This is not the post that I thought that I would be writing tonight, How to help your child navigate grief. I wish I wasn’t. My kids aren’t allowed to eat raisins. Sounds crazy, right? Yep, I’ve spent about 13 years getting weird looks and judgy faces from playdate moms because I politely declined their offer of raisins and grapes to my children. Oh yeah, did I mention that when I send grapes in my daughters’ lunches, I quarter them? Yep, even at 11 and 13-years-old. And now, I will always pick them up from college when they come home to visit or they will fly. I will not allow them to drive alone in holiday traffic.
You are all scratching your heads wondering why I am outing myself as a crazy, helicopter mom, right? Before you judge me, get to know my “why”. We are all a sum total of our whys in life. We become what our life circumstances mold, bend, flatten and tear us into.
My children are not allowed to eat raisins and grapes because when Bella was just around 18 months old, she almost choked to death on one. Not coughing and freaking out, she was full on turning purple, could not make a sound, there was no air moving, suffocating before my very eyes…choking.
I did everything my brain could think of to do to dislodge that thing. I was seconds away from performing a makeshift tracheotomy. She could live with a hole in her neck. She could not live with all oxygen deprived from her brain. Luckily, I knocked it loose and cleared her airway before my husband got back to me with the kitchen knife. You think I’m kidding? I.am.not.
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I saw the most important thing in my life slipping away before my very eyes and I refused to watch helplessly. That is not how I function. There are things that happen so fast and so furious that we cannot do anything about it. I know this and I know ultimately I have no control over anything but I can’t quit, not on the people I love. And why can’t they eat grapes? Why are they quartered? Because a grape is just a fucking raisin in training and that sneaky bastard is not getting the chance.
Why will I never let my girls drive home in holiday traffic alone while under my care, you ask? Because life is unexpected and cruel in ways that you can’t imagine until it hits you like a mac truck. This is where we get to helping our children navigate through the grief part. The horrible part of the story, in case the toddler choking on a raisin didn’t scare you enough already.
As I’ve mentioned, probably a zillion times on this blog, my daughters’ dance ballet at our local city ballet. Dance is a huge part of their lives and the people they meet there, the girls, boys, men and women they spend hours a week of their lives with are important to them. Those people are family. When there is blood, sweat, tears and blisters shared between people you become more than just acquaintances. You love these people who you laugh, cry and live with day in and day out and we mourn them when they are gone.
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Well, on Sunday night, we suddenly lost one of these family members. She was a young, bright and beautiful woman who taught both of my daughters. They loved her for her big heart, giant spirit and infectious smile. She cared about her students and it poured out of every part of her. But now she is gone in a very sudden and shocking way. I’m not going to share all of the gruesome details but she was traveling to visit her mother and was the victim of a tragic car accident. My girls are gutted. Our ballet family is gutted. I can’t even imagine what her actual family is going through.
One minute my daughters were brushing their teeth for bed and the next they are Facetiming with friends and everyone was sobbing uncontrollably. I felt so helpless. I’m sad. Hearing of her passing shocked me. It sort of stops you in your tracks to lose someone so young, so much alive, so unexpectedly. The grief is palpable.
What could I do? There is no Heimlich maneuver to be done to soothe your grieving child. There is no tracheotomy to be done to remove the hurt. You can’t call the ambulance. You can’t take death off the menu of life. All you can do is hold them and explain that this is just one part of life. You have to go through it with them. Hold on tight and reassure them that you are there for as long as life permits you to do so but in the end, you have to be honest. At 11 and 13-years-old, I had to reiterate that life, in all of its pain and glory, is finite. None of us live forever.
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If you believe in life after death or a higher power, you let your child know that while those of us left behind feel pain and sorrow from the loss, those we lose feel no pain. They are beyond that. They are at peace.
Now, I don’t really know if I’m comfortable with telling my children that there is a better place or a worse place because I’ve never been dead, so I don’t really know. I, personally, hope that there is a peace beyond the pain and I think that peace might look and feel different for everyone. But in the end, I hope my peace involves all of those people I love surrounding me on the other side. Like a world of only the people, places and things that I love.
Whatever it is I hope that lovely, young, vibrant soul went to her place of peace immediately. I pray that she didn’t even see it coming. I’ve never wished for an instant as much as I hoped it happened in an instant in this case. I’m praying for peace for her family because I know their hearts are shattered into a million little pieces. And I pray for sanity for her parents because when your heart is so broken, it’s easy for the mind to give way. I’ve had a taste of loss and it nearly broke me. The thought of losing my girls in their twenties, just as their life is beginning, guts me.
How to Help Your Child Navigate Grief
This is why I will never let my daughters drive home from college in holiday traffic. This loss has altered my perspective forever and there is nothing that will change my mind. I know that it doesn’t make a difference who is driving and that accidents happen all the time. We can’t stop them but I can do what I can to make them less likely.