It’ll be an entire week with just me and the girls. It’ll be different alright. Am I a bit terrified? You bet. This is the longest it’s just been me and the girls (all four). But we’ll make do. I’m going to lean into our routines like nobody’s business and before you know it, it’ll be Friday. (I should get bonus points for the fact that my usual extended family support system will be gone to Baltimore as well right?)
As I get myself mentally and emotionally prepared for this week, I can tell you I’ll be leaning on the serenity prayer. God, grant me the peace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In a world that keeps on changing, it’s good to know what’ll always remain the same.