In 2012, 4 months after a 6 month stay at an inpatient NeuroBehavioral Unit to address his severe behavior, we tearfully told The Chef that his grandfather, Phil, passed away. We took him with us to the funeral. Despite bringing an aid with us, we quickly realized that we had made a mistake. There's limited space to grieve when you have to deal with behavior, to be frank. Phil deserved our undivided attention.
In 2014, my sister’s husband was killed by a drunk driver 2 days after Christmas. The maelstrom that followed reverberated for the better part of a year or more. It still does, I think, though more of a quiet hum that never goes away. We did not take The Chef to the funeral. We had learned.
In 2017, my sister-in-law’s husband drowned off the coast of Nantucket while on vacation. This time, we were able to attend the funeral before telling The Chef what happened. We snuck away for the service, with me flying up and back to Massachusetts the same day. After a few weeks, we sat down and told The Chef what had happened and helped him process it. We were learning how to cope. Though this, too, adds to the quiet but constant hum in our lives. I turn up the radio to try to drown it all out.
In February of 2018, on our 21st wedding anniversary and while my husband was hospitalized with a severe throat infection, my mother-in-law, Helen, passed away after a long, ugly struggle with dementia. We snuck away for the funeral, with me flying up and back to Massachusetts the same day. We waited 2 weeks before we sat down with The Chef and his behaviorist to tell him that his grandmother had died. He gave the ceramic box he had painted for Helen a few weeks before to his aunt.
27 days after my mother-in-law passed, my husband’s college roommate and best friend, Chris, died of glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. We snuck away for the funeral in Boston, with me flying up and back the same day. We did not tell The Chef what had happened. We thought we could keep it close. We didn’t realize that he was texting Chris’ widow. We thought we were coping with it all, but clearly we were not. I turn the radio up even louder.
In 2021, the beautiful teenage son of a friend took his own life. A special educator, our friend had spent years and years coming to our home for a few hours each weekday to teach The Chef his ABCs and 123s. She brought her adorable toddler son and his big brown eyes to our home each day for our childcare provider to watch while she helped The Chef learn to read and write. The Chef had a crush on her daughter and wrote Vera’s name on our wall. Hearing of Ezra’s death at his own hands shook us to our core. We have not told The Chef. We do not know how. We can’t cope with that. I can’t. I don’t know how. They've lived on the opposite coast for years now, so it's manageable. I know The Chef texts our friends and asks about Vera and Ezra. In my mind, I whisper for their forgiveness.
And now, last Monday night, I told The Chef that my husband’s older brother died. He doesn’t know about Uncle Peter’s brave effort to survive COVID or that my husband wasn’t really golfing with buddies when he twice sped off to Connecticut for days without notice. He only knows that Peter’s brain had a stroke and that means that his brain got hurt. I don’t want The Chef to worry even more about “the big flu” as he calls it. I dial the radio up even more, adding a heavy bass.
To cope, my son lit a candle. He wrote Peter's name in a photo book he made years ago that he calls his “Prayer Book.” (We don’t pray.) The book outlines the losses that we've had over the years with a narrative that he dictated. Next, he typed up a “sorry letter” to his aunt and ran off to shove it in a mailbox immediately. And then, he painted his widowed aunt a gift. He chose a mug with LOVE on it and asked me what else to write on it.
I don’t know, I thought to myself. I don’t know anymore what to write.