My oldest son, Samuel, is almost 5 (turns 5 in January).
According to him: His favorite color is green (see self-dressed above). He loves reading, and is fascinated by how things work. If he could talk to any famous person, it would be Thomas the Train, Tom Brady, or Isaiah P, his friend Tabitha's very cool big brother. His favorite things to do are stay in hotels, go to the playground, and play mini-golf.
The thing he is most scared of is that his Daddy will die.
Each night before he goes to bed, he has to know, "will you be here all the way through the night, unless you have to go to the hospital?" and "is the power going to go off?"
He cries every night when I have to leave to go back to the hospital and begs and pleads for me not to leave. And it takes him a long time, in each 21 day cycle, to trust that Jon is okay and able to be there for him. He clings to mommy a lot more these days because he is scared that something will (is) happen(ing) to Daddy. He has bursts of anger, frustration, and emotions that he can't name. Being told no by us, even in the "normal" days, sets him off in ways that are disproportionate to the situation. He has asked more than once, "when is Daddy going to die?" even though we've reassured him that Jon's prognosis is good.
He is grieving in his own way, this crazy situation we find ourselves in. His little brother and sister are as well, but they understand a little bit less than he does, and they process it a little bit differently.
Throughout this process, I cannot count how many people have reassured me that children are resilient (defined: able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult situations) and that, regardless of outcome, my children will be okay. Stronger even, for having had to go through this trial.
That might be true.
Scientifically, muscles that are used grow stronger than muscles that aren't. Bones that are under pressure, grow stronger (Wolff's law). My children, who are processing life and death and grief and having to push through things that children shouldn't have to - they are exercising muscles that others don't have to, and that will lead to growth and strength that they wouldn't have had otherwise.
My hope for them is that they will develop inner strength and perseverance, compassion and empathy, and a value for the sweetness of each moment of life that others might not have, as a result of this.
But in the here and now, to speak only of children's resilience - it feels hollow.
It feels like it minimizes the very real grief and fear and loss of security that my kids are processing - all three of them, but especially the older two, who are more consciously aware of what's going on.
A few weeks ago, November 16, 2017, was Children's Grief Awareness Day - I had never heard of it in our BC (before cancer) world, but I've found it a helpful resource and reminder in this season. This quote from the website really resonated with me: [this day]"allows us to advocate that any child that is old enough to love is old enough to mourn... "
Any child that is old enough to love is old enough to mourn.
Children are resilient, yes. But they also love fiercely and grieve deeply, even at these young ages. And I'd like to honor that for my children.
For the one who is grieving externally in obvious ways. For the one who is internalizing everything and worries me from the things that occasionally surface from the deep. For the one who I simultaneously rejoice won't remember much of this, and then worry that if things don't go as we hope, won't remember much of this. All three of them feel the weight of this - even though they are all young enough that hopefully this will soon only be a small memory for them.
So please do me a favor? Don't just tell me that children are resilient - even though it's true, and I am thankful for the encouragement behind that sentiment.
Tell me instead that you get it that this is hard. And that you know we'll all get through it, but that you're with us while we're in it and you know that it sucks. Instead of telling me that kids are resilient, help me create fun moments of "normal life" for them now. Send them a card when their daddy is in the hospital. Give them extra snuggles (only if they know you), laugh at their jokes, and cry a little bit with me when they tell you that Daddy's favorite thing to do is go to the hospital because he's always there. And if you've been through this with your own child, or as a child yourself - we'd welcome your wisdom.
Today at the hospital, as I pried their arms off my legs and bade them farewell as they wailed my name and begged for me to come with them, screaming and sobbing yet again - the same as every other time I've had to say goodbye in the last few days - I turned around to see a brand new mama loaded up in her transport chair, hours-old babe in her lap, clutching the bottle and pacifier as if they were lifesavers, weary but still wonder-struck. Her wee one all bundled up to protect him from the cold world.
Me with tears in my eyes, because I can't protect them from this cold, broken world. Her with tears in her eyes because he was so brand new and perfect and hers to care for and protect now.
Oh mama. That love you have for him now - it only grows. That tiger mama heart that would do anything to protect them - it only grows fiercer.
But some days you can't protect them. And all you can do is grieve with them - and honor their grief and hearts and fears and feelings - and trust that somehow you're all going to make it through this, no matter how long or hard it is.
And so I honor my children today.
This sucks for them. There is no easy way around it. Yes, they will make it through it, but it will not be untouched. These scars, they will make them stronger, but they are painful in this season. We'll lean on our friends and family, we'll find resources that are helpful, we'll keep speaking hope and finding moments of normal and fun together. Together, we're going to push through and build those muscles of compassion and empathy, and hope, and perseverance - resilience even.
But today, that might be through our tears, because there's a lot of love for their Daddy here, and their grief is real.