I feel like the Lord is constantly teaching me through my children, and I can choose whether or not I am willing to listen. It was 7 years ago that my oldest bravely walked me through a valuable life lesson. It happened on Memorial Day, which is fitting since I always need reminding.
My girls were 7 and 4 years old that year, and we decided to spend the holiday with my grandmother, who had recently been admitted into a nursing home. It was difficult for me to visit her there. Just opening the front door and encountering the aromas was a challenge due to the scents of aging behaving like a cruel, hostile hostess I could not get passed.
I am claustrophobic. Being unable to breathe triggers enormous amounts of anxiety for me. In order to fully engage with my grandmother, I had to shut down my olfactory sense before I entered the building. I essentially told my brain that what it was taking in was false. That way I would not and could not smell anything thus disconnecting my mind and my body.
It is kind of like a superpower.
We happily pulled up that Memorial Day, and I remember helping my daughters out of the van. We had gone to Wendy’s beforehand and picked up some Frosty’s, a treat my Memaw enjoyed.
I was a bit distracted by my small children as we walked through the parking lot. I was watching them while simultaneously looking for cars. Feeling like we had made it safely across, I lifted my head and almost bumped into a man wheeling a gurney out of the side door.
Startled by his presence, I pressed my youngest daughter’s little hand into mine. He pulled up as well, and his startled eyes grew very large as he took in the sight before him. He was a mortician and was wheeling out a resident in a body bag who had recently passed away.
He looked at me and then to my young children. He mouthed, “I am so sorry.”
I looked at my children. My youngest had her eyes on her cup of ice cream, but my oldest looked up at me. Then I followed her eyes as she took in the man with the gurney.
I don’t know if you have ever experienced watching a child process something in real time, but notice they were unable to grasp fully what they were seeing, but that was exactly what I saw in Maggie’s eyes. It was a type of horror confusion.
The gentleman waited for me to act, and I said the first thing that came to my mind. I faced him and whispered, “Just act natural.”
He nodded, managed a sympathetic smile, and motioned for me move on a head. We had to walk around him and his work to make it to the sidewalk. We proceeded to the front gate where I let us in to the patio. I was cussing myself and the situation when I heard my oldest say, “Mommy, what was in that shiny sheet on the wheelie bed?”
“We’ll talk about it later honey,” I said. “Let’s go see Memaw because our ice cream is beginning to melt.”
We walked through the front door, and like clockwork, I turned my brain off to the smelly realities.
The rest of the afternoon my daughter followed me around like a shadow. She asked me once again what it was that the man was pushing in the ‘shiny sheet.’ I brushed her off saying that we would talk later. I was too busy and needed her to run along and play.
At that moment, I had absolutely no intention of telling her the truth. I was not going to lie to her. I was just going to wait until she forgot about it.
That night while washing dishes, I felt a tug on my shirt. I looked down and there she was once again.
“Mommy,” she pleaded. “Will you PLEASE tell me now what was in the shiny sheet?”
I sighed and knew that this conversation had to happen. I dried my hands and sat her down at the kitchen table. I turned her chair to face mine and noticed her feet were still unable to reach the floor. They swung back and forth as she waited expectantly.
Her smallness and innocence filled up the room as well as my heart.
“Maggie,” I said no longer able to run away from her, “What do you think it was underneath the shiny sheet?” I of course was using her description of the body bag.
She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it quickly. She sat still for a moment thinking and then confessed, “Mommy, I don’t want to say.”
That was the moment when I knew that this conversation needed to happen, and I was so thankful for her courage to pursue an answer.
“I know you don’t honey,” I soothed. “But I need you to try to use your words.”
She was quiet and then whispered, “Mommy, I think it was a person.”
I was so proud of her. “You are right, Maggie. It was a person,” I said. “A person who had died.”
She looked at me and with all that she could muster said, “Mommy, I did not want that to be what it was.”
I smiled at her. I looked into her eyes and said, “I know honey. I didn’t either. But you are not doing yourself any favors by disconnecting this (pointing to her brain) and this (pointing to her heart).”
She nodded with the understanding of an aged soul.
“If you do it too many times, they will have a very hard time talking to and understanding one another,” I said. “They will get to where they will not trust what the other is trying to say.”
She nodded that she understood, and I really think that she did.
I told her she was very brave and thanked her talking to me about something that was hard for her.
“Your welcome,” she said, and hopped down off the chair satisfied with the truth.
I on the other hand sat in the irony of the situation. That is giving advice to my child that I often do not heed myself.
What exactly did I mean when I said that it was important for her mind and heart to be connected?
Isn’t one of my superpowers the ability to disconnect? To not feel. To not smell. To not see.
I realized in that moment, that the parent was learning from the child. I watched her the rest of the evening. She was relieved and also at peace with the truth, even though it was a HARD truth that she would have preferred to edit.
I longed for that type of peace and rest.
I smiled and knew that my girls were going to teach me more in the end than I would ever teach them as long as I could try to stay connected.