Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Paper Tears

“Daddy, what are we doing on May 13th and June 17th?”

My younger son is a big calendar fan.  We had just talked about the dates for a summer vacation.  He had run off to his room to presumably mark off those dates on his calendar when he returned into my home office with that question.

It took me a moment…

“Oh, you mean Mother’s Day and Father’s Day?”
“Well, we are going camping on the weekend of Father’s Day, so that is taken care of.  For Mother’s Day, well, we can let go of purple balloons like we did the past two years.” 

He nodded his head.  

“Daddy, can I have a piece of paper?”
“Uh, sure.”

I pulled a sheet of paper off the printer and handed it to him and he ran off into the dining room.

This sort of exchange with my 6-year-old and his apparent non sequiturs are reasonably common.  But there was something.  Something different.


In the first days after Amy died, our church’s former minister of Religious Education spent a lot of time with the boys and me.  She helped keep me going.  She checked in.  She sat and listened.  She was just there for us.  I love her for how she helped us. Beyond her many visits, she brought a copy of the book Tear Soup.  Without giving away the plot, it’s a beautiful book about loss and how this special, magical soup requires our tears.  Along with the book she brought a glass jar with tears cut out from paper from others who were sad.  They were starter tears for our soup.  I set it near the fireplace and grabbed a pot from the kitchen and dumped some of the paper tears into the pot for the soup.  I explained to the boys that when they felt sad they could take tears from the glass jar and add them to the soup.  It quickly became an important ritual for us.  One of us would start to cry and we’d go to the jar.  I’d tell the boys I was sad at work and would go to the jar.  We ran out fairly quickly and we took blank paper and made more.  Many more.  At some point, after a year or so, took all the tears from the pot and put them back into the jar and returned the pot back to the kitchen. And occasionally we add new ones to the jar.


I walked into the dining room.

“What are you drawing?”
“Tears, but they’re not very good.”

And that is when I understood.  I took a deep breath as real tears filled my eyes.

“I’m sad too – can I draw a tear?”

He handed me his pen and I drew a tear.  He followed with a few more.  I fetched some scissors and he cut them out.  He put his in the jar, then gathered up the rest and distributed them through the house.  One to my girlfriend at her computer, one to me, and one to his brother in his bedroom.  After he finished, I put my tear in the jar then picked him up and held him as long as I could.  

There are moments – occasional and fleeting moments – when grief and sorrow and love and joy all collide into some indescribable emotion.   I think of our loss, his loss, but I also marvel at his capacity to comprehend something so incomprehensible in simple ways.  I try to imagine what a 6-year-old must think and feel to have lost his mother when he was only 4 and it breaks my heart.  We hug for a while.  Then I feel him start to squirm.

It’s getting late.  I set him down and tell him its time for bed even though I’d really just like to hold him forever.  I nudge him upstairs and call down the hall to his brother that its bedtime.  I tell them both to brush their teeth and go pee and put on their jammies.  I go back downstairs and hear arguing.  I go back upstairs and there is some dispute over who owns a particular game. 

We are back to normal again.

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