Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Bitter Brew

After Cliff went to jail, there was a great outpouring of love from my friends and family.  Money, Christmas gifts, food, childcare, I was inundated in the best possible way with gestures of shared grief.  One of those gifts was a book, "Tear Soup."  It was written by a man who worked in hospice, a story for children (and adults too) about the process of grieving.  The main metaphor is this: grief is like making a pot of soup.  It takes time, the ingredients are different according to the griever, and it's only over when it's over.

I read it to my son in the aftermath of his father's incarceration, but he was just a tiny boy then.  Not even 2!  He was too little to process the loss, to truly understand his father's absence.  But last week, he brought it to me on the couch as a part of our bed time ritual.  Could I truly have said no?  I opened the pages and began to read, a story of grief and anger and loss and finally acceptance.  He was very still after we finished.  And then it was bed time.

Last night, G asked me about his scars, so while I gave him his bath we talked about those first terrifying days of his life.  What stuck out to him, however, was not the surgery.  It was the fact that there had been a time when his father WASN'T in jail.  There had been a time when we all lived together, a time he has no memory of.  I wrapped him up in a towel and sent him into his room to get pajamas on, and soon he called to me that he was ready for his story.  So, I climbed up the bunkbed stairs and laid down next to him, expecting to read a comic book or story of mischievous barn animals. 

But he handed me Tear Soup.  

I looked at my son, a boy on the edge of kindergarten, and saw that he was deeply upset.  So I asked, asked a question I knew the answer to.  A question he had the right to answer for himself.  

"Honey, why do you want to read 'Tear Soup'?"  
"Because I'm sad that my daddy is in jail."
"Why does that make you sad?"
"Because he will never live with me again and I miss him."

Then, we cried.  Because what else is there to do?  Do you know it is possible to feel deep, drowning grief and world-scorching anger at the same time? 

I told my dear boy that I was sorry that his daddy made such a bad mistake that he could never live with him again.  It was bedtime, though, so we did not spend overlong on the subject.  He is still only 5, you know. We read the book together, words of Grief, anger and loss, the same story over again because that's how it works with all of us.  Surprisingly, this time G asked a question of me:

"Mommy, did you make Tear Soup?"
"Yes.  I made it a long time ago, when you were still too little to know it."
"Well....with my words."  (It's hard to explain a blog to a 5yr old).

Did you know, dear reader, that you were the audience to my cooking grief?  You have been my faithful companions during these last four years, observers to the crafting of my tear soup.  It was busier in the beginning, because cooking soup always takes so much preparation.  Now, though, I do not cook it as often.  The season for soup has passed for me, though I see now that I am preparing to help my son in the task of his own home brewing.  

He will start kindergarten in less than a month, and his father will not be there for the first day of classes.  He will not attend little league games or school performances or stand on the edge cheering for his achievements.  I think we have begun the preparation for G's own soup-making, a process long put-off because he simply was not old enough to understand the magnitude of the tragedy.  But I see it coming, so I'm girding myself with metaphysical apron and trying to gauge the size of the cooking pot he will need.  

In all of this soup making, I am deeply and unfathomably thankful for Gene and his choice to be a father to G.  His presence, affection and steady commitment to our family will make it so G's soup is not so bitter, not so angry, not so full of self-doubt.  His love will change the course of G's becoming, a grace from God that I am in awe of.  So it is some source of comfort to know that as I tie the apron on my waist, so does my husband.  Together, we will guide my son together in the crafting of this course in his life.

To all my friends who have begun the stock for your tear soup: I see you.  I'm sorry.
To all my friends who have finally turned off the burner under their grief: I see you.  Thanks be to God, you made it.
To all my friends who have yet to learn the recipe of your grief: I will be here if you need me, apron in hand.


Gayle Lintz said...

Oh, Elizabeth . . .

Katherine Willis Pershey said...

I am often left speechless when I read your reflections. That's the case now. But I want you to know that I'm here, I'm reading, and I'm so deeply grateful for your testimony.

Gena said...

I'm thankful Gareth has someone who understands to cry with.

Arce said...

There are many griefs in life, some small, others huge. We all experience times of loss. After the grief of losing a wife to her refusal to respect the vow of marriage and her casual sharing of her body with many men, I grieved deeply. And God put the purple and green striped spots on the fleece I had laid out and asked for to understand His will, now 37 years ago next month. And 37 years ago this November, the final spot on the fleece was confirmed with her proposal. And I needed the tear soup no more. I cannot imagine a better relationship than Meg and I have as we approach 37 years of marriage.

Thank you for this post, for being a friend, and for understanding the need of your son to grieve his biological father and for a second father to guide him in life.


myleswerntz said...

This is beautiful, elizabeth.

The Vagabond Priest said...

When you write, it just leaves me breathless. Amazing words. Thanks.