Grieving with a Kid in Tow

Four months ago, I lost my young husband to cancer. I went to the second weekly meeting of my bereavement support group today, and one of the themes that arose is the need for those of us in mourning to be gentle with ourselves. Our brains might not be working properly, we might not feel how we think we should feel, and possibly our single goal for each day is to make it through the day.

We are supposed to be patient with ourselves. We should rest, and nap.

My immediate response to this was anger and resentment. I don’t feel like I have the luxury of being gentle or patient with myself, much less take mid-day naps, because I have a four-year-old son who is in the middle of numerous major life transitions. Isaac lost his dad in September, then moved with me across the province, started a new preschool and is now surrounded by a completely different set of family and friends.

Most of his toys and books are buried in our storage locker, which he told me tonight makes him “frustrated” and want to hit.

The phrase that comes to mind is: “the poison is the medicine.”

The Poison

No matter how much slack I want to give myself during this grieving process, I never feel like I can let it all loose because I have a son to take care of and comfort. I can’t get drunk, spend the day in bed or eat only crusty bread, blue cheese and salami.

Sometimes I crave a week of solitude, just so I can sit still with the loss of Brock and do whatever I need to, to get all this sadness out.

And, in fact, I could run away for a week. But Isaac would miss me. And my job, at least for the immediate future, is to give him some stability and structure.

The Medicine

THEN it occurred to me, as I ate my way through the tin of chocolate cookies at hospice, that while Isaac makes this whole grieving thing more difficult, he is also what is pulling me through it.

Brock and I planned this move back to my hometown for Isaac. Regardless of all my own reasons for coming here, if I didn’t have Isaac to consider I would probably set off on the Appalachian Trail this year. I wouldn’t be looking for a house, or settling in for the next 15 years. It’s comforting to have this plan. I don’t ever feel lost or overwhelmed with decisions, because they’ve already been made. And I like our plan.

If I didn’t have Isaac, I wouldn’t have to get out of bed every morning. (He likes to turn on all the lights to ensure I’m awake.) I wouldn’t have the structure in my days (thanks to his preschool and various activities) that makes it possible for me to write and finish my first ever mystery novel.

Yes, having Isaac in my life forces me to function at a level above where I would like right now, but he also helps me grieve Brock. He talks about his dad every few days, telling me stories or clarifying memories while we drive around or read in bed. These mentions are random and therefore I don’t have my defences up: he forces me to remember, and it’s painful. Making Isaac’s Christmas gift, a photo album of “dad and Isaac” pictures, was a therapy session unto itself.

It’s All About the Dose

I Googled “poison is the medicine” for kicks and it comes from toxicology, specifically its father Paracelsus, a Swiss physician born in 1493-ish, who wrote:

“Sola dosis facit venenum”

Which Wikipedia translates as:

“Only the dose makes the poison.”

I interpret this to mean that my regular outsourcing of Isaac to preschool, gymnastics, swimming and skating and skiing lessons, his aunt and grandparents, is a good thing.

And I suppose the fact that I use that alone time NOT to eat salami and drink martinis and sob in bed, but rather to write and attend a support group and read mysteries, is a good sign.

Maybe the dose is exactly right.

Making Isaac’s Christmas present: a “daddy and Isaac” photo album. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done.