“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” Mary Anne Radmacher
“This one!” My five-year-old son insisted at the library one day. “I want you to read this one to me!” With a shove of stubbornness, that was uncharacteristic of him, he pushed the book into my chest.
I sighed, frowning down at the book’s title again. “No, Julian,” I shook my head, “this book looks sad.” It was a book by Nancy Loewen, entitled Good-Bye, Jeepers. What to Expect When Your Pet Dies.
“But this is the one I want!” he pouted. “And it’s not sad! It’s about this panda bear here and his pet.”
“His dead pet.”
“So! What does ‘dead’ even mean, anyway?”
I raised my eyebrows–was I truly having this conversation with a five-year old?
“You know what dead means,” I said quietly, handing the book back to him, “and, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to read this one. Go look for something else, something funny and upbeat.” It was just too soon, at least for me…too soon to read a book about death when I wasn’t yet over the deaths of my own children.
Julian ignored me, climbing up onto the library’s couch to read. “Sit here by me, Mama, and we’ll read this one.”
I quickly disappeared. The library was suddenly gone, and I’d plopped myself down on a beach. Since the deaths of my children, I’d become expertly skilled at pretending I wasn’t “there,” at removing myself mentally from any situation that brought me pain, or anxiety, or discomfort. It was a new form of survival I’d had to learn in order to float through certain situations, and so on this day, with my new world in my head, I sat down next to my son and we read–the damn!–book.
The story about Jeepers was tough to get through, as I’d known it would be. Because, although this particular book had been written to help a child deal with the death of a pet, the words of the story, as well as the added “tips” on how to deal with grief and the loss of a pet, could just have easily been applied to the loss of a loved one, to the loss of my children…to Julian’s loss of his siblings. Not that Julian had any reaction to any of this. He sat cheerfully by my side, happy as a clam, completely satisfied that I’d finally agreed to read what he had chosen.
By the last page of the book–regardless of my beach fantasy–I was struggling with a suffocating sensation of drowning. The child panda bear, after being told by his parents that he could get another pet, asked this question: “How will I know when I’m ready?”
“You’ll know, ” the mother panda bear said, “when you can think about Jeepers and feel happy that you knew him, instead of sad that you lost him.”
The story over, I closed the book and, without a word, shoved it into our checkout bag, the whole while thinking…how will I know? How will I know when I’m ready to have another child?
“You’ll know, Mom,” I could almost hear Julian say, “when you can look back and be happy that you had life inside of you, instead of being sad that the heartbeats of those lives stopped.”
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