I began the day like any other day of The New Normal: juggling my roles as educator, referee, and remote employee. Things were going decently well. I was preparing to tackle the week’s deadlines and set up a Zoom meeting, and the kids had just finished a self-guided science experiment involving baby powder and water. Then I got the text message that would bring my day to a screeching halt.
I sat there, reading that my beloved great-aunt had passed away from coronavirus complications, in shock. I couldn’t believe it; I didn’t want to. But grief set in quickly and furiously. My first thought was that I couldn’t let my kids see me crying. I wasn’t ready to talk to them about what had happened yet. So I tried to smile through my tears as my daughter told me a silly story that I can’t for the life of me recount. As quickly as I could, I escaped to my bedroom.
After I dried my eyes enough to be able to see, I attempted to rejoin the rest of the household, and at least get word to my supervisor so she would understand why I might not be responsive for the rest of the day. But while explaining to my mother-in-law what had happened, I dissolved all over again. This time, I couldn’t hide it from the kids.
A crack in the armor
For over a week, we had been trying not to alarm them while presenting information about the coronavirus as accurately as possible. Earlier that morning, my son had even asked why it was so deadly, and I was honest with him. It was hard to be reassuring, though, because everything was still so unknown. And then, two hours later, all efforts to project an image of calm proved futile.
When my daughter came to my room later and found me scrolling mindlessly through my phone as the tears streamed, she made a beeline to my side and wrapped her arms around me. As my eleven-year-old stroked my head and murmured that it was going to be okay, and I let her, I couldn’t help but think about how unfair it all was. That amazing woman who lived life to the fullest, and had already cheated death before, was our family’s first coronavirus casualty. At the moment she passed, she wasn’t surrounded by all the people who loved her. She wouldn’t have a funeral attended by everyone whose life she impacted.
These thoughts, as well as memories of the countless afternoons I spent at her house playing with my cousins and complaining about phantom sore throats so that she would give me cherry throat lozenges, flooded my head as my daughter brought me tissues to blow my nose. She said softly, “She must have meant a lot to you.”
The value of a life
That’s what my daughter got from seeing my raw, unfiltered grief. Not that the world was a scary place. Not that she was unsafe or that I couldn’t protect her. She saw that someone meant a lot to me. She saw that a person’s life has meaning to those who love them and that it hurts when they’re gone.
As a mother, I would love to shield my children from every possible unpleasant and painful feeling that I can. I know I won’t be able to do that, especially in times as uncertain and tragic as these. Every number that flashes across the screen in those breaking news updates represents a person, like my great-aunt, who is deeply loved. And for each of those numbers, tears are shed. The instinct may be to protect our children from those tears, but not only is that not feasible, it robs them of the full experience of love and loss.
Unfortunately, our children will witness, and even experience, more than their share of grief during the New Normal. We do what we can to make them feel secure, but our vulnerability isn’t a threat to that security. Because my daughter found me mourning, I got a chance to see her exhibit one of the qualities I loved most about my great-aunt: instantaneous, unconditional, and ceaseless compassion.