I used to make pancakes with extra egg and extra sugar. I fried them in butter, three or four to a skillet, and served them one at a time to a row of little hands running in and out of the kitchen as fast as I could fry them up. One of those little hands was Mattias’.
He would inquire with a hopeful look in his eyes.
Pancakes just aren’t the same without those bright eyes and those little hands. So now I make them by the recipe and large enough to fill the skillet. We spread them with jelly or sugar or syrup and I prefer the mess to the constant sting of the hand that isn’t there.
This morning, Bear stands nervously by me, holding a plate, staking his place in line.
“Mom?” he begins. “Mom, it’s like the worst of my depression is over.”
I look in his eyes. They are bright, hopeful even. He still won’t sleep in his room because he can’t bear waking up and not seeing his brother’s smile, but it is a far cry from rocking himself in the corner through much of the day dreading the coming of night. And I remember the night he began to pass through the door, the night he described it as a door he had to pass through.
“Why did Tiggy have to die? It’s so frustrating. Why can’t I think about anything else? Why do I have to go through it again and again every night?”
So many conversations. So many hugs. So many tears. But in the end, I had no answers. I was crying out the same hurt. Over and over and over.
But on that night, I had been doing some reading. I had found some comfort in the fact that my little Bear seemed a textbook example for how a seven year old deals with grief. And I told him that. I told him that he was normal. That his fears were normal. That his mind playing the accident over and over was normal.
I compared it to how your tongue plays with a loose tooth even if it hurts. I told him that was part of how his mind was healing itself.
His tears stopped and he looked at me curiously.
“Yes, really. Mommy does it to. We all do. And you know what? My email box is full of notes from people who lost a child or a brother or a sister or a parent. They all have those thoughts, too.”
“Can I see?”
I hesitated. My instinct was still to protect him from that much death and heartache, but realized there was nothing I could do to protect him from what he had already witnessed. So I opened it up and showed him.
“See the ones that say ‘Contact form results?’ Those are the emails people sent us after they read about what happened to Tiggy.”
I started scrolling through page after page of emails so he could see just how many there were. His tears of frustration were replaced with a sort of shocked smile.
“All those people wrote about Tiggy?”
“Yes. And you know what else? They say it gets easier. That a day will come when you stop replaying that night in your mind over and over and start remembering more and more of the happy things. They say it always hurts a little and that you will never forget how much it hurt to lose him, but that this pain right now gets better.”
He seemed to like that thought.
“So it’s like a door you have to pass through?”
“Yes. Like a door. And your happy memories are all waiting for you on the other side. They won’t go away.”
He had seemed so relieved even then and every day since he has seemed a little more like his old self with a little less fear of night and a little more hope for the future.
But this batch of pancakes is done. I offer him a smile and a pancake and watch him leave the kitchen as tears begin to sting my eyes.