Nearly a month ago, my oldest childhood friend died tragically. She was a bright, beautiful soul, with so much life still left to live, and I cannot—no matter how much journaling I do—get my head around a world she isn’t in anymore. I hadn’t seen her in years, but because my childhood was so intertwined with hers, she crops up in my memory bank almost daily. She did before her death, and I imagine she will forevermore. (Last night the movie Casper was on TV and I had an urge to tweet at her, “Reliving grade 7: Devon Sawa in Casper! On now!” I had the app open before I remembered, and I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.) I ache for her parents, for her sister and her brothers, for her nieces and nephew, and for the wide circle of friends she left behind.
Grief is a fickle bitch. I’ve come to understand that over the past year. After losing my beloved grandmother in August, and then my dear friend recently, I flip-flop between being on the verge of tears and feeling like life will go on. I have days when I feel normal, when I’m not triggered by seemingly benign objects and events, and days where even the smallest things will set me off. But here’s what I’m losing sleep over: I’m not much of a crier (as an adult anyway—my hormone-fuelled teenage years were another story) so allowing even a single tear to slip freaks out my four-year-old, Sophie, who hadn’t seen Mommy weep much up to this point. She has recently been acutely aware of my mood, for some reason, and trying to get anything past her is next to impossible. Even leaving the room causes her to ask where I am, and she’ll come looking for me.
The day after I learned of my friend’s death, I was texting with another old friend. I wrote, “It’s a good thing my babies were in bed when I found out. I was a disaster. Scary, even.” She wisely replied, “It’s okay to be a mess in front of your kids. It teaches them that everyone is sad sometimes, that it’s okay to cry.” I’ve been thinking about that ever since, because while I know this is both true and important, I don’t want my girls to think Mommy is too sad. I’ve told Sophie that a bad thing happened, that my friend went to heaven, and she accepts that; it’s just that I don’t want to belabor that point and have her fixate on it. After my grandma died last summer, she talked about death for weeks. I don’t want her to be afraid.
I know that sadness is a part of life, and that it’s important to talk to your kids about mental health – especially theirs. And I don’t think that hiding yours is the best idea either. I just don’t know where, or if, there’s a line. I want to be (age-appropriately) forthright with them, while at the same time protecting them. But maybe that’s motherhood in a nutshell, with an added layer of sorrow on top.