I remember the first few months after my Dad died. I was 8, and had never thought for a moment that a person could just go away forever. Even at our house, shortly after the accident, when I heard paramedics say they thought he was gone. Even at the hospital, when he laid so still and awkwardly on the hospital table. Even at the funeral home, where I couldn’t see his feet in the coffin. I never really thought he was gone.
After a few weeks, I realized he wasn’t coming back. I don’t remember the exact moment I figured it out,; I can’t pinpoint a specific time. It might have been when all the livestock had been sold, along with Dad’s tractors; strangers walking around my Dad’s old shop, touching his tools. Or, maybe it was the way I didn’t know what to do with myself. From the time I could walk, I was outside with my Dad, following him everywhere. He did chores, I did chores. He hopped in his old blue pickup…I hopped in, too. I liked the way he didn’t have much to say…because then I could say A LOT. I loved his patience with me. If I dawdled, he just waited. If I was loud and obnoxious, he smiled and sometimes chuckled. He was an older father, once accused of being my grandfather. Mom tells of Dad’s outrage, and as I grow older, I must say I can understand it. But, in truth, he was old enough to be my grandpa. He’d had three girls that were grown and raised. He had learned that there’s just not too much too be fussed about. And if there was something, fussing about it didn’t do much good anyway.
One might think I was so attached to him because he never disciplined me. I remember vividly one occasion when I had really pushed the line. In general, I was a good little kid, but all kids have to find out what’s on the other side of good, if only a few times. Mom was always in the role of “bad cop“, and she was tired of it. She demanded that Daddy give me a spanking. I don’t remember the details, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a random idea that came from nowhere. I probably did something to Dad in some way, maybe I wasn’t careful with something of his that was special, or sassed back at him. At any rate, Mom had decided Dad had to be the Punisher in this particular case.
I was put across my Dad’s knee, my eyes squinted tightly closed, waiting for the heat that was surely to spread across my tiny tush any second now.
I heard a noise.
It was Daddy. Crying. I dared a look up into those bright blue eyes of his, to see a small river of tears collecting in the corners.
I cried, too.
And then Mom, in her exasperation, said, “Oh, Marlin! For Pete’s SAKE!” as she lifted me off his lap.
I wish I could tell you what happened next. That’s as far as my memory goes. It was so ….Dad. He was kind, gentle, and sweet. I really didn’t take advantage of my Dad and his inability to set and enforce boundaries for me. There was an unspoken understanding between he and I, in so many things, discipline being just one of them.
After he died, and I figured out it was forever, I began sleeping in my Mom’s bed. I would lay awake thinking about how she, my Mom, could die too. And then what? I had lost my biggest connection in the world, the person who I thought would always be there. If it happened to HIM, it could happen to HER. This revelation was overpowering. My young mind couldn’t conceive of another kind of life, and so my thoughts became a never-ending loop.
Daddy died. Mom could die. I’ll be alone. Daddy died. Mom could die. I’ll be alone.
Of course I had family that would have stepped in, but I had no idea what that would look like. It scared me so much, I didn’t dare even think about it. In fact, I worried that just thinking about my Mom dying, could make it happen. I started a strange little ritual every night as Mom and I went to bed. I took her hand in my small one, and I made her promise to never let go. I had thought it through, and decided that as long as she held my hand, even as we slept, she couldn’t go anywhere that I couldn’t follow.
She always promised. And I always woke up with my hand tucked safely in hers.
Mom never suggested I go back to my four-poster bed in the room that was mine. She didn’t try to tell me that my sure-fire plan of holding hands was silly, or morose. Though I had always thought of my Dad as the patient, unquestioning one, I can recognize those qualities in my Mom as well.
One day, many months later, I told her I thought I would go back to my bed. Years later, my Mom admits to missing our “slumber parties”, but at the time she just said…”of course, honey.” I had needed a very physical connection, but as I worked through all the emotions of my dealing with my Dad’s death, I found I could still be connected to my Mom, even from across the green shag carpeting that separated our bedrooms.
I once had a little boy in preschool that wanted to sit in my lap at circle time. It wasn’t possible. If I let one little guy do it, then all the little people would want to. And I only had ONE lap. He would try to get on the mat closest to me every day we rounded up for songs and calendar, but sometimes he just wasn’t fast enough. And the tears would come. Sometimes, all throughout circle time, and enough to cause my assistant to have to take him out into the hallway to calm him.
One day, as I sat thinking about poor little Blake, I realized that he needed to feel connected. Me, being the leader of the classroom, was who he chose as his safety, or anchor. I gathered a long piece of yarn and pulled Blake aside before the next group time. I told him that he would put one end of the yard either in his hand, or by his foot…wherever he wanted, and I would take the other end, and put it under my foot. I explained that through the yarn, even if I wasn’t sitting by him, we would be connected.
He wasn’t the kind of child that I could read very well. And so, when we sat down to group time, and I waited for him to choose a spot, I had no idea what would happen. I put the end of the yarn in his little hand, and went to my spot in the circle. He tested his end by pulling, just a little. I tugged back and winked at him.
One thing you can always count on, is nosey preschoolers.
“Miss Lisa! Why do you and Blake have that string?”, was a phrase shouted out by many.
I had already anticipated this, and had an answer ready. But, to my surprise, Blake had a better one than even I could have given. In his little voice that stuttered slightly….he said, “Sometimes I need help. I get a-lonely.”
Over the next few weeks, I watched the string go from him holding it, to him wrapping it around his shoe….to placing it by his shoe. One day, I can’t remember which day it was, I forgot to bring the yarn.
And Blake forgot, too.
We are never really alone, are we? We are always connected. It’s ok if we need physical reminders of that from time to time, but in the end I think I’m finally learning love is the invisible connection that is always there. Even if we can’t touch it, or see it. ♥