Simon is away on business and my mom is here for the night. The kids have a PA Day tomorrow and mom and Michael are planning on going to the new Ripley’s Aquarium for the other half of his birthday present. Our kids are so accustomed to travelling in a great big ‘boy pack’ that any one-on-one time with grandparents, aunts and uncles is absolutely priceless.
Michael was upstairs when my mom arrived this evening and by the time he came down, mom and I were having dinner at the kitchen table. I knew something was wrong when Michael walked into the kitchen and after hugging my mom he just completely broke down. My first thought was that he was upset about his new fish dying- we’ve lost four this week. Michael is not a kid who cries very often and when he does it is a few tears. So I was very concerned and shocked when he put his hands over his face and wept with a gut-wrenching intensity.
It took about five minutes to get the story out of him but when I finally did he told me that he had just watched a heartbreaking YouTube video about a man who had had to make a devastating medical decision about his mom following her massive cardiac arrest.
I held Michael while he cried and was very mindful of what he needed from me at such a critical moment. Michael is as empathetic and intuitive as I am and feels the pain of others in a way that can be overwhelmingly delicate. He just kept saying; ‘it was so sad, it was just so sad, mom.’
My heart was breaking for the piece of Michael’s innocence that had been compromised. I wanted him to un-see that video. I didn’t want him to feel the death of a mom. I didn’t want it to even occur to him that I could be taken from him while he still needs me so deeply. I did not want him to feel that depth of grief and that unthinkable possibility.
I didn’t want him to know that I am going to die. As if it was some kind of secret that I have been protecting him from. Tonight, the secret was out. And at the bottom of his reaction was the glimpse of what he will feel like when I die.
I am not in the least bit afraid of death for myself. However, our experience tonight shines light on the fear that I do not want my beloved sons to grow up without me.
As I sit with my own discomfort, I am aware that perhaps the situation is entirely perfect and, for some reason, Michael needed this experience tonight. Maybe at 11-years-of-age he is perfectly ready to begin understanding that we are all mortal. Maybe this will deepen him in a way that he is perfectly prepared for. And as much as I want to shelter him and protect him from the pain of a loved one’s death I do not want him to live in a bubble.
And so, here I am at 10:00 on a Thursday night feeling an awkward tugging in both directions. I want my sons to grow up knowing the full range of human emotion and the perfection of the human experience, whatever shape or form it may take for them. I want them to have the capacity for love, grief, joy, passion, pain and the miraculous nature of living each and every day.