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My daughter turned cartwheels on her brother’s grave. It taught me joy can live with grief.

My daughter turned cartwheels on her brother’s grave. It taught me joy can live with grief.

My daughter turned cartwheels on her brother’s grave. It taught me joy can live with grief.

By Linda Broder

Source: Washington Post

My daughter turned cartwheels on her brother’s grave. It wasn’t something I expected.

After my 15-year-old son died in an accident — he was here one morning, gone the next — I spent a lot of time researching grief. I was afraid the tragedy would scar my 10-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.

I met with Zack’s and Lizzie’s teachers and guidance counselors. I ordered books on grief and play therapy and how to talk to your teen. For weeks, the UPS driver dropped off baskets of food and flowers along with cardboard boxes filled with books.

The first thing I learned was that the seven stages of grief are a lie. The image makes you think of a staircase moving toward something good. Each hard-earned step leads you to the next one. Your first trip to the supermarket. Check. The first holiday without him. Check. You hold onto these milestones, these little gold stars of achievement, because you believe they lead you to the next step.

But grief is a slippery slope. It’s not a staircase, but more like an endless game of chutes and ladders. We’d leap toward one step, only to slide down three steps below.

I read that my daughter needed to play through her emotions. I dug out the dolls she’d only put away a few months before. I climbed the stairs into the attic and pulled out the rocking chair, the one all three children had used. I placed it at the end of the hallway. I added a low shelf and filled it with dolls and stuffed animals, and a little rug so she could sit and rock away her sadness. She tucked her doll in a blanket and crooned over her, telling her everything would be all right.

Zack’s grief was wrapped in anger, held in tight with clenched fists. He needed to move, so our calendar filled with basketball games and clinics. After school, I watched him through the window as he walked through the backyard alone and climbed onto the trampoline. He jumped until he couldn’t catch his breath.

I spent hours each night flipping through the books. As a parent, my first instinct was to shield them from sorrow. But the books taught me that they needed to move through their grief, not away from it.

I said nothing when Lizzie came off her bus, her face crumpled. Her brother Brendan used to ride his scooter down every afternoon to meet her. He’d carry her books up the hill and they’d talk about math and the new game she’d learned in gym.

Instead of pushing away her pain, I swung her backpack on my shoulder. I squeezed her hand and let her cry. By the time we reached our house, her tears were gone.

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