One day my 4 yr old son, Sam, told me that he'd seen his baby-sitter crying
because she'd broken up with her boyfriend "She was sad" he said "I've never
been sad" Sam added. "Not ever"
It was true Sam's life was happy in large part because of his relationship
with my father. As Sam told everyone, Pa Hood was more than a grandfather to
him they were buddies.
There's a scene in the Movie Anne of Green Gables in which Anne wishes aloud
for a bosom friend. Watching that one day, Sam sat up and declared, "That's me
and Pa bosom friends forever and ever."
My father described their relationship the same way. When I went out of town
one night a week to teach, it was Pa in his red pickup truck who'd meet Sam at
school and take him back to his house. There they'd play pirates and nights
and Robin Hood.
They even dressed alike; pocket T-shirts, baseball caps and jeans. They had
special restrauants they frequented, playgrounds where they were regulars, and
toy stores where Pa allowed Sam to race up and down the aisles on motorized
Sam had even memorized my father's phone number and called him every morning
and night , "Pa," he would ask, clutching the phone, "can I call you ten
hundred more times?". Pa always said yes and answered the phone every time
with equal delight.
Then my father became ill. In the months he was hospitalized for lung cancer,
I worried about how Sam would react to Pa's condition: the needle bruises, the
oxygen tubes, his weakened state. When I explained to Sam that seeing Pa so
sick might scare him, he was surprises. "He could never scare me." Sam said.
Later I watched adults approach my father's hospital bed with trepidation,
unsure of what to say or do. But Sam knew exactly what was right; hugs and
jokes, as always.
"Are you coming home soon," he'd ask.
"I'm trying." Pa would tell him.
When my dad died, everything changed for me and Sam. Not wanting to confront
the questions to and feelings my father's death raised, I kept my overwhelming
sadness at bay. When well-meaning people asked how I was doing, I'd give them
a short answer and swiftly change the subject.
Sam was different, however. For him, wondering aloud was the best way to
"So," he'd say, settling in his car seat, "Pa's in space, right?", Or,
pointing at a stained-glass window in church, he'd ask, "Is one of those
"Where's heaven?" Sam asked right after my father died.
"No one knows exactly." I said
"Lots of people think it's in the sky."
"No," Sam said shaking his head, "it's very far away. Near Cambodia."
"When you die," he asked on another afternoon, "you disappear, right? And when
you faint, you only disappear a little Right?"
I thought his questions were good. The part I had trouble with was what he
always did afterward: he'd look me right in the eye with more hope that I
could stand and wait for my approval or correction or wisdom. But in this
matter my fear and ignorance were so large that I'd grow dumb in the face of
Remembering Sam's approach to my father's illness, I began to watch his
approach to grief. At night he'd press his face against his bedroom window
and cry, calling out into the darkness, "Pa, I love you! Sweet dreams!". then,
as his tears stopped, he'd climb into bed, somehow satisfied, and sleep. I
however, would wander the house all night, not knowing how to mourn.
One day in the supermarket parking lot, I saw a red truck like my father's.
For an instant I forgot he had died. My heart leapt as I thought, Dad's here!
Then I remembered and succumbed to an onslaught of tears. Sam climbed onto my
lap jammed himself between me and the steering wheel.
"You miss Pa, don't you?" he asked I managed to nod.
"You have to believe he's with us, Mommy," he said. "you have to believe
Too young to attach to a particular ideology. Sam was simply dealing with
grief and loss by believing that death does not really separate us from those
we love. I couldn't show him heaven on a map or explain the course a soul
might travel. But he'd found his own way to cope.
Recently while I was cooking dinner, Sam sat by himself at the kitchen table,
quietly coloring in the Spider Man coloring book. "I love you too," he said
I laughed and said "You only say 'I love you "after someone says 'I love you
I know" Sam said "Pa just said, "I love you Sam," and I said, "I love you
too." He then kept coloring.
"Pa just talked to you?" I asked
"Oh, Mommy," Sam said, "he tells me he loves me every day. He tells you too.
You're just not listening."
Again, I have begun to take Sam's lead. I have begun to listen.
By Ann Hood from Parenting
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