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8.26.2009

Good Grief

So there I was...

Sitting Shiva with a baby. It seems wrong for babies to grieve, but they do. They do not hide their grief. They do not isolate, they let the whole world know. They wail.

The infant in question was my granddaughter, eight months old. She is a healthy and generally happy baby. She is bright, aware, and nobody’s fool. And she is at a place where she is totally dedicated to the fact that her mother should not stray out of sight. Not even for moments of time. She does not, of course, get her way all the time - just most of the time. Her mother is dedicated to her well being and understands that this is a developmental stage and that it will lighten up eventually. But sometimes her mother does need to do things that babies cannot do.

We do not lie to the babe. Mom tells her she is leaving, and that she will return. We do not attempt to trick the babe. Mother does not sneak away. She kisses her, says goodbye and walks out. She does not hesitate or look back, no matter what her hearts says. The babe looks at grandmother – she who is not mom. She lets loose a yell of protest. She is angry. I pick her up and tell her true things – She is all right. Mom will be back very soon. She is safe and loved, and we have books and toys and snacks. She does not give a whit for truth. She does not want toys or snacks. She is smart enough to realize that she is not going to get what she wants – at least not now. The anger turns to grief, profound sadness. Real tears flow down her cheeks. And then she does an amazing thing. She reaches out for her grandmother. She clings for dear life, even as the wailing continues. She will not be content, but she will seek comfort, even as she grieves. It isn’t the love she wants, but she knows it is love, and she hangs on. No tear reaches her chin before being kissed away. Songs are sung but they are sad songs. She cries herself into sleep, but even then she will not be laid down in her crib, her hands clench on fabric and skin. “Don’t lay me down gram, mommy is not here, and I don't want to be alone.” So we rock and hum, and wait.

I love this child like I love life. I would stand between her and threat through an apocalypse. But even if I could magically grant her a life without grief, I would not. It would not be a life fully lived. But I know that she will make it. She will thrive. Because she already has the God-given wisdom to hang on to someone she loves when she is bereft. I count it as deep privilege that she found me worthy to share her sadness. I will always try to come when she calls, but even when I cannot, I know she will love and be loved – no matter her circumstances.

The key turned in the lock, and the source of all goodness returned, and the babe rejoiced. She smiled at me as her mommy swooped her up and told her what a good brave girl she was. She forgave me the dark place. More than that we were companions in a dark place, and survivors, and comrades who deserved to share our joy because we had shared grief.

It is good. It is enough.





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Comments:
It's so hard to be a baby. I'm glad she has you for the tough hours.
 
I read the first line and my heart stopped because I thought someone had died. I am sorry baby had a rough time without mom, but I am glad everyone is okay!
 
A timely post for me. Thank you.
 
For her, for that period of time, it was utter anguish. How wonderful to see the formation of the building of long-term health and trust in this child, through the clear-sighted loving she is getting.
 
Good grief, you are a good writer, Peggy. Thank you.
 
Of course, the grief is really mine, this baby lives in Albuquerque, and if I am lucky I am going to see her for a few days at a time, a couple of times a year. and so the lesson is for me as well.

Yes, it is hard work being a baby, and hard work being a loving, long-distance gramma.

sigh
 
I commend you for doing the hard work. I think lots of long-distance grandmas (and fathers, mothers, etc.) just go ahead and emotionally 'distance" themselves from children they will be grieved to be separated from if they allow themselves to get very fond.
 
This is so beautiful, it made me teary.
 
When I first went back to work, my son was about fifteen months old. I lamented to an older, wiser (grand)mother that he cried so hard when I left him at child care. She asked me, "Does he do the same when you go to the bathroom by yourself?" I had to say yes. It was good to be reminded that it's traumatic that you're out of their sight, not necessarily a reflection on the substitute care provider.
 
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