I tried to pull him along, but my son refused to move. I crouched down to ask what was wrong, even though I knew what was wrong. His face crumpled, and he started crying that awful, soundless cry that is the opposite of a get-your-attention cry. He moved his head so that his long, golden hair would obscure his face: he didn't want me to see. This was private pain.
No child should be left with that kind of pain, so I said, without directly acknowledging the source of it, "Let's be brave and keep walking, and you can close your eyes." He nodded, and that's what we did.
He didn't see me cry walking next to him.
A week later, we had to cross Wallace Avenue again. I gripped my son's hand tight, and he looked up and smiled. "I've developed a new strategy," he said. "When I think of the old house, a siren goes off in my brain. I line up all my brain cells against the wall and then look for a hiding place, and I run there and take three deep breaths. Then I forget about it."
"That's called denial," I wanted to tell my little CBT robot, but he is seven, and I'm not a total asshole, and, besides, it is true that:
Forgetting In the beginning, I walked by my old house compulsively. I wanted to see if the new owners were taking care of it.
It did hurt, but in that half-pleasant itchy way the way a sore tooth can feel sometimes. Maybe because, simultaneously, I also felt relief that it was over and that there was nothing I could do about the situation anymore.
Have I moved on? In the beginning, it felt as if I had moved on.
Acceptance > Grief
I live somewhere else now. In order for my son to remain in his school, I had to stay in the area, so I found a place not far from Wallace Avenue. The absence of my son's chatter at the new dining-room table in my tiny new kitchen is a boy-shaped sadness I feel on the days he's not with me (his father and I share custody). In this instance, I grieve too. I grieve all that time I took for granted before, when we ate breakfast together every day. How is he not here at breakfast every day? It feels wrong; it's a does-not-compute situation. A few friends who have custody arrangements, say that, OK, you get used to it, but only because there's no other choice. The reality sets in. You move on.
One day, you will move on, the friends say. When you're ready.
And as much as I wish that for myself, does moving mean forgetting many of those good moments — my son at breakfast, impromptu kitchen dance parties — that made me happy on Wallace Avenue? Accepting that that's not coming back?
My son is not the one who's in denial with his cute strategy of dealing with the loss of the house. I am.
Grief is an occurrence that doesn't follow a linear trajectory; it comes in waves — sometimes it's a tsunami, and sometimes grief is a little splash. Some days I'm drowning in it, other times … I just have to get on with my day.
I feel guilty about my grief, too, because, indeed, nobody has died, my country isn't under siege, and everyone is relatively healthy. A dissolution of a family shouldn't be considered a disaster, yet it is; according to one definition, disaster is "an event or fact that has unfortunate consequences."