Scrolling down to see an email from the school district was not out of the ordinary. We have a daughter in the fourth grade. We receive emails regarding PTA appeals, Waste Free Wednesdays, Popcorn Fridays, book fairs, teacher conferences, etc. But when I clicked open this particular email on a sunny March morning, I was unprepared for what I saw.
Skipping the subject line my eyes went directly to the body of the email itself.
“Congratulations, future Rock Creek parents. It’s Kindergarten registration week!”
And there it was. Grief: The Invisible Monster that rears his ugly head and bucks you off course before you ever saw him coming. Down you go, boom. It shouldn’t have taken me by surprise. It made sense that the school would send out this notice. We were on the list for having a child who would be entering kindergarten the next year, since our daughter had received therapeutic services through the school after aging out of her birth-to-three early intervention program.
Going about the necessities of managing our daily lives in the two years since our younger daughter died of the terminal genetic disease Tay-Sachs at the age of three, I had mulled over many of my lost experiences, both past and future. Since her condition was degenerative, we knew at the time of her diagnosis that there would be several missed milestones while she was with us. She would never sit, crawl, walk or talk. There would be no babbling first words or spinning on the merry-go round in giggling delight.
There have certainly been times in these two years since her passing that the sting of her loss was made worse by situational events. Such as when we walk into a restaurant and the hostess asks “Just the three of you?” or having now to take our annual family portraits holding a picture of her, rather than our actual child in our arms. But I hadn’t even considered, until that seemingly innocuous email arrived, that were my daughter alive, I’d be registering her for kindergarten right about now.
My mind turned to my older daughter on her first day of school. Her long dark hair in a low-slung curly side ponytail. Her meticulously matched outfit and new shoes. Her Barbie backpack and the permanent grin she wore across her face, beaming and twirling for the camera.
In light of my younger daughter’s death, I knew my life would be full of missed milestones, and in the moment I felt the weight of them all. It was enough to make me want to stumble back to bed and pull the covers over my face for the rest of the day.
But of course, I couldn’t. I may not have a kindergartener to register, but I did have a fourth grader who needed a breakfast to be made for her, a lunch to be packed, and to be walked to the bus stop. I had a husband to kiss goodbye as he left for his day of work, and myself to consider in the process as well. Becoming paralyzed by grief would not honor my child’s life. I would let it affect me, yes, but only in this moment. I would feel sorry for myself, I would cry, I would mourn, I would feel the rage and I would pick myself up and make some scrambled eggs.
Even though a general level of healthy acceptance of your situation may be useful in keeping some of your grief at bay, you can never fully predict the moments when it will sneak up on you, striking without warning and sidelining your emotions for the moment or hour or day or even longer.
My advice: Be kind to yourself in these dark times. When the weight of your grief is overwhelming, keep yourself focused on an “out.” Something that has nothing to do with your grief, that you can force yourself to accomplish. Something to propel you beyond the grief itself. Even if that something is just making eggs.
Becky A. Benson is a writer and public speaker who lives with her family near Seattle. She is an active member of National Tay-Sachs & Allied Diseases (NTSAD), and holds a degree in psychology. She is the author of “Three Short Years: Life Lessons in the Death of My Child.”