One of the best books I read about grief last year, aptly titled About Grief (by Ron Marasco and Brian Shuff), says that grief does not proceed in linear stages, but rather rises and falls like waves or a roller coaster. You don’t get to one stage and then move on until you are completely over death or grieving. It ebbs and flows basically forever.
I was reminded of their wisdom last night as I was putting Maya to bed. “I have a headache,” she said to me after I’d finished reading her Soft Blanket by Jane Yolen. She’s had a runny nose for 2 ½ weeks and also has pink eye.
“Are you sick?” I was poised to feel her forehead.
“No, I just have a headache because I miss Mommy,” she answered, her lips curled downward.
“Me, too,” I said.
“I miss Mommy,” she repeated.
I crawled into bed next to her and pulled Verna’s picture, inside the balsa wood frame decorated by Maya, off the headboard. “Have you had dreams about Mommy lately?” I asked her.
She shook her head.
“Take a look at Mommy’s picture.”
“I miss Mommy,” she said again. “I want to hug Mommy.”
“I miss Mommy, too. So much,” I said. “You can still hug Mommy in your heart. Always.”
She smiled, gazed at the photograph, which was taken at Disneyland just before Christmas 2009, and said, “I love you Mommy.”
I should have known Maya was grieving more deeply yesterday afternoon. We were doing the grocery shopping when she said to me, “I wish I’d been there when Mommy died.”
“Well, you were there, Maya. You were upstairs in bed.”
“But I wasn’t downstairs,” she said.
This morning she woke up with sadness etched across her entire face. I thought she was sick. She got up and almost curled into a ball on the floor at the foot of the bed. “I miss Mommy,” she said. “I don’t want to go to school. I miss Mommy.”
“How about a hug?” I was clad in my bike shorts, headband, and light blue North Face t-shirt.
She shook her head.
“I’m not sweaty anymore.” Maya knows to avoid me for I usually put in an hour on the Life Cycle.
But she slowly came over and buried her head on my shoulder. She started sobbing. “I miss Mommy,” she wailed into my shirt. “I want to stay home Dadda,” which is what she calls me. It was the first time she's cried since Verna's death seven months ago today.
Her sadness settled over me, but I had visions of watching a movie together and then doing some retail therapy at Claire’s (a company in which I should own stock) before taking her out for ice cream.
“How about a play date with Maya (her best friend) after school?” I asked.
Maya perked up and grinned. “OK.”
Maya’s mother, Michele, invited my Maya over practically before I made the request this morning just after 8 AM.“No problem,” she said, two words that immediately comforted my Maya, who was listening on speakerphone.
So I ordered three picture books on death and grief from Amazon, though I still think the best is Liplap’s Wish by Jonathan London, one I’ve read to her a few times. But I wanted to do something. A co-worker also suggested I call the formerly known Center for Attitudinal Healing in Sausalito because the center offers sessions for preschoolers like Maya.
I know grieving is a long-term, maybe permanent condition. It comes in waves, the surf crashing to the shore. Again and again and again.