Back to School Blues…Not This Time

My daughter has started seventh grade. For those who haven’t been reading my blog posts for the past year and a half, that’s the grade my son was in when he ended his life.

He was also thirteen; an October baby, so we didn’t start him in kindergarten until he was five turning six. My daughter, on the other end of the spectrum, is a summer baby, so she’s twelve, won’t be thirteen until a couple weeks after she’s finished seventh grade.

Which means I get to stress out and worry she’ll do the same thing for two years, not one.

I mean, I know I shouldn’t be worried. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating: She is not him. Whereas his glass was perpetually half empty and steadily leaking, hers is overflowing. Whereas he was almost constantly miserable with life, she embraces life, loves to be happy.

She’s not him.

Of course, as I’m the mother of a deceased child; forced to figure out how to raise the other one despite the dredges of grief that permeate our lives, I can tell myself that all day long (and I do), but it doesn’t really matter. I will still worry. I mean, it’s a mother’s nature to worry even without such a tragedy smacking me upside the head.

So far I’m good today, though. I dropped her off a short while ago, and I’m sitting on my back porch, drinking my coffee, feeling that eternal guilt because I didn’t stop by to visit my son’s grave after leaving the school. But the thing is, I wasn’t crying. I didn’t feel sad. In fact, I was excited for my daughter to go back to school. Yesterday she was chatting on the phone with one of her school chums and I could hear the excitement in her voice. She couldn’t wait to hang out with her buds again.

And I didn’t want to ruin my own tentative happiness by deliberately seeking out the reminder of my devastating loss.

So I came home. And now I’m hanging out with the dog, going to add some words to my latest work-in-progress. And later this afternoon, I’ll go pick up the kid, listen to her stories about school, about her friends, about the plans and goals for this upcoming year. I’m going to focus on the living, on the child who’s still here.

And breathe a very large sigh of relief that her glass is still far more than half full.

Tami Lund Headshot 2014

 

Tami Lund is an author, an award winner, a wine drinker, and a grieving mother. Blogging helps with the grieving process, so thanks for reading.

School Pics & Deep Thoughts

We received my daughter’s school pictures today. It’s a day I’ve dreaded since March. Not literally because it was her sixth grade pic – for such an awkward age, I think she looks pretty darn cute, actually.

The school pics are proudly displayed in side-by-side, 8×10 inch silver frames. Each year when we receive new pics, I open the frames, look through those from years past and then add the new one to the front. Then I replace the frame in its place of honor, near the backdoor, which sees way more traffic than the front, so they get a lot more views that way.

This year, I have only one to update. My son’s seventh grade school picture is the last one we will ever have. It won’t change. He’s gone forever. My daughter’s pictures will update each year; she will grow and change, and he won’t.

When I placed her updated picture next to his, it didn’t look right. They were almost three years apart in age, two years apart in school. Now she looks only a year behind him. Next year it will be her seventh grade pic, then eighth. At some point, she will look older than he does. She will move on to high school. Senior pics. Graduation photos. College. Hopefully, a wedding photo, then family portraits with her own kids.

And all we’ll ever have of my son is his seventh grade school picture.

I’ve had this conversation with my dad, who asked what I thought he should do with the photos in his own home. My husband and I have also had this conversation. None of us had an answer.

And now the day has arrived, and I need to make a decision, for my own state of mind. I looked through his school pics, thinking maybe I’d just replace the seventh grade one with an older one, one from elementary school, when he still had that utterly adorable baby face, when we could not in a million years have imagined let alone predicted his life would be cut short at thirteen.

It still didn’t feel right.

And then I thought about the plethora of baby pics. You know how it is in the first few years. You take a million pictures and save every one. I found an 8×10 from when he had just turned four, and my daughter had passed her first birthday only a few months prior. One of my favorites. Possibly the favorite.

I slid it into the frame in front of the school pics and replaced it on the shelf. And you know what? It works.

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Who Cries Over Middle School?

It took me a few moments to realize why I was crying on the second day of school. Who cries on the second day of middle school? Hell, most parents don’t cry on the first. Kindergarten, yes. But middle school?

Unfortunately, this situation is anything but normal.

You see, on March 15, 2016, the last time I would ever speak to my son while he was alive, I drove him to school. Middle school. We were in a rush, because he had to be there by 7:15 for jazz band practice, and I was running behind. I pulled up in front of the school and slid the gear into park and said, “Don’t forget to turn in your math homework.”

“Okay.”

“Have a good day. I love you.”

“Love you, too. Bye.”

It was our final goodbye, although I didn’t know it at the time. I cannot tell you how many times since that day I have felt grateful that we weren’t sniping at each other; that I wasn’t upset about something he’d said or done, that he wasn’t mad at me for some parenting thing or another. It had been a normal day, like any other. Until it wasn’t.

Fast-forward five months to today, and we’re rushing to get out the door (largely because my daughter is not and never has been a morning person, one aspect that is 180 degrees different from her brother). As we’re driving down the road, heading to school, she is rearranging the supplies in her backpack while I’m trying to coax her into eating the Pop-Tarts she snagged on the way out the door. I know her; if she doesn’t eat she gets hangry, and they don’t do mid-morning snacks in middle school.

And then we’re at the school, and I’ve pulled up in front and dropped the gear into park. “Have a great day,” I say. “I love you. See you after work.”

“Love you, too. Bye.”

And she’s off, heading toward the building, determined to get to her first class on time. I shift the car into drive and cruise through the parking lot toward the road, and I’m waiting for traffic to clear so I can turn, when the tears start. “Why am I crying?” I say out loud as I dig a tissue out of the console.

That’s when the memory of that day in March hits me.

Other than the first day of school every year, I’ve never driven my daughter to school. She has always taken the bus. I didn’t start driving my son to school until halfway through seventh grade, just a few months before it all ended. He didn’t like his bus driver, and I literally drove past his school every day, so it wasn’t an inconvenience, other than his school started a bit later, so he usually had to wait outside the doors until they would let the students in, because I had to get to work. He insisted he didn’t mind.

Now, my daughter is in a new school, and while it is slightly out of my way to drop her off before heading to work, it’s only a mile or so, and her school starts early, so it works out to be exactly when I would leave for work anyway.

So I get to relive that horrible day in March, every school day, for the foreseeable future. I haven’t told my daughter this, and I don’t plan to (luckily, she doesn’t read my blogs). She doesn’t like it when I cry, so I do my best to hide it from her. My therapist says I shouldn’t, that I should show her it’s okay to cry. But I don’t, because I know how she feels. I hate it when my parents are sad, too. She’s an empathetic girl, almost too much so, and I know my pain causes her pain. Since it’s a pain that will never go away no matter what I do, I see no point in drawing attention to it.

Instead, I’ll tell her I love her every day. And I will strive to never, ever be upset with her when I drop her off for school in the morning.

And I’ll make sure the middle console in my car is stocked with tissues.

 

Tea and Tissues and Middle School

When my children started kindergarten, the principal of their elementary school hosted an event called “Tea and Tissues.” Each year on the first day of school, parents of kindergarteners dropped their kids in their classroom and then made their way to the library, where the principal had coffee and tea and cookies and tiny packages of tissues waiting. She would greet the parents, joke about how hard the first day of school was, and reassure us she would take excellent care of our babies. She then read a book to us, something along the lines of parents letting their children fly free, I think, and then she sent us on our merry way, tears dried, emotions in check, comfortable in the knowledge that even though they were now in someone else’s care, they would be fine, likely blossom even.

I wish middle school had “Tea and Tissues.”

Today is the day. Monday, August 22, 2016. My daughter’s first day of school. First day of middle school. First day at a new school, in a new school system. First time she’s gone back to school before Labor Day. First time she’s gone back… alone. As the only one. First time she’s been the first to experience something.

That’s a lot of firsts. And I’m a hot mess because of it.

Will she like her new school? Will the other kids like her? Will she make new friends? Will she find her classrooms? Will someone help her figure things out? Will she remember she has lunch money in her backpack? Is her uniform correct? Did we buy the right shoes? The right supplies? Did will complete the mounds of paperwork correctly?

Will any of these kids, these new classmates know what happened back in March? Will they remind her, ask her about it? This is what we are trying to avoid by sending her to a new school.

Almost as bad, though, will they have no idea and say unintentionally hurtful things, about suicide, brothers, life?

I dropped her off this morning, both of us nervous, but her fairing much better than me. After she waved and walked into the gym to join her classmates for the first assembly of the year, I walked out to my car and sat in the parking lot and cried. Luckily, I’d parked far out, so there wasn’t much foot traffic, many people to give me curious looks. Although few of these people know me yet, so perhaps they assumed my child was a kindergartener, and I was sending her off to school for the first time ever.

Now I’m back home, and it’s time to start the workday. There is nothing I can do for the next seven hours except worry. And wait. I won’t know anything until two-thirty this afternoon, when I pick her up from her first day of middle school.

I think I need some tea. And more tissues.

 

The Truth About Elementary School Graduation

It’s official. My daughter has graduated from elementary school and will move on to middle school in the fall. The hoopla is over. The excitement, the thrill, the celebration….

The sadness. The marrow deep, incredibly-painful sadness.

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. And I’ll be honest: the anticipation was worse than the actual events. Which, I suppose, is probably best. It allowed me (us) to enjoy what is supposed to be a joyful, celebratory moment in life.

But yeah, a week ago, I wasn’t feeling particularly celebratory, and neither was the almost-middle schooler. For obvious, and maybe not so obvious reasons.

On the surface, it’s scary, right? Leaving the security of elementary school, all the teachers and the principal and the friends you’ve known for practically your whole life. Because even though most of you are probably going to the same school next year, it’s a big, giant school and the likelihood of you all being in the same classes—or even the same lunch period—are pretty damn slim.

It’s something new, something different. Growing up. Changing classes every fifty-five minutes. Puberty. Crushes. Fitting in. Caring about what you wear—what others wear or do or say. It’s a whole new world.

Yeah, on the surface, the transition from elementary school is huge, and scary, and exciting and so many conflicting emotions all wrapped up in an utterly un-tidy bundle.

And that’s for the “typical” elementary school graduate.

Now, let’s add the fact that your older brother passed away three months ago. And said older brother was in middle school. And you’ve lived in his shadow for your entire life, which, frankly, you were okay with, because you knew no different. In fact, you kinda liked not being in the spotlight.

And let’s add to that the fact that your parents panicked over your brother’s death and enrolled you in an entirely different school from the one he had been attending—the one you expected to go to—the one “all” your friends are attending.

And let’s layer that with your own grief, and the fact that you are not even remotely over your brother’s death—not that you ever will be—but you haven’t fully grieved, haven’t fully accepted the fact that he’s gone, really, truly, forever gone. And now you have no one’s shadow to hide in, and now you are the center of attention. Everyone’s paying attention to you, watching your every move, analyzing, agonizing, worrying, stressing—and telling you how awesome and amazing you are for the way you’ve “dealt with” your tragic loss.

So now you feel like you have to be perfect, and not cry, and not act out, and not… be yourself. Because suddenly you don’t even know who the hell you are, because you’ve lost an incredibly important aspect of you, and you have no idea how to deal or fix or move on or whatever the hell you’re supposed to do when someone you hold dear dies.

Yeah, that transition from elementary school to middle school sucks, doesn’t it?

 

 

Tami Lund Headshot 2014

 

Tami Lund writes romance, drinks wine, and occasionally writes emotionally-stark blog posts.

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