>Not too young to grieve

19 May


For the past two weeks, I have been embedded with my grandson who is two months away from his third birthday and I am all at once physically drained and spiritually enriched.  I have never been so active in my life, not even when I was his age.  I guess the saying is true, careful what you wish for.  This all started when I encouraged his mom to enrol him in pre-school.  He lives in a neighbourhood where they don’t necessarily screen conversations for kids, and like a little sponge he was soaking up everything.  So even though he is tiny wee, I said, “Just send him to school and get him out of the house.”  And anyway he was pretty pumped about the idea of going to school.  Well it turns out he got enrolled in what in Jamaica is called a basic school, and, in many cases, the emphasis should really be on the word ‘basic’.  Like most basic schools it was in a church building, but I visited one day and found out that the tiny tots had the smallest area, kind of like a holding cell with small desks, with no play facilities or toys, and only one door. Each day I would drive by and feel intensely guilty about having gotten Josh into that situation.  And you could tell from talking to him that school had definitely not lived up to his expectation even though he seemed resigned to making the best of it.
So the first thing I did when I quit my job was to spring Josh from basic school, and for the past two weeks, we have been spending our weekdays together.  Let me first say this has been a blessed experience because Josh is a pretty easy going guy.  He has a good command of the language and would much rather swear than cry.  We’re working on the swearing. However, I must confess I have never so looked forward to my weekends.  I can’t remember ever spending so much intense time with his dad as a baby, and somehow Josh has managed to set the agenda, because I don’t think I would have scheduled so much outside play time. But he really loves books, and we spend a lot of time looking at pictures and talking about them.
Anyway, the point of this post, believe it or not, is my observations on how he grieves for his dad. Josh was 16 months old when his father was killed, and too young to understand the concept of death.  But he did react to the absence, especially since Andre was a devoted father who spent a lot of time with him and provided a whole lot of stimulation.  I used to look at them horsing around and hope that nothing would happen so Andre would have to leave him.  At that time I wasn’t even thing about death as a possibility, more like the way I had migrated when Andre was a baby, leaving him in Jamaica for almost a year, before we were reunited.  Anyway, after Andre died, I didn’t quite know what to do for Josh because I figured he didn’t have the language skills or the concept to facilitate any kind of helpful discussion.  His mom was distressed because he kept asking for his dad, and I told her to keep saying he was gone, and that after a while he would stop asking so much.  But I still felt I should be doing something to help him process. 
This March, on his dad’s birthday, Josh came up with the answer.  I had been planning to do my own private memorial in my mediation room where we keep the urn with Andre’s ashes, and I had been toying with the idea of inviting Josh over to join me.  However I was a little apprehensive because I didn’t know if I would be stirring up memories he couldn’t handle. Anyway, he did come over to visit but I decided against mentioning anything about the birthday, which is what makes the rest of the story so unreal.  Josh was sitting around colouring after lunch and we had the radio on when this DJ comes on, and he looks up and says, “That’s my Daddy.  No, that’s not my Daddy. I want to hear my Daddy’s song.” His dad had been an aspiring reggae artiste, and songwriter and I had actually put away some of his creative work for Josh to have when he got older but I had never shared any of this with him before.  So, now he’s insistent and I’m scrambling around trying to find a CD.  I stick it in the player and Andre’s voice comes on and Josh just stands there with his face in his hands.  At one point I wondered whether this was distressing to him, and asked if he wanted me to turn it off, but he said “no, no.”
So I decided that this was as good a time as any to do the cake thing I had planned to do alone so I took him to my ancestral altar and I said, “Andre, your mother and son are here to celebrate your time with us”, and I said some other things that I don’t quite remember.  But what was really cool was that Josh sat on my lap and punctuated all my statements with a “yes” indicating that this was truly a joint approach.
Afterwards we lit the candle on the cake, and he blew it out, then he made me keep lighting it so he could blow it out.  We did this like 20 times and had lots of fun with it. I kind of figured I had taught him a bad lesson about playing with matches, so I gave him a little lecture on the subject for good measure. Then I showed him some of his dad’s stuff, and one of them was a T-shirt, which he insisted he wanted to put on, so he wore that around the house until I got him to take it off by agreeing that his daddy’s shirt belonged to him. He asked me where his daddy was and we talked about him being dead and not being able to come back, and it was really a relief for me to be able to talk with him like that.
Now, most days when he comes over, he insists on ‘going to see’ his dad, and he makes me play the one song over and over – he practically knows all the words – while he tosses my stuff all over the meditation room. So that taught me that everyone will work through their own stuff if given permission. It also made me more determined to get a grieving child program up and running.

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