Monday, June 20, 2011

What do you tell a child about grief?

When I was in tenth grade Danny B, a boy on whom I'd vaguely had a crush in seventh grade, was killed in a car crash. He'd lived near me and we took the same school bus. In high school he hung with a fast and older crowd. They'd been drinking and smoking pot and drag racing the night of the crash.

I went to the wake. I didn't know most of the people there; they weren't my friends. I noted that Danny's very pretty older sister looked puffy-faced from crying, and wondered what it was like to be that sad. I thought I should feel sad, too, but I mostly felt bewildered. Danny didn't exist any more, at least in my world. Not that he had been part of my life in any real sense for a couple of years, but still. I'd never again see him swagger across the school courtyard, cigarette in hand, and wonder Why did I think he was cute? It was weird.

I'm not sure I ever cried for Danny. I certainly thought I ought to have, and secretly wondered if there was something wrong with me. But I was at an age where friendships came and went. I remember more about the facts of Danny's death more than I recall of Danny himself.

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I was awake much of the night last night thinking about the tragedy of Dancer's friend and her family. I spent many hours chatting in ballet studios with Lisa, the mom. Isabel, the daughter, was a friendly, sensible kid with a huge amount of energy. She loved trapeze even more than ballet, and had her birthday and Bat Mitzvah parties at a trapeze school. The invitations always came with permission slips.

Dancer had sleepovers at Isabel's, and Isabel was one of the few friends who managed to snag a sleepover here, during one of Big Guy's more stable periods. She needed a sleep mask at night and had forgotten hers, and her dad drove all the way up here to bring it to her at 10pm. I am not that kind of parent; I would have said, "Figure out a solution!" But I appreciated the generosity of the father, who did not begrudge his daughter his time, even if was spent as a delivery boy.

The story in the paper has some details wrong: Lisa hated to cook, and Isabel left ballet a year ago. But they were good people, and it is hard to grasp that they will not be part of our lives any more. Isn't it odd that permanence is a hard thing to grasp?


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  2. Julia, this is truly a tragedy and I am sure will be difficult for your daughter to grasp. Thankfully with the faith you have and which you instill in your children, time will ease the grief but you are correct in noting that your daughter will never forget her friend. I am thinking of you and your family during this time.

  3. Oh! What a sad story. I'd read it in the Times yesterday, but never in a million years would have guessed that you and Dancer knew them. Odd small world. Big hugs for Dancer.

  4. I had the same experience in high school; a boy a year older died in a car crash under similar, senseless circumstances. I was friends with his sister, and offered sympathy, but truly had no understanding of the family's grief. Too young to really grasp what the loss of a child or brother really meant. So sorry to hear your Dancer has lost such a young, vivacious friend.

  5. I am so sorry to hear of this tragedy; I am praying for all whom have been touched by the loss of this family! Thank you for your blog; I look forward to reading what you have to say as much as I look forward to reading my Daily Guide Post!

  6. My heart aches for your daughter and for your family. A day that is right up there among my "worst" was having to tell my 16 year old son that one of his very best friends had committed suicide. That funeral was horrible. There really is no comfort at these times, but know that you're in my thoughts and prayers.