Wednesday 17 September 2014

The cat like grief of a 3 yr old

My eldest daughter is for the most part a very happy child, she is quirky, hilarious, stubborn, cheeky, annoying. She listens when she wants to and ignores you when she doesn't. She doesn't seem to believe in sitting down for very long but can amuse herself for hours with a trowel and some mud.

I tried to discipline her the other day and she stopped me in my tracks by shouting - "What have I ever done to you".  Where the hell did that come from? She starts nursery next week and I'm scared at whatever else she may pick up.

She is the essence of a 3yr old and I had to ask myself, how does a 3yr old process grief? She understands that she has a sister and that that sister did not come home and was in fact buried in the ground. She understands that we are sad about this. But can a 3yr old with an imperfect understanding of the nature of death truly come to terms with this grief, with this penetrating sadness.

That's her in the corner
Yesterday 4 months after we buried Grace,
we ventured down to the burial ground to tend to her grave, to commune with the remnants of our littlest wing, to find a modicum of comfort in this token representation of her physical presence.

Were my littlest one alive I would probably be posting pictures of her fledgling progress through this life but all I have now are these pictures of her final beautiful resting place 4 months on.

We took some water to nourish the seeds we had planted on her plot and cleaned away the weeds and then something beautiful and tragic happened. Alannah, who had watered Grace's plot diligently then turned to me and asked to be carried. I picked her up and then she asked if Mummy and Daddy could sing the Grace song (Amazing Grace). As we began to sing Alannah buried her head in my shoulder and began to cry. She cried until we were finished, looked at the grave, then the sky. She wiped her eyes and asked if we could go now.

I put her down amazed at her emotionally maturity. Her expression of grief was done and happily put behind her until the next time. This is just one of several emotionally self aware moments. She has not chosen denial, whether she truly understands death or not, her pain is visceral, heart rending, beautiful, and she refuses to be consumed by it.

Watching the Disney movie tangled the other day a certain moment caused both Siobhan and myself to cry.
"Don't be sad like Grace" said Alannah " be sad like him", she instructed pointing to the crying man on the screen.

It seems a 3yr old processes grief by putting it in it's place, not denying it, not sitting on it, just letting it out when it needs to come out and then gets on with exploring this world, which after all is still fairly new to her.

Maybe I have something to learn from my lovely Alannah who when she see's Siobhan or myself crying for whatever reason, hugs us and tells us not to be sad, but the truth is we are always sad and when the tears do come they are simply a release system for that sadness and therefore healthy. I took these pictures as I walked away from the grave and this always causes me pain. It takes me right back to the delivery room where after dressing Grace I had to walk away, to leave my little girl in a corner, alone, to tend to my wife. She was gone, she didn't need me but the irrational guilt and sense of wrongness that comes with leaving a little one alone in a corner will never leave me. It's simply not right. But Alannah reinforces that which I already know. Despite the fact that bad things happen, that grief is so very present, that while I refuse to hide when my soul is wailing, there is so much to live for and so help me I will do both in whatever balance they present themselves.

Grief, though so very palpable, will not consume me.
I look at my daughter -
How could it!

I argue not against heaven's hand or will, nor bate a jot of heart or hope, but still bear up, and steer right onward” - John Milton

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