Grief looks different to everyone; no journey is the same. Sometimes the ebbs and flows of life crash us on to the shore, other times against the rocks. For a grieving child, each new year (and each new day) brings new perspectives on the world. How I grieved as a 4-year-old was not the same as how I grieved at 14, or in my 20s. Getting married brought back feelings from life’s vault, having children of my own uncovered emotions that were buried underneath the façade of normalcy I had learned to create over the years.
My mother died of leukemia when I was nearing 4 years old, she was 26. Though my memories are few and foggy, the void of love lost is ever present. Writing became my way of coping, to piece together the past in order to heal. Sharing our stories requires bravery because being emotionally transparent is not always easy, but I have found in my experience that it opens the door to healing, for myself and others. Below is a Dear Me letter I wrote for the National Alliance of Grieving Children.
Dear 4-year-old Me,
It’s three days after Christmas and your mommy just took her final breath. Cancer just took her life. You don’t understand
You’ll have to live with Grandma and Grandpa now, but know that they will love you like their own son, despite the difficulties over the years. Your mom was their only daughter, she was 26. You’ll stand outside a lot and stare at the stars, you don’t really know why but it always made you feel better, it makes the pain seem smaller. Sometimes you wish you were one of those small lights in the distance, far away and above it all. You run around the house sometimes, screaming. The noise helps the world seem silent.
One day you will be 5, then 6, and you will start school. School is routine and you learn to love routines. It keeps your mind busy. You will still feel alone a
You’ll have to answer questions, questions you will become numb to. “Why do you call her Grandma?” “Where’s your mom?” “Where’s your dad?” You become good at answering them, the words become routine and you like routine. You’ll have to answer other questions too, like “Jacob, what you want to be when you grow up?” Grow up? Be? What do I want to be? You don’t know how to answer it. For you, there wasn’t “when you grow up” there was only tomorrow. Will I be ok, tomorrow?
Life starts to feel like a slow drip. But one day you will meet a beautiful woman and who will ask her to be your wife (she will “yes” so don’t be too nervous). The more time you spend with her the more you worry that she will
One day, many years from now, you will look back at your life and ponder all the hard questions. One day you will realize that throughout all the years of pain and tears that you were never alone, even though it felt like it most times. One day, child, you will realize that grief is the other side of love, the price we all pay for loving so deeply.