It was early in the morning. Light had yet to glow through the curtains when I heard Levi crying in his crib in the next room. Not just any cry; it was the sound of distress with a hint of fear. He is long passed waking up in the middle of the night, so I rolled out of bed, somewhat alarmed by the tone of his voice, and walked quickly down the dimly lit hallway to his room.
I opened the door slowly and greeted him with the softest voice so I didn’t scare him. He immediately sat up crying and said, “Me scared,” so I picked him up, sat in the worn recliner in his room, pressed him against my chest, and began to rock.
Usually, he calms down right away, but not that morning. He just kept sobbing against my chest with his eyes closed, holding on to me tightly.
I was starting to become a little concerned that he was SO upset, so as I was running my fingers through his hair, half convinced he might be having a night terror, I asked the question – “Levi, what’s wrong, Buddy? Why are you so sad?”
His response was something I wasn’t even remotely prepared for.
He got quiet for a moment, and then across his sweet little lips came a forceful blow to my soul – “No Daddy?” he said, or asked rather, with the obvious inflection at the end of his sentence.
I couldn’t respond. I wasn’t prepared to respond. I – I hadn’t thought this scenario through yet.
And in response to my silence, he repeated himself with the same question. “No Daddy?”
I just kept rocking and silently let the tears drop from my chin onto the mounds of thick blonde curls atop his head, unable to say anything.
No Son, you don’t have a Daddy.
A few nights later, this exact same scene repeated itself. I was awakened by a fearful cry. I went to comfort him. I was rocking him in the chair when he suddenly stopped crying and said, “Daddy died.”
No question this time. Just a statement; a fact that he somehow knew. I just responded, “Yes, Daddy died,” like I had to the other kids a million times over the last two years, but never to him.
Then he went back to crying, as though my confirmation was justification for the mysterious anguish he was feeling; emotions he didn’t quite understand, and words he understood even less.
Holding him in the dark, I could imagine what these questions looked like bouncing around behind his beautiful blue eyes – “Who is this person I’m missing? What even is a Daddy? What is died?” – big concepts for 2 years and 7 months.
2 years and 7 months… the exact age that Lilly was when her beloved Daddy suddenly died, and this realization felt like a sucker-punch at 4 am.
“How could she have been this small when he died? She seems so much bigger in my memories.“ How could she have processed any of this at 2 years and 7 months old?” No wonder she was a mess for a solid year.
“How has she already lived more than half her life without her Father?” That’s so brutally unfair.
The questions kept rolling through my mind as my heart broke for my daughter all over again, and truly shattered for my youngest son for the first time. My sweet miracle boy, born a mere 8 days after his father died, who, until this week, had given no indication that he was aware he was lacking anything. But now he knew, in the simplest terms, that someone should be here, but isn’t, and it crushed me.
Two days ago, I was lying in bed trying to will myself to get up and get ready for church when I looked over at my now 5 year old daughter lying on the pillow next to me, face up toward the ceiling, with this frown on her beautiful little face; eyes closed and eyebrows furrowed.
I asked her, “Lilly, what are you thinking about, Sweetheart? Why are you frowning?”
And she so easily said, “My Dad building stuff with me. I miss my Dad. Do you think I’ll ever have another Dad?”
“I don’t know, Baby,” I began, but before I could even say something to the affect of “I sure hope so”, my oldest son popped his head up on the other side of the bed and assertively blurted,” I don’t EVER want another Dad!!” Then he crawled over on top of me and started telling me all the things he missed about his Dad. I just laid there paralyzed by emotion, with tears sliding down the sides of my face soaking my hair, wondering just how long this season of my life is going to last. Crushed.
Grief is deceiving.
The early months after a loss are a time-warp of shock and disillusionment. After 2-3 months the shock wears off, and you begin to realize just how painfully different your existence will be as you experience life without your person. But something strange happened to me around the 3-month mark too, and that was when my “I’ve got this” mentality kicked into overdrive.
I’ve always been a doer; a go-getter; an achiever. My dad always told me growing up – “There are people who make excuses, and there are people who make things happen,” – and I’ve always tried to be the latter, sometimes to my detriment.
This mindset has pushed me to set high standards for myself. It’s been a big reason I’ve accomplished most of the major milestones that I have in my life, but it’s also become the reason I don’t do well mentally when I know I’m not measuring up. But instead of making excuses, I’ve always tried to own my failures and push harder.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work so well with grief.
After the fog of shock lifted, I felt that familiar unction to win at life compel me forward. I was determined that my kids would lack nothing, and that I’d take back every ounce of happiness that had been stolen from me. So I took off, sprinting ahead at full speed, convinced if I just ran harder and faster, maybe I’d get to the end of awful journey sooner.