Throughout the week, I took advantage of the down time I shared with my niece and nephew. We played games, chatted about school, and made-up jokes. Occasionally, we talked about Papa Bill. We all agreed we were sad, but nobody in the house was acting like it.
My niece confided, "You know, it's like it's not even real. Like he's still here and nothing happened."
Finally, the funeral day arrived. We dressed-up to bid Papa Bill a formal farewell. My sister-in-law and I, along with my 4-month old daughter, entered the funeral parlor with my niece and nephew. We gravitated towards the slide show chronicling Papa Bill's life. I began to feel the swelling lump in the back of my throat as the four of us stared at images of our beloved flashing across the screen. I told myself, "Be strong Mary Sue, be strong for the children."
I swallowed the lump.
We stood hypnotized by the slide show with blank faces and I reworded my thoughts.
"Be strong Mary Sue and cry."
In that moment, being strong meant having the courage to let the tears roll. I wanted my niece and nephew to know that it was okay to cry, that they were safe crying here and now with their family. The only way to send that message was to let my guard down and give myself permission to expose my own vulnerable feelings. Through blurry and watery eyes, I noticed their faces streaked with tears.
Thankfully nobody felt compelled to say...
- It's okay!
- No need to cry, he's in a better place.
- Let's celebrate his life, focus on the good times.
At one point, visitors asked if we were waiting in line to offer our condolences.
My sister-in-law responded, "No, we are just standing here, crying."
Without shame or reason to hide, we exposed our grief.
As parents, it's common to hide our grief so that our children do not think we are weak, or even worse, human.
Through this experience, I rewired my definition of strength and realized that in this moment, being strong meant accepting my truth and allowing the lump in the back of my throat to surface and dissolve into tears. Tears that may someday help my daughter navigate the complex and tender feelings of grief.