Our Story Begins:
Facing That Most Terrible Thing
Think of the worst thing you’ve ever had to face.
I mean it . . . the nightmare that you had to deal with that, even today, makes you tremble or tear up.
Now imagine you’re 10 and facing that horrible thing. Now you’re in my son, Noah’s shoes.
Noah is a sweet boy. He’s also a handful, creative, and very, very shy. That’s enough to face as a small boy. I know, because I was a lot like him at that age. But then he had the worst possible thing happen. His Mom died.
Noah went to school Tuesday morning, the 22nd of March, and kissed his Mom. He kissed her goodbye every day before he left for school. All he knew that day was that his Mom didn’t feel very good, she had a cough. That afternoon he came home and his mother wasn’t there. He didn’t quite understand, then aged seven, that pneumonia can still claim someone’s life. Then Saturday morning his father came into the house and told him the mother he hadn’t seen since Tuesday wasn’t coming home. He couldn’t kiss her goodbye again.
My son has had a hard time facing that. He didn’t understand how he could have caught pneumonia last year and he was okay. He didn’t understand that his Mom had poor circulation in her legs, had gained a lot of weight, was fighting to breathe and that her body couldn’t fight the infection, which turned septic. He wondered all these things but wouldn’t ask them. The terrible thing is I never noticed that he didn’t ask them.
Noah doesn’t talk to other kids about his Mom. He just doesn’t want to approach the huge pain he feels. Now that he knows what really happened he still doesn’t want to tell them because they want to ask a million questions and that just makes him sad. He doesn’t like being sad.
I sat in with Noah’s therapist one day and he was asked if he talks to me about when he feels sad and hurts. It’s here that I realize he doesn’t. I felt the blood drain from my face as I realized I never asked, either, and I felt like I failed him…miserably. Every fight at school; every annoyed response; every quiet, shy fear of being in a crowd of new people just made sense all of a sudden. I ignored and skirted the one very simple thing, the elephant in the room: knowledge and understanding. I acted like that was okay. I ached for him knowing he just needed me to ask and I didn’t.
“Did you get to say goodbye to your Mom,” he was asked. We answer, simultaneously…”no.”
I then explain “there is absolutely nothing you could ever have done to stop this.” I explain how bad things happen and they’re terrible and that this was never, ever, his fault. There was nothing anyone could do.
Then he looks at me, 10-years-old, and the word he uses to describe how he feels is: relieved. This little boy with the monster-sized thing he has to face is relieved to know it’s not his fault.
One question. One tiny piece of knowledge could have helped him so much. He wasn’t ready to know before now, I suppose, but I wasn’t listening or watching, either.
One piece of knowledge: in the end, he just wanted to kiss her goodbye one last time. I can understand that, neither of us got that opportunity.
What about you? It doesn’t have to be grief…do you listen? Do you question your kids and make sure you get the answers? Do you see what they’re not telling you?
Dave Manoucheri is a writer, musician and journalist based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their daily life after the loss of his wife Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.