Help for Healing

Bitter & Sweet, living daily with grief


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Ya Never Know

Frankie and I used to be super close. He has my emotional makeup so I really understood him when others didn’t at times. Slowly we have separated over the years to the point that I hardly recognized who he even was sometimes. Now we are slowly, ever so slowly, finding ways to re-connect.

I think he is so unbelievably resilient. Even though I get frustrated, I can’t believe that he is the way he is with all the losses he has suffered from age four on. He is funny, popular and smart. Then the social worker part of me worries. He must be suffering underneath it all, right? Is he just holding it off until he is 30 when he is in some therapist’s office spilling how much he hated his life?

I remember when he was about 10. He had been in the peer support group at school for two years that focused on kids with loss. Out of the blue he got in the car one day and said matter-of-factly with maturity that shouldn’t be possible, “Mom, I’ve been in grief group for two years. I think it’s time to move on.” And that was that, he was done.

When I look at pictures of him when he was only eight, the age when his father died, I can hardly bear it. The grief comes back like it was yesterday. He looks so tiny. Just so damn little. I don’t remember at the time thinking he was so small. How the hell did a little boy deal with all that?

Tim has never been a taboo topic in our house, nor with our friends and family. But I can’t say it comes up all that often either.

This week, out of the blue, I’m in the car with Frankie and I stumbled upon the right question by fluke and I find out he has a friend whose mom died three years ago. He says they talk about it sometimes. I’m surprised, but very glad that he talks about it. Then he says, “Remember that song ‘Save a Place for Me’ that was in Dad’s funeral?”

I’m stunned again. Of course I do. I had no idea HE even had an inkling. Turns out his friend had the same song played at her mom’s funeral. What a coincidence. And how the heck did that even come up in conversation between two teens?

Final shocker. “Yeah. I’m surprised you’ve never said anything to me when I play it on the piano now.” Frankie has been teaching himself how to play the piano for a couple of years. He’s so talented. He mostly plays pop songs from the radio. He took (well, I say stole) the piano upstairs a couple of months ago so I can only hear through the walls. Usually it’s late at night and if I listen closely I can hear him play and sing before I fall asleep.

Holy crap. He knew the song, looked it up and learned it. I never knew.

I get tingles when I think about it. I shouldn’t worry so much. He remembers and he’s processing. He’s talking. He’s working it out. Knock me over with a feather.

The only thing more mind-boggling is that in a month he will be 16 and driving a car. How did THAT happen?

(Here’s the song by Matthew West  https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=zbsBUf9VKyc  if you want to cut and paste the link)


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Memories

Almost every time I speak, something happens that I think, “Ah, that is the reason I was here today.” I mean, it is always a rush to connect with an audience, and it is an honor to hear people’s personal stories. But sometimes there is a wow moment. You might have read about last September when someone approached me and introduced me to the world of genetics. That was one of those moments.

Last weekend, I had another one. I had a small part moderating in a medical conference. I had my books out on the registration table and tried to be there during breaks, etc.. A woman who looked familiar approached me and asked if I remembered her.

Turns out, she worked with Gilda’s Club, which is a support service center for patients with cancer and their families. (It was started by Gilda Radner.) The summer that Tim was sick, Frankie was just seven-years-old. Miss Kathy held a week-long day camp for kids that either had cancer, or had family members that suffered from it. Frankie went every day.

I remember at the end of the week they had a presentation where the kids showed their projects, read their writing, etc.. I was told quietly, there was a young man who worked with the kids in his early 20’s that Frankie literally grabbed on to. He stuck to him like glue. I have a picture of him holding Frankie, and Frankie had a death grip hug on him. (I would post the picture except I am out of town right now and don’t have the external drive where my pictures are located.) I told them that made perfect sense. Frankie was (and still is) ridiculously close to his brother Colin, who was close to the same age. Plus, well, he was losing his father.

Whenever I think of those events, I get overwhelmed with emotions. Frankie was so so so little back then. He acts so well-adjusted (and still does) that sometimes I forget just how hard losing his father was on him. Him clutching that man was a sign of the quiet desperation that was probably inside of him. “I need a male in my life. Don’t leave me too.” I heard it loud and clear.

With the hundreds of kids these people see every year, I can’t tell you what it did to my heart to have Miss Kathy come up seven years later and ask about Frankie by name. She said that picture went around the office between them for quite a while. She wanted to know how he was doing now. I couldn’t grab my phone fast enough to show her his hockey pictures. Then there was the picture I took in September that I snapped and then looked at it in shock. Where did my little boy go? It is obvious he is a young man now and it was happening right before my eyes without my fully noticing. I told her with pride how he has a 96 average in 8th grade while taking three advanced classes.

She was so happy to hear. She promised to tell the guy she works with. I was happy to know they are both doing the work they are so gifted at. And I knew. Seeing her was why I was there that day. What a tremendous, moving gift. No wonder my family has fared this situation as well as they have. We were surrounded with people like them, who remember us in detail after all these years.

Now I have to wipe my eyes. Thanks for the gift, Miss Kathy and friend. And to the many, many others of you who know you are on the list as well. All our love to you!