First Lessons in Loss

This morning, the kids and I went to get their pictures taken. After an hour of corralling and acting like a complete ass to try to get a few simultaneous smiles out of the gang, the (almost) four-year-old was awarded a balloon for good behavior (I wonder if they have tried that tactic in prison?). He practiced hanging on tight as we walked through the mall and he was very careful during lunch to make sure his balloon didn’t fly away. As we walked out to the car in the blustery wind, he was sure to remind me that the balloon’s safety was his top priority. Once he was buckled in the car, and I was getting the twins settled and the stroller put away, the balloon got sucked out of the car and blown into the great beyond. Pure devastation.

The ride home was full of tears (Depression), and every other stage of grief. Seriously. He threw the toy car he was holding in his hand, and exclaimed, “I’M MAD!” (Anger). “Maybe the balloon just went under the car.” (Denial). He told me he’d be good if we could go back and get another balloon (Bargaining). By the time we were home, I thought he’d arrived at acceptance, the balloon is gone, and it is not coming back.

We are no strangers to these cycles of grief at our house. We’ve been living them in some fashion or form for the past five years since our first daughter died. The misconception about these stages is that they are linear. They are, in fact, not. One does not arrive at acceptance as the final destination of grief and then go on to live a happy and long life in acceptance. Wouldn’t it be nice? But no, we move fluidly in and out of each of these stages, sometimes staying longer in one, sometimes for years. If we’re lucky (and work really hard), we spend most of our time in acceptance, only because it seems to be the most productive stage.

So, I should have known… Upon entering the house, we began the cycle all over again. Now, here’s where I am never sure if I am making a huge monumental mistake as a parent: I am positive about our choice to introduce our children to the notion of heaven and the reality of death as part of the life cycle. They have a sister who is not with us, and to deny them the experience of knowing Brady and her story, is to deny Brady the honor she deserves as a member of our family. However, there is a tricky line in describing heaven in that you don’t want it to sound TOO enticing to a child.

The almost-four-year-old and I sat down to talk about his balloon. We talked about why he loved his balloon, and we talked about where it went. He told me that it went to space and then when it was through space it got to heaven and Brady found it. My heart was smiling. He understands the concept! He understands that Brady is in heaven! Hooray! Until… “and mommy I don’t want Brady to have my balloon, so I need a really, really tall ladder so I can get up to heaven and get my balloon back from her.” Oooooh. A) As it turns out, sibling rivalry is not relegated only to this realm. B) Here is the magical thinking of grief… and the cycle begins again. I cannot lie to you, still today, I wish there were a really, really tall ladder that could get me up to heaven, so I could just hold my baby girl for a moment. I promise I would be quick and come right back to earth (bargaining).

As ridiculous as it may sound, I understood my son’s pain in the moment. I understood the devastation behind his wailing. I knew the familiar ache of longing he was sensing, and I was so right there with him. I know it was only a balloon, but for him it was more than the balloon. The concept is an important one. The lesson is one we will spend the rest of our lives getting our arms around, there are some things that when they go, they go away forever, so we need to hold tight to what we can of them.


  1. This is a lovely post. If only all our loses were as easy to remedy as a balloon. What a good mom you are not to immediately find him a new one though.

  2. Then, of course, there is the corollary concept -- if we do not learn the lesson, it will be presented again. Some people never learn the lesson. Their lives are sad and they remain stuck in whatever loss, resentment or fear that they cannot accept, resolve or move beyond.

  3. I sure hope you are archiving all of your work for a potential book at some point. My kids are 25 and 28 years old (and I don't even have grandkids yet), but your funny, insightful, and often poignant compositions are still valid and compelling even for me. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I am still an 'active' Mom to my kids - with fabulous memories from their younger childhood - and your stories help me to recall those times and the emotions behind them. However, you also have a true gift for relating, sharing, and communicating that cannot be denied. We hear you, we feel your pain as we feel your joy and thank you for sharing your gift with us.

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Saw that you had posted this on Friday. I only saw the title, and from that decided I needed to wait to read this until I had time by myself.

    Now was the opportunity for time to read, think, and feel.

    Loss and acceptance; tough subjects, especially when it's something or someone you really care about.

    I'm sitting here thinking about a couple people I have lost. There is circling back though stages and a struggle to get back to acceptance. It can be so difficult to stay in acceptance but at the same time not forget the person. How to balance memory and acceptance?

    I'm still trying to figure it out, but it seems to help if I think that while they were here I did the best I could for them; now they are gone they are in a "better place"; in the future I will see them again - sometime.

    As you figure out more, please let me know. It can be such a struggle at times.

    Thanks Dear.

  6. In case you are wondering why I removed my first post, it was to correct spellin' and grammar.

  7. What a beautiful and poignant post. Here's wishing your dreams are full of ladders!


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