The roller coaster of emotion of the last twenty days came to a halt with the passing of the man I was once married to and who fathered my children. Watching my kids struggle with the reality of his pending death, the decisions that needed to be made as a result of denial and neglect, and finally learning of the final breath taken, has been a vast sea of feelings for me.
Being present for each child as they grieve their own way. Holding vigil for days before the death that my kids can embrace this with acceptance. Praying each night that they are held in the light of grace. Praying that he too is embraced in peace. Praying that this all end.
On the other side of the coin, I have watched with complete awe at the magnificence of my children going through this defining moment in their lives. Each one unique in how they process death and the loss of not only their dad, but a loss of what they may have wished their relationship could have been.
In the days before the death I saw my oldest son rise beyond his shadow where he demonstrated compassion, kindness, and amazing maturity. Stepping into the role of major decision maker, he was strong beyond his twenty-two years. And when he no longer could take the pain, he crumbled into the darkest placed of grief while begging for mercy for his father and for the agony of this ordeal. He allowed his feeling to flow freely while reaching out to me. In some primal way, he flew home to me knowing that it was here he could be safe to feel all that he needed to feel. In the days following the death, he did what was comfortable to him and he needed his flock of friends to comfort him. Taking on a sense of responsibility and honor for his dad, he collected items that he felt his brother and sister would want of their father’s and methodically placed them in piles for them to receive. It was then that I truly saw him as a man of goodness who has matured out of the selfish ideas of youth and extended himself in a way best described as a selfless.
Protecting the girl from the details of the last twenty days, I attempted to keep the information that she received as simple. Her father was very ill. I protected her from knowing the painful decisions that were being made. I offered her to visit him, but inside I was so grateful she opted not to go. Instead, she drew a picture of a fox and asked me to take it to him. In a moment when their dad was somewhat lucid, the boys showed him the picture and laid it near his bed. As the time came to tell her that her dad had died, I hesitated. Not knowing what her response might be I tried to prepare myself for whatever reaction was to come. As I said the words, she gasped as if she was in physical pain. Immediately she burst into tears and left the room, headed to her sanctuary for processing–the bathtub. Several minutes later she came back down and wanted details, which I gave. Again, she escaped to take another bath, this one longer. When her eyes met her older brothers later in the day, she immediately began to cry. Being at a restaurant, she excused herself to the bathroom to gather herself. This was unchartered territory for her—going beyond the safe range of feelings and experiencing something that felt different. In some strange way I was relieved that she was expressing such sadness, as if I was celebrating the overcoming of a core challenge of autism I internally was cheering her on. I noticed that she wanted me in close proximity at times, and other times she wanted to recluse into her room. As she was walking up the stairs to her room, she turned and screamed “I can’t believe he is gone”. I reached out to her with my open arms and she rushed into them in the most nontraditional for her way. She sobbed into my chest. She allowed me to place my arms around her. I comforted her in a way I have longed to. As she wiped her eyes, I reminded her to tell me what she needs. Easy, “I just need a caramel apple”. Love.
For my youngest I watched as he dealt with the news in a way unique to him. In his young seventeen years he has often been the wise one in knowing what he needs to take care of his own feelings. Having felt the loss of his dad in a different way years ago, he has longed for the relationship rather than the body. He distanced himself from the pain of his fathers choices many years ago and succumbed to the reality that he would not have the relationship with his dad that he yearned for. For him, the news of the death was the final statement of loss. He chose to isolate himself into his own feelings and continues to be very quiet. The day of the death, he took off into nature and sought out to understand among the trees and changing landscape. He sent me pictures of the beauty that he saw along the hike. The connection to nature and the ability to speak out loud to the life that surrounded him gave him comfort. I see him distracting himself with friends and being on the go. I know that in time and when he is ready he will share his feelings in a way that feels good for him. In the meantime, I watch as he processes in way that is deeply familiar.
And that leaves me. When I am not holding presence for them, and in the quiet moments of the early morning, I experience for myself the loss. I allow myself to feel the sadness. I cry tears that hold memories of a time long ago when I experienced first love. My youthful days of having babies and sharing moments of ‘firsts’. Maturing into a young woman whose fire in her own belly began to speak needs of something more. Unable to continue along a path together, we parted ways and went on. Watching my children see the decline in their dad over the past seven years has been very difficult; wanting to take their pain, begging him to choose differently, and feeling my own sense of helplessness for the kids having to deal with something so painful. And now it is over.
Now the dust can begin to settle. The memories of joy, health, and good times can be what we each hold tenderly in our hearts. The suffering is over and he can finally fly free.