This weekend as I was going through my mother’s belongings that my uncle brought back from her storage unit in Maine, I found a copy of the Flat Stanley book that she created for my eldest son a few years ago. My mother had lots of fun taking pictures with my son’s handmade Flat Stanley and carrying it around with her as she went about her daily routine in midcoast Maine, and she had even more fun working with her friend to make the pictures and words come alive on the pages of a children’s book, made especially for her grandson.
My mom did something similar for my second eldest son when he was in first grade, but I guess it wasn’t as grand because I don’t remember all that much about it. However, my son assured me that she did, in fact, do a Flat Stanley project for him.
Well, about eight months ago, my mother suggested that for my third eldest son she would take his Flat Stanley around and create a project before it was assigned so she “would have enough time to complete it”. In other words, she wanted to do this one last gesture for one more grandchild before she died. So, back in September when my mother asked me about doing the project I told her I would ask the teacher to give my son the materials ahead of time. Well, that task somehow fell off my to-do list, and I remembered it again just this weekend as I went through my mom’s belongings and I thought to myself, “it’s getting late in the year; I wonder if there will be a Flat Stanley project..?”
So, as the book sat prominently on my dining room table for the past couple days, and as my children gathered around the table just a few minutes ago to work on their homework, my first grader came up to me with excitement in his voice, “Guess what, Mommy? In a couple days we’ll be getting our Flat Stanley to send out to someone who lives far away!”
As I returned the excitement, I could feel that the trembling in my heart gathering speed would surely lead to tears. My first grader, who by the way is a very old soul, picked up the book that his Nanny created for my now fourth grader, and he wondered out loud who he would send his Flat Stanley to. I managed to quickly suggest that we send it to one of Nanny’s friends in Maine. However, my son is much more family-oriented than that, so he suggested my uncle in Virginia (my mother’s only sibling), and then he suggested a few of his older cousins in Maryland.
At this point, my third grader, who has a heart of pure gold and blood made of sugar, yet struggles a bit socially because of Inattentive ADHD, joined the conversation and said “You could ask Nanny!”. I replied, “Maybe if we wanted pictures of Heaven we could ask Nanny”. My dear third grader responded with the actions of picking up a telephone and making a pretend call to heaven, but then added “Nanny is dead”. At this point, my three year old chimes in, “Is Nanny dead?, Is Nanny dead?, Is Nanny dead?”. My reply obviously didn’t come quick enough for her, “Yes dear, Nanny is in Heaven; she’s with God.” Again, her straight forward reply to my gentle response came as a blow, “But she’s also dead, right? Nanny is also dead, right?” What else could I say but, “Yes, Sweetie, she is”.
As this conversation between me and my three year old was taking place, my first grader picked up the treasured Flat Stanley children’s book made by his Nanny and started reading the words that my mother wrote which will forever be memorialized on paper, “Flat Stanley went to visit Nanny in Midcoast Maine. He wanted to see how the people lived in the country right next to the ocean…”
I finally allowed the release of my tears as my son was reading my mother’s words, and as I simultaneously typed out the start of this blog post. My three sons that were gathered around the dining room table began to notice me crying and quickly reacted as children always do, “Mommy, are you crying?” “Mommy, are you crying because I’m reading this book?” “Are you sad about Nanny?” “Yes”, I replied, “I am sad because I’m remembering Nanny”.
At this, the realization quickly came over the children that their mother is sad because her own mother is gone forever. As quickly as the conversation came, it ended with my non-confrontational Kindergartner’s statement to his third grade brother, “I told you not to talk about it”.
I let the conversation naturally end at this awkward moment, not wanting to talk about it anymore, but rather with the deep desire write it down as quickly as possible so I would never forget this special, awkward, but beautiful moment.
I will bring up this subject again tonight as we gather as a family to pray before bedtime, and remind the kids that it’s okay to talk about death, and that it’s okay to be sad, and most of all…it’s okay to remember and talk about Nanny.
Healing is very important. So, this Sunday as Mother’s Day approaches, I will be gathering with the support group “Motherless Daughters” to release hundreds of butterflies into the heavens, and then have lunch afterwards with the ladies. I’ve been waiting for a year to join this group, and it’s now my turn to grieve while I cherish and completely feel every moment of this strangely confusing, yet beautifully awkward process of losing my mother to death.