Some days there is just no winning – ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’.
Last weekend we had a house full of family and at dinner Sunday night after grace Marc’s brother added a prayer of blessing for everyone who was not present at the table (no doubt the first person on his heart being his 17 year old daughter, Camille, who was in Quebec) and the listing started… name after name of everyone who was absent. Marc and I had returned to the kitchen to bring in the food and as I listened from the kitchen I waited for Bernadette to be included. A big mistake for it just set me up for the fall. Why do I do that?
When I didn’t hear her name, it caused a tight ball to well up in my throat and I could barely eat. While helping prepare dessert to bring to the table, my mind started to go into overdrive and I rushed up to my room and cried for over ten minutes. The battle inside was fierce. Reasonable vs. irrational. Part of me argued that maybe I just didn’t hear her name, the other part was angry that she wasn’t mentioned because it was a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ or she didn’t count any more in ‘those who were absent’ because that was only for the living. Maybe she was just forgotten already? Maybe she wasn’t mentioned out of fear? The fighting thoughts went back and forth for the rest of the evening too and I just seemed powerless to stop it. Esh. I thought I was stronger than that but maybe it’s just a case of overwhelming/irrational thoughts and feeling will come as unexpectedly as 100 ft. waves? Or are they all just part and parcel of those waves of grief? I don’t know.
Finally the next morning, as a way of settling the fight and regaining peace, I asked Catherine if Bernadette’s name was mentioned the night before at dinner because I didn’t have the courage to ask Marc since he was with me in the kitchen and probably not listening and to ask anyone else who was at the table would have just made matters worse regardless of the answer because I would have been unable to hide the emotions I was trying to keep under control and hidden.
Catherine’s answer was so sweet I almost burst into tears again anyway! She said, “Yes, I included Bernadette, but I said her name quietly because I was afraid if you heard it you would start to cry.”
‘Damned if you do… damned if you don’t!’ It was a no-win situation which I made ten times worse than it had to be just because I couldn’t control my thoughts and emotions. ARG. If Catherine had only known the few tears at hearing Bernadette’s name would have been nothing compared to the tears that came from NOT hearing it.
But her comment highlighted another issue that needed to be addressed – or so I thought. So a few days later, with enough distance from the event that I was able to accomplish the task without betraying any emotions Catherine finds hard to witness, I had a little heart-to-heart talk with her to unburden her of her role as protector.
I started out by acknowledging that Bernadette’s death has probably been the hardest on the two of us. Her eyes instantly bugged out and turned red and she almost started to cry as she nodded her head fiercely. Ouch. Poor girl! Breath. Take a deep breath and keep going….. I thanked her for trying to protect me at the family dinner by mentioning Bernadette’s name quietly but I also explained that she doesn’t need to do that going forward. She doesn’t need to live in fear that her mentioning Bernadette’s name will hurt me. I had to explain that not hearing her name spoken hurts far more than hearing it and how sometimes if she does see me tear up that she shouldn’t feel the least bit guilty that she’s hurt me because she hasn’t.
How do you explain to someone so young that sometimes hearing Bernadette’s name will be fine, other times it might trigger tears and that there is just no telling which reaction it will be on any given day?
The pain in Catherine’s eyes during our talk and the relief that flooded her young face as she understood that it was never her fault if I was having trouble hiding my tears when Bernadette was mentioned brought back the unpleasant memories of months of anguish just from watching her suffer and struggle with her own grief.
In the end, we made a pact with each other to never stop ourselves from mentioning Bernadette’s name because we both agreed that we NEED to hear it. And we agreed that if there ever comes a time when we just can’t handle it that we will tell each other and we’ll be more careful until that difficult time has passed.
That afternoon I got a quick email from one of the counsellors at Canuck Place and she wrote regarding Catherine:
We find that children and adolescents often re-grieve with every developmental stage- as she gets older, she may be re-processing her grief and understanding Bernadette’s death in a different way.
With that advice, I’m guessing Catherine and I will need to have plenty more heart-to-hearts about Bernadette and dealing with our grief as the years go bye. As long as we keep talking and working it out maybe we can have less ‘no win’ days.