Either last week or the one before, my seven year old son sat down and nonchalantly asked me a question that no one has ever asked before.
How does it feel to have both of my parents dead?
To say that I was unprepared for such a question would be an understatement. It hit me firmly in the gut and left me momentarily speechless.
I forget sometimes how literal children his age can be. They ask the questions they ask not for any motivation other than pure curiosity. There was nothing underhanded about the words that came out of his mouth, he meant no injury to me by uttering them. He really just wanted to know.
I gathered myself the best I could and answered him the best way I know how - honestly. Matter of factly.
Well, it is pretty terrible.
And it is. I'm starting to make peace with the fact that it will always be pretty terrible.
We're coming up quickly on two years that my Mother has been gone, though I hadn't really been mothered much in many years prior to that, at least not in any way that would have been beneficial to my psyche. It's been four and a half years since my Father passed, and though it still seems surreal to think that so much time has past, I know that it must certainly have done so.
So many other things have transpired in the space between then and now. I bear only a faint resemblance to who I was back then, though I suppose I still look like that girl in most physical aspects. She was me and I am her, but we're two very different people indeed.
When he asked the question, the one that he asked purely out of innocent wonder, I realized almost instantly that it was the first time anyone had ever asked.
No one had ever asked me how it felt to lose both of my parents.
In this world of constant connection, in this world where I share so much with seemingly everyone, in this world of instant gratification and immediate feedback, no one had asked.
Sure, people had asked how I was when my Father died, just as people asked how I was when my Mother died. To save myself the explaining, and to save others from trying to understand the places I've been in, I generally replied with something along the lines of I'm doing okay. And then left it at that.
I didn't do much elaborating. I don't do much elaborating.
When I have, I've been attacked for telling people my truths, for the assumptions made about me, for the things they chose to believe. Even now it happens, after all this time.
The last time I wrote about them here, someone told me they envied me. For what, I'm not really sure.
I can't honestly recall a time, though, when someone asked me what it was like to have lost them both until I found myself looking down at the squinting blue eyes of a child awaiting a response.
It's amazing, really, the perception of kids. We don't hardly give them the credit they deserve. Far too often children are discounted as lesser, as unexperienced with the world, as too young to understand. Maybe they understand everything just about perfectly precisely because of their naivete. They haven't been told what they are and aren't supposed to wonder about yet. They don't hold back their curiosities because of what society might think if they give voice to their questions.
They just ask, and they do it literally.
So, then I suppose, we arrive at the answer.
It is pretty terrible, this wandering the planet without parents.
I certainly didn't think that I'd be doing it already at my age, though a part of me knew from the time I was a little girl that they wouldn't be here as long as they should have been, for as long as I'd need them to be. I have vivid memories of begging them to stop smoking, of hiding cigarettes and tossing them into the toilet, of the times when whatever had been the excuse that she wasn't taking care of herself this time had fallen by the wayside and wishing that now it would be her turn. I fought that fight until she left here the last time, having shut me out entirely. I fought that fight even when everyone else around me told me to stop. The little girl inside my heart had questions. And she hoped.
To be on this side of it now, it's hard. I found an envelope of pictures that my mother had mailed to me when my father was dying. In one of them, her as an infant. I looked at that picture and saw the same grin that stares back at me now on the face of my youngest child, the one she wasn't here to meet.
I envy those who share moments like that one with parents who are still here, though I know the envy won't accomplish anything. Envy won't bring them back. Envy won't make that smile less familiar. Envy won't introduce this child to those he will never meet.
I don't truly think it's envy that I feel anymore, though, at least not genuinely.
The last year and a half of my father's life was filled with pain. I wouldn't wish for another second of him to endure that, even if it satisfied all my unanswered questions, even if it somehow fulfilled my wish for him to meet my son.
The last years of my mother's life were filled with pain, with chaos, with trauma, with so much more. I struggled greatly with all that she was and all that she became. I wouldn't wish for her to be here again even for a second, even if it gave me all that I needed, because she didn't want to be here anymore. I couldn't make her stay. I couldn't make her stay here, in proximity, or in life itself. She wanted to go.
And knowing all of that makes it harder to be here without her. Knowing all that I don't know, knowing that there was so much of that last year that I was blind to, knowing that she didn't want me there, that hurts more.
I miss her, certainly, but I miss who she wanted to be more than anything else.
I miss who that little girl in my heart needed most.
Fortunately for my son and for myself, when he asked the question, I was vastly unprepared to answer him. I hadn't had time to think about it all, to really sit with it. I hadn't had time to ask myself, let alone prepare an answer for anyone else.
I just told him what my gut told me to tell him.
That it is pretty terrible.
He accepted that answer. Gave me a big hug. Told me that he was sorry I was sad.
And in that moment he did more for me than most adults ever could. He just cared.
He didn't try to rationalize my feelings, didn't try to explain them away, didn't try to tell me how lucky I was for whatever adults try to tell us we're lucky for when we're sad.
He just sat with it and gave me a hug.
Children...they're far wiser than we credit them for being. They're who we used to be before the woulds and the shoulds told us what to ask the universe, before we learned to explain away the answers.
Listen to their questions and answer them.
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