Losing a loved one is never easy. Namine has endured the loss of pets before, and that’s hard enough. But the death of a grandma is much, much harder.
Jessica’s mother had been sick for a long time. It is one thing to say that we knew her death was coming, and soon; it is quite another to say that we were prepared for it. We were most definitely not.
I have written before — as I will again, countless times — that Jessica and I believe in parental transparency. By this I mean that we do not lie to Namine; we always tell her the truth. We do our best (and sometimes we fail, since we, like every parent, are but human) to never tell Namine to obey “because I said so.” We believe that the child deserves just as much respect as the parent, and so we explain our positions in rational conversation. For the most part, we are successful in being rational parents, and Namine is successful at being a logical child.
There is certainly nothing rational about death. But Namine, for her part, already understands death. Even when the first animal she ever loved — my mom’s cat, Mischief — died, it took very little explanation from us for Namine to understand the finality of it. We have long suspected that Namine’s own close encounters with death have afforded her a comprehension to which ours pale in comparison.
Namine knew that her grandma was sick, but she didn’t know how sick. I imagine she had an inkling, as evidenced by her repeated concerns that Grandma was in the hospital again; her questions of when she would be able to come home.
We told Namine that Grandma Tarver would likely die soon. Would we have done so if Namine had not already shown an understanding of death? Perhaps; perhaps not. We felt, however, that Namine would accept this truth and deal with it in her own way.
Namine is a vocal child, but she is solitary in her own way. She does not tell us when she is in pain until she can no longer stand it; she does not tell us her worries unless she is sure we can help. She said nothing of her thoughts concerning her grandma until, one night, she asked me to bring her every blanket she had made for her. I did so, gladly.
Charlene loved to crochet. One of Namine’s favorite pairs of slippers are from her grandma; she has winter hats; she has mittens. Namine has more crocheted blankets than years she’s been alive, and she wanted all of them.
As I covered Namine with blanket after blanket, Namine asked me, “Who is going to make me blankets, if Grandma dies?”
I said I didn’t know. Namine thought for a moment, then said, “I am going to pray that God will heal Grandma and let her come home.”
When Charlene was in hospice, Jessica and I did not bring Namine in to see her — at least, at first we didn’t. She was rarely responsive, and when she did respond, she was barely able to utter a word.
So we arranged for one of my aunts to come and watch Namine while Jessica stayed at the hospice with her mom. One morning, I had to bring Namine with me to the hospice, where Jessica would meet me outside, drive me to work, and then take Namine and herself home. But Jessica was running late, and Namine taught me a little something about love.
Namine asked, “Why are we just sitting here in the car?”
“Because we’re waiting for Mommy.”
“Why don’t we go inside and say hi to Grandma while we’re waiting?”
“Because…” I thought about how best to explain to a six year old what was happening to her grandma. “Because Grandma is very sick. She’s confused a lot of the time, and she may not recognize you or know who you are.”
Namine made a sound not unlike the sound I make when an idea is ridiculous, like pfff. “That doesn’t matter, Daddy. I still love Grandma!”
I couldn’t argue with that. So I brought Namine into her grandma’s room. She wheeled up to Charlene, who said two words: “My baby.” She couldn’t reach out, but her hand opened. Namine did the reaching for her, putting her small hand in the middle of her grandma’s palm. “I love you, Grandma.”
So much for the adults being able to make the right decisions. From that point until Charlene died, Namine saw her grandma every day and told her that she loved her. To my knowledge, Charlene recognized Namine every time.
God took Charlene home to heaven on May 7th, at roughly 3:30 in the morning. When we told Namine, she cried. She didn’t cry much. She keeps a lot bottled up inside. We would see it come out soon enough.
Over the next couple days, the siblings and their significant others (spouses or otherwise) planned the most awful of celebrations: the funeral. Tears were shed; memories were shared; and, strangely enough, there was laughter, too. As Jessica and her siblings put together flowers and memory boards, Namine was afforded a chance to play with her cousin Olivia. It was a nice distraction for her.
But in the middle of playing, Namine burst out, “Just go away, Olivia! I just want to be left alone!”
This was most unlike Namine, who usually played so nicely. I knelt down next to her. “You know, that was pretty mean.”
Namine looked ashamed. “I know. I just… I miss Grandma so much.”
“I know. But we have to remember that this is a hard time for everyone, not just you or me. Don’t you think Olivia misses her grandma too?”
Namine nodded. She crawled over to Olivia and offered her apology. Soon enough they were playing happily together once more, as if nothing had happened.
Namine had more sudden bouts of sadness, but she remembered what I’d told her. She told me that she was sad, that she missed her grandma. But she didn’t have any more outbursts at anyone.
Namine, like any child, has good days in church and she has bad days in church. On the day of the funeral, she had a bad day. She was already having a difficult time keeping it together, and she let herself be distracted by one of the (rather loud) babies in church.
I don’t mean this as an excuse — believe me, she got a talking-to afterward — but just in case you got the idea that Namine is this perfect little kid. She’s not. We all have our faults, parts of us that we need to work on.
But I wasn’t going to dwell on it, either. She apologized, I forgave her, we moved on. You can’t fixate on anything, especially not when your kid acts up on a day when everybody is already wound up tight.
I wasn’t about to make her sit still during the post-service brunch/snack/whatever and act like an adult, especially having already seen how well that turned out during the service. After she was done eating, I let her go run around, playing with other kids. I believe it was the best thing for her, to let her burn off some of that energy.
Charlene, we will miss you.