Forgetting to Forget

Admittedly, it’s been a while. About 3.5 years worth of a while. I can’t say whether this is a full reentry or just a for now post.

Today is the anniversary of Francis’ death.  Four years ago, on a foggy morning in Tallahassee, Florida I told my son that his dad was going to die.  I said my final good-byes. I let Francis know he could go when he was ready, and that we’d never forget him.

That was his biggest fear – being forgotten.

 

It’s almost laughable to think of the impossibility of that. There’s a massive, gaping hole in our lives where Francis resided. The memories and stories do a pitiful job of filling that void, but without them the pain would be unbearable.

Now I’m seeing the impact on the little lives that orbit mine. The children’s art therapist from hospice was great in working with Couper when he was just three years old.  She advised me that I would need to revisit grief support for the kids; that as their cognitive development progressed so would their processing of their father’s death.

At 2-years-old, Couper had quite the temper.  He didn’t like to be told “no” (who does?). He went through a particularly naughty period where he had to spend a couple minutes in timeout for hitting. When I would position him on the stool, he would scream in my face (at the top of his little lungs) over and over again.

I would calmly explain that he couldn’t do that and give him a warning that if he did it again I would take away a toy. I started with the iPad, moved to the trains, then the cars, then the Legos. At that point, I was worried that we didn’t have any more toy options for the day and it was still morning.

It was a difficult day, week and month to break the screaming habit, but we survived. He learned healthier coping techniques and we moved on to different parenting challenges. He still has that temper, but has learned to managed it much better than he did at the age of two.

My kids are awesome. Somehow I’ve managed to raise two kind, loving, well-adjusted, well-mannered children despite being a solo parent. Much thanks is due to loving and caring family and friends who support me in my parenting and them in their growth and learning.

Recently, though, Couper appears to be struggling with his temper/anger. His kindergarten teacher is a big proponent of mindfulness practice in both her classroom and her own life. I can’t explain how thankful I am for this in Couper’s life. I am certain that it is growing his emotional intelligence and helping him identify his own strong emotions.

And here’s the truth, my son is angry and negative. He knows it and I know it, and now others are beginning to see it where they didn’t before. It’s not constant throughout the day, and it isn’t necessarily daily. And the worst part is that I don’t know how to help him.

Parenting is hard. Throw a death of a parent into the mix and it just gets harder. Life shouldn’t be that way, but it is. I try desperately to keep a positive outlook on life. I clung to positivity in Francis’s illness and even since his death, but I don’t know how to inspire that in my beloved little 6- almost 7-year-old.

There are resources here locally for grieving children, and I’ve already gotten the ball rolling toward getting the help I need. I don’t know why I feel compelled to write this except to say that if you’re struggling or your children are, you or they don’t have to do so alone. No matter how lonely I feel, I know I’m not the only woman who has been a solo mom to two children because cancer killed her husband.

I hesitated to write about this because: 1.) I want to protect my children, and 2.) It isn’t very happy or pretty. But I find it exhausting to be in a world where we try to hide the ugliness of everyday life. Where we are desperate to maintain the perfect “social media-worthy” life despite the painful realities unfolding around us. But, life isn’t perfect. I’m not perfect and neither are my children. I’m guessing those of you reading this can relate (don’t worry, I won’t call you out on social media).

Where perfection becomes dangerous is when I take my little ones by the hand and pretend they aren’t hurting. When I fail to recognize my short-comings as a parent. When I think I can figure it out by myself.

Maybe more than anything today, by remembering to remember Francis on this anniversary I can help myself and my precious little kiddos grieve in a healthier way – with all those wonderful, loving and caring people around us who might just know better than I do.

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16 responses

  1. Beautiful post LeAnne! I feel blessed to have even known Francis. He was such a positive mentor to me and I will never forget him.

  2. Mark Reichert | Reply

    LeAnne, Francis was an honorable man and a wonderful human being. His family at FDOT still misses him. I can’t believe it’s been four years since his passing. I hope you and your family are doing well.

  3. LeAnne-this touches me in so many places. Your vulnerability is powerful. I am still missing Francis too and can totally picture him grinning in Ander’s office. I am remembering my struggles as a mother when I realized that my kids weren’t going to be anything close to what I expected; dealing with a tough tempered child; watching my sister raise her two kids alone when they were the same age as yours watching their father die of AIDS; watching my nephew suffer the loss of his dad his entire life. Watching my niece not suffer because she couldn’t. The amazing grace I see now on the other side is that it was all ok. My niece and nephew and sister have survived and found joy. My kids still aren’t what I expected, but they are wonderful and learning and open. My own time in the tomb opened me to a new and profoundly deeper joy and life. I will be holding you all in my heart. All shall be well. Kitty

  4. MaryAlice David | Reply

    I’m so glad hear an update. I was one of your supportive neighbors (that you didn’t know). Death and grief are so real and many people just don’t understand. I hope that you continue to pray because my faith gives me hope, happiness and humor.

  5. I love you, friend. Wish I had words of wisdom on parenting, but since I don’t, I’ll just say that you are undoubtedly doing a phenomenal job. I’m sure it isn’t easy for any of you. Praying for you all – and know without a doubt that Francis would be proud of you and of his kids.

  6. Beautifully stated. Big hugs for you and the kids from the Smith family.

  7. LeAnne,

    Francis, in his role as FDOT Chief of Staff, was one of the key people along with Secretary Prasad (the ultimate decision maker), who choose me to be the FDOT Assistant Secretary of Intermodal Development. He was a smart, intelligent and knowledgeable man who had a down-to-earth positive style that is becoming quite rare these days. I never once…ever…saw him angry but yet, he had a way to let you know where things need to improve.

    We easily became friends and just as we were starting to work together on our common objectives, God interceded to call him for a higher mission. To this day, I miss him and his wise counsel dearly.

    Please let Couper know that while he has an initial right to be angry about the loss of his Dad, he should take solace in knowing that his Dad always found a way to turn anger into positive change and perhaps he can do that as well to best best honor his Dad.

    May god keep and bless your family always,

    Rich

  8. I’m so sorry, LeAnne, that life can be so difficult. LIttle Couper will find a way to reconcile his grief. when I was in therapy, my counselor told me anger was a cover up for grief. She wanted me to address the grief. So, my little gem of advice would be to ask him, are you angry or sad right now? And hold him close until he get peaceful.

  9. You are an amazing and wise woman, LeeAnn…thank you for helping others by sharing your story. I will begin praying for your two little ones! ❤️

  10. Beautiful Post. Your little ones are lucky to have you.

  11. rian coughlin | Reply

    Thinking of Francis and your family today, as I often do.

  12. Elise Roth Tedeschi | Reply

    You are such a wonderful mom. Thank you for your honesty. Sending love and prayers.

  13. Holly Kroll Smith | Reply

    LeAnne – I am so inspired by your honesty and strength. Parenting is an ongoing journey to act and teach according to both who you and your children are as people. It’s an ever evolving and sometimes seemingly impossible task – especially in the shadow of grief and tragedy. Francis would be so proud of you.

    While he was dying I know he was struggling with a lot of fears, but I am sure he was at peace knowing that you would persevere and serve as both parents for your children. You were a source of strength for him and I know that provided him with so much peace. Lee and I still speak of Francis often. He will never be forgotten by us.

  14. This is a very honest post. And by being honest you realize that there are areas where work had to be done. Cooper has been through a lot whether he remembers most of it or not. I am confident that as he matures and with the guidance from his family and professionals that he will grow to be the adult that we know he can become. This may be a slow and sometimes unhappy process but stay the course not only for Couper’s benefit but also for yours. Love you all

  15. Wow, I found myself thinking about Francis a lot yesterday. Honestly, I had completely forgotten the anniversary date of his passing. Why? Coping I guess. Or selfishness, really.

    LeAnne, you have been dealt a shit hand here. Losing a spouse is tough. Losing a “parent partner” is even harder. Worst of all, you must think daily how much better it would be for your kids to have him around. This sucks. Bad. But Francis isn’t coming back. However, you are not alone.

    Some believe life is a series of tests. I had a Theology professor in undergrad who professed that true love, in its most pure form, is self-gift. He taught that the best way to love is to give yourself to others. Francis didn’t want to be forgotten not because he had that type of ego, but rather because he wanted to continue loving, even after he was gone. Francis was the epitome of self-gift, and he certainly taught many around him to live that way.

    But this is no longer about Francis. This is about you, and you are a great mother and fighter.

    Don’t look at Brag-book and social media and think you are alone. People only post the positives. Nobody seems to be strong or real enough to post the bad. But there are lots of negatives in people’s lives. We are all being tested; some more than others. You more than me. There is no such thing as easy street. Life is hard; would we have it any other way?

    LeAnne, I have your family written in my daily Missal and pray for you at every Mass I attend. I have no baseline to understand the agony of your life. However, I have kids, and I do know that your kids bring joy to your life. Sometimes, like a boxer who has taken a big hit, you need to take a step back. Think about your kid’s amazing innocence. Their open, inquisitive minds. Their unrelenting love for you. Then step back in and continue the fight. Accept that you are one doing the job of two. Accept that your fight is harder than most others. And win.

  16. LeAnne, it is so good to hear from you. It’s been such a long time with no news and we often wonder how you and the children are getting along and what’s going on in your life. This is NOT good news of you though. We are so sorry that it’s been and is so difficult for you. Glad you have written this though and so beautifully written it is. Your writing skills should be put into a book of some kind. It is with fondness that we remember your wedding to Francis that we attended, and we brought our granddaughter who was visiting us at the time. Now and then I come across pictures of the two of you when we’ve had the occasion to be together and I enjoy so much seeing them. Breaks our heart for you that you’re having these struggles and we just pray they’ll ease and all work out for your happiness. Please know that we care and please keep the news coming. Love and hugs, Jane (Bob too 🙂 )

    >

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