There are many ways that Maureen still touches our lives in grief. I honestly believe her love is part of my being and is with me each day. I’m fortunate to live with four children that carry her spirit with them every day, and sometimes I catch myself telling the kids; “That was just like your Mom”! It is quite extraordinary at times to see her traits in their mannerisms and actions.
When Maureen was first diagnosed with cancer, the kids were 9,9,11 and 12. We quickly realized that there is no one correct way to explain this to your children. We decided to tell the kids about the cancer, but always explained that it was treatable, and that one-day Mom would be healthy again. We did this partly because both Maureen and I were hopeful that this was the truth and partly because if it was not the truth, we wanted to start helping the kids learn some skills to cope with less favorable outcomes. This certainly was not anything we ever fathomed as parents.
At the time, Aidan (the twelve-year-old) was always the last child to go to bed. Since he is a quiet person, it was nice for Maureen and me to have that one on one time with him every night. It was when he was at his most talkative and we both loved having that quality time with him. One night, shortly after the initial diagnosis, we could see that the wheels were spinning in his head and he was upset by the news. Because of his multiple diagnosis of Asperger’s and ADHD, he was a clever child but not very emotional, preferring to deal with facts. I vividly remember him questioning the both of us:
“I thought there was no cure for cancer?”
Through each stage of the cancer, we continued to take the same approach with the kids, not wanting them to carry that burden of the idea of losing their mom. We felt they were too young to handle this weight (when it was not certain) and we continued to try to raise happy, healthy, strong children that one day would be able to face these challenges. Aidan was never fooled. There is always something going on in his head and I can’t imagine how he dealt with this conflict over what we told him, versus what he believed to be factual.
As a child, school was a challenge for him(He was actually kicked out of a Pre-school, but that’s a story for another day). His ADHD and Asperger’s affected his focus and social skills, while organization was not his forte. Teachers had a love/hate relationship with him. They either loved him for his unique qualities, bright red hair and mischievous smile or they hated him because he was too rambunctious, wild and unfocused. If it happened to be the latter, it was always a long school year, because he had a sixth sense when a teacher did not really like him, and he knew how to get under their skin and antagonize them!
Maureen had an incredible gift for working with children that were a little different. She believed in the success of all kids and was a tireless advocate for them. After working with them all day, she would come home and spend hours at the table with Aidan, helping with schoolwork. The sessions were often tortuous, as he would push Maureen to the brink of frustration. He hated school work and knew how to get out of it.
Freshman year was a disaster. Maureen was very sick for much of the year and Aidan was drowning with the independence and increased responsibility of High School. We had to take him out of a few classes because he was completely lost. Maureen did her best with her failing health, but things were changing. The homework sessions were less confrontational, with Aidan willingly seeking out his Mom. I remember Maureen commenting how much she now enjoyed sitting with him and how receptive he was having this special time with his Mom.
After Maureen passed away, there were many nights and days filled with tears from all of us. However, to this day, I have never seen Aidan shed a tear. I have had conversations with him about sadness and grief and being OK to cry. Perhaps in his own space and in his own way he has, but I have never seen it. I know for certain that he misses his Mom and I know for a fact that she is with him every day in spirit, because he has been transformed into a completely different person.
Grief affects everyone differently. For Aidan, it has been taking all those hours spent with his Mom at the kitchen table and coming to the realization that he is smart, he is organized, and he can be a good student! The below average student who struggled to occasionally make the honor roll, now consistently achieves high honors, is taking college level classes, has been taken out of the special education program and even builds computers from scratch for his friends, all while working 15-20 hours per week! I remind him often how proud his Mom would be and notice a slight touch of moisture in his eye before he silently acknowledges and looks away, trying to hide the emotion I have stirred within him.
Grief is love with no place to go.
Last week we had our annual IEP meeting to discuss Aidan’s Special Education plan, and I knew that we were planning on taking him out of Special Education. Every person in the room commented on how Aidan is the model student and how enjoyable he is to have in class. It was so hard to control myself emotionally, knowing how Maureen would be beaming, hearing of his achievements and what a fine, successful young man he has become. Aidan may not talk about the heartache of losing his Mom, but he shows his love every day by becoming the young man she always knew he could be.
Grief takes on many forms, sometimes it’s sad and sometimes it can be powerful and lifechanging as well. For Aidan the spirit of his Mom is alive within him and that mutual love has been a force in his life. That love is in a lot of places if you take the time to look.
A version of this post was previously published on lossandlearning.com and is republished here with permission from the author.
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