As I sit and wait and wonder, yet again, in a hospital for my partner to be released from surgery (for her port), I try to hold back the tears, but they fall anyway. The veracity of the cancer hangs in the air. Our love is strong, and although she is fighting against all odds, I could still see my future in her eyes when I gently brushed held her hand goodbye as she was wheeled to the operating room.
I know that grief is a natural response to love and loss. All of us are experiencing it in different ways. I notice it throughout the day, as if it is stalking me from the backyard. Every once in a while it pounces. Sometimes expected, like the send off to the operating room. Sometimes unexpectedly, like when I wake in the middle of the night to the screaming and crying of one of the littles in the middle of a nightmare. Alexandra (age 3) and Victoria (age 3) often wake shaking without words. We hold them tight and try to orient them to their surroundings while whispering reassuring words. They each sleep with their own camping light. Thank goodness they are solar rechargeable. It has become a part of our morning routine to put these little lamps that Alexandra calls “sun catchers” in the window so they will be ready for the dark night. George (age 3) continues to worry about “monsters eating us from the inside out.” He asked for a “Safety Monster” to protect him. I was a little confused about this at first, since it is a monster of which he is afraid. He explained, “Mama, they speak the same language.” Right. Of course. Perfect sense.
I know that we are the littles barometer and that they will better be able to express their feelings if they see us demonstrating ours. I constantly reassure myself that I don’t need to hide my reactions, not only is it inauthentic, it doesn’t validate that something difficult happened. However, I do keep my really big feelings for private times with my friends (who are adults that have their own coping skills and supports).
Henry (age 5) has been particularly clingy. He spends hours making complex Lego creations and asks us to keep them close to our heart. The other day, during a particularly rough patch, I said, “Sometimes I have a really down day because I’m thinking about Mami and I feel like nothing’s the same. I don’t know if you ever get like that.” He started to cry and crawled up in my lap. As I held him close, he whispered, “Mama, I just want us all to love on her so much so that she can heal. Little people can do big things, you know. Then we can be completely happy again. But it won’t be the same as before. Not ever. I think this is more than a crack in my heart. It is more like a chip right off of my heart.”
Their questions are incessant. I know that they are naturally curious. I strive to be patient, available, and responsive when they ask questions. But at their age, their cognitive development has a lot of magical thinking. George still talks to the moon through the thermostat. His most recent conversation informed the moon that he was going to send his rocket ship to his rainbow house (that is on another planet that has grass and water like Planet Earth) to pick up his friends. He specifically pointed out that we have two bathrooms, so his friends never have to wait in line. And, even their grown ups can have fun in his playroom.
This emotional turmoil, chaos, and change, all try to fill all of our time. So, I take great efforts to try to maintain our familiar routines and our joyful adventures. Our last Adventure Day began with the Songkarn Festival at Wat Mongkolratanaram. This is the celebration of the Thai New Year (also called the Water Festival). We were encouraged to “politely play with water for joy” and to sprinkle perfumed water on each other’s hands for good luck and good health in the New Year. Gratefully, a few of our safety net friends met us and shared food and fun surprises for the littles. I was impressed with their willingness to watch the catfish, climb a tree, and visit the dragon “just one more time. One more. One more…” And, Alexandra cannot get enough of the Where’s Waldo! book that was gifted to us. (I think Mama may need to go to the eye doctor soon. It all looks a little blurry to me.)
After a nap, we needed to run out some more energy and it was quite stormy in the afternoon, so off to the Glazer Children’s Museum. Another safety net friend met us there. Although they only know him from his Facebook stories, they all recognized him and ran up with big hugs. Henry noted that he was wearing an Emergency Response t-shirt that had an amphibian on it. Henry was quite impressed, whispering to me, “See Mama! Even grown ups care about little creatures.” The littles practiced being firefighters (“so that we can help in an emergency”), grocery shopping (“so Mami can rest”) and climbing on the rock wall (“just because it is fun!”).
Our security has been shaken. This is an exhausting experience. We are all a bit bewildered, sad, and scared. And, we will not stop living our lives as joyfully as possible.