As many of you know, this blog began because of Sue. I needed a positive way to cope with grief, new motherhood, and the task of teaching my child about the amazing grandmother she’d never know. My hope was to help other parents as well.
Szaba was five months old when Sue passed, so for several years, that task as been a goal and a commitment, but not a tangible, everyday reality.
Granted, we talk about Sue—and Shirley—daily. We share our memories about them, reassure Szaba of their love, and weave special things about them into our daily joys and values. But now, three years later, the hard part begins. Szaba is asking questions. And I don’t always have the answers.
It started at bedtime one night when she was asking who had gotten her that book or that stuffed animal or that blanket. Some were from her Grandma Cathy or Grandma Kristin. Some were from Grandma Suzy or Great Grandma Shirley.
That prompted Szaba to ask why she hadn’t seen Sue or Shirley since she was a baby (evident from several pictures around her room).
Not particularly wanting to get into the topic of death with a toddler (especially at bedtime), I simply explained that Sue and Shirley were gone now. I reassured her that, although we couldn’t see them any more, they still loved her so much, and that would never ever change.
After thinking on this for a bit, she replied, “I miss them so much.” I told her I miss them, too, and that they miss her. I assured her that she’ll always be in their hearts and that we can keep them in our hearts, too. That way we don’t have to miss each other so much or be so sad. We can be happy because we know we love each other. That’s how we know we’ll always be together, no matter what.
She seemed comfortable with this explanation, though she has revisited it a few times since (as toddlers often do with a foreign concept they’re trying to grasp).
Then last week, we were back in Sue’s home on the third anniversary of her death, in the very place where we lost her. Needless to say, pregnant and haunted by that day and that place, I was not wanting in the emotion department.
At dinner, Szaba said to one of her grandpa’s caregivers (also named Sue), “Remember when you came to visit me a long time ago when I was a baby, and you held me in those pictures?”
The fact that she could compare the incomparable Sue to any other woman named Sue was horrifying to me! I was devastated to realize her young mind still thought Sue could be out there somewhere, choosing to let years go by without interacting with her. Anyone who knew Sue can appreciate how very very far that is from what would’ve been from the truth.
But as any mom would do, I held it together as I smiled and practically explained the misunderstanding to my daughter. I told her it made sense why she would be confused by this other Sue’s name, a Sue in her Grandma Suzy’s house—all while my soul was crumbling inside.
These are the things Szaba does not know. That is the job that I still have left to do. It may take decades to convey. Even then, I may not be able to do it justice.
And so, the hard part begins on this ever-changing journey of parenting through grief: the comfort and explanation I need to give my child, when I myself do not always have that comfort or explanation to give.
I wonder, has any of you gone through this was a toddler? I’ve read through all the parenting and grief books, but it’s such a personal battle, it seems no blanket approach will make it easier.
Is it something that, as with many aspects of parenting, comes with practice, patience, and time?