It’s been a hectic and emotionally exhausting week. I’m 7 days deep into a Whole30, which tends to make me antisocial for a spell and overly reactive, and I spent like 48 solid hours filling out my Bachelor bracket. But trumping that, there’ve been some brutal life lessons in our household as of late. It would appear that 2016 has come in like lion … one with sharp-ass fangs and Freddy Krueger freaking claws.
The good world up above gained a precious soul last week when Hank’s Grandma Monie walked through the pearly gates. She deteriorated quickly after a fall about a month ago. For as long as I’ve been in Hank’s life, Monie struggled with her hearing, mobility to some extent, and memory. She put a lot of weight in being social, volunteering and teaching, and she always kept a sense of humor about her age, but I know she often felt smaller and unimportant because of her handicaps. I pray, and believe, she entered into heaven through a most-electric sunset, with a bounce in her step and a smirk on her face. That her husband and great grandson were there to greet her, and she danced with all the friends who went before her.
As much as I’ve struggled with death myself, talking to the girls about this kind of loss strangled me with anxiety. There is no handbook, no guidelines, on how to walk your child through this life truth. Admittedly, I don’t know how to get through it as a 33-year-old woman. They had just gone to visit their great grandma, so when we told them she had passed away and gone to heaven, it was a bit of a shock, bring about some mixed reactions. JoJo started sobbing. At 6, I think the finality of it registered with her little heart. “It’s OK,” Spikey answered. “Because she went to heaven and then she gets to start her life all over. It’s sad that she died, but it’s OK she went to heaven.” Eventually JoJo put her energy toward drawing pictures for Grandma Monie to take to Jesus and things calmed down a bit. I was a mess.
The biggest dilemma, as I’m sure anyone who’s been through this can understand, was the funeral. Do we take them to the viewing, or just to the funeral but not the burial, or to all of it, or to none of it. Given my fear of death and tendency to avoid anything uncomfortable or emotionally wrenching, my gut call was to have them stay with mom and not be exposed to the harsh reality of true loss just yet. An attempt to preserve their innocence just a little bit longer. But in Hank’s family, death was treated as a natural part of life. Just as people will enter this world, they will leave it. It is sad but not scary. It is reality and they are looking to us to see how to process that reality. We have to set the example.
We decided to take them to the viewing so they could say goodbye. Spike was so brave and timid and wonderfully naive. Her confusion was in why Grandma was still here when we told her she’d gone to heaven. The concept of a soul at the age of 4 is as tangible as it is elusive. JoJo wasn’t sure she wanted to go up once we got there. “That’s OK,” I said. But eventually she followed, standing behind me, peeking only for a moment with confusion and fear. It was a face I’m confident I would have made at her age in this situation.
Talking through the loss of a family member, and turning my face toward it out of my concern for the girls actually made accepting the loss of a woman I loved a little easier. Now, as we work through the grieving process, I don’t know for sure how our little ladies feel about death, but I know we handled it the best we could. We talked about Grandma and why we loved her. And we will speak of her often to remember her. That is how we will honor Grandma Monie and the footprint she left on our hearts.
Every other week we have Big Breakfast – a fitting name for the gathering though I can’t for the life of me remember who officially came up with it – at my folks. My entire family shows up in pajamas to shove Dad’s famous dippy eggs, pancakes and cinnamon rolls down our pieholes. Eventually the 10 grandkids disperse to torture each other and make messes upstairs, out of the adults’ sight, while the grownups sip coffee and retell stories we’ve heard 8 trillion times.
Things got a little exciting this week. “Mom!” Spike exclaimed. “JoJo just called 9-1-1!” “She what?!” As soon as I stood up to go hunt my eldest daughter down, the phone rang at Mom and Dad’s. That was the dispatcher. I yelled her name upstairs. I yelled her name downstairs. I yelled her name upstairs again. i yelled her name downstairs again. “I’m …. right … here …” a little mousy voice whispered from under my parents’ bed. “Get out here.” I said, in that slow, spiccato tone that sends hot pee down even my own leg. About that time, I heard, “It’s the cops!”
A sheriff was in the driveway and Mom’s dogs were circling his authoritative feet, playing into the excitement. It would seem that my two little girls called the emergency line a combined total of five times. Five. Times. “I want you to come in and talk to the kids,” Mom said. “Ma’am, I have to come inside.” the sheriff replied.
He brought his broad shoulders and chocolate brown uniform through the front door and – thank the Lawd – cast his kind eyes down on a scared shitless crew of little ones. Here stood two mothers, a Grammy and 10 grandchildren, the majority of us still in our pajamas at noon. I felt JoJo quivering behind my back and heard her regretful sniffles. “Honey, don’t be scared. You aren’t in trouble,” he offered. I was not feeling as generous. “You need to apologize and you need to understand why this was so wrong.” I said as directly as I could in front of an officer. “Now you know that if you call that number, a police officer will show up. And that is only OK if you are hurt, we are hurt, or you are lost. Do. you. under. stand?” “Yeeeeee[sniffle]eeeeesssss.” she answered.
The kind sheriff left CrazyTown behind to go bust bigger bad guys and Spike and JoJo learned a very important lesson. When you dial 9-1-1, the fuzz is gonna come for ya.