AFEW weeks ago, a dear friend, Noor (not her real name) lost her daughter-in-law to childbirth. It was the young mother’s third child, a long-awaited daughter after two beautiful sons.
Nobody saw it coming. The motherto-be seemed fine. The birth was normal and so was the baby. Then disaster struck. She didn’t stop bleeding and despite the doctors’ best efforts, she passed away.
It happened so fast. Everything after that was a blur; doing the needful in the midst of shock and pain.
There was the funeral and the baby to attend to. Fortunately, this family is strong and united. Everyone seemed to know what to do and all arrangements went smoothly.
It was only after the funeral that everyone had a tough time picking up the pieces and returning to a sense of normalcy. The deceased was much loved by all. Her two little boys didn’t understand death even though they kissed her goodbye and went to the funeral.
They’d ask: “Where’s baby?” That was easy to answer. The baby was at the hospital under observation. The next question was a lot tougher: “Where’s mama?” and the adults would fumble with their answers, trying to muster up all the metaphorical words for death, eventually telling them their mama had gone to sleep for a long time.
The boys nodded like they understood. The adults knew that the children didn’t really understand, but were quite content to leave it at that. However, every time a car drove up the porch or when the front door opened, the boys would run to the door shouting: “Mama!”
The look on their faces when it was not their mother was more than what anyone could bear. Everyone was grieving over the loss of this loved one, and seeing the children’s reactions compounded their misery and broke their hearts all over again.
Getting back to the routine of everyday life eventually gave them some semblance
of order. The vacuum and emptiness were still there, but everyone strove to get on with their lives. Noor felt that she had to be there for her son and his children. So she would go to their house to bring them food, stock up the fridge, tidy up the house and even do the laundry.
She felt that doing things that her late daughter-in-law did at home would somehow ease her son’s troubles. That was when she discovered something about her son and their relationship that she wasn’t aware of in the past. This little family unit was independent and close. He pulled his weight at home by doing the cooking and cleaning.
At first he didn’t say anything for fear of hurting or offending his mum because
she too was grieving and she just wanted to help. In the end, he sat her down and gently explained to her that he would much prefer to grieve quietly in his own home.
He wanted to remember everything the way it was. He wanted to cook for his children their family favourites and he wanted the laundry folded just the way his wife used to, not the way his mum does. He also didn’t want a fully stocked fridge or leftovers.
Noor was neither hurt nor offended. However, it jolted her to learn that her son was not just the strong, young man she had raised but had been a good, supportive husband as well.
She was proud of this discovery, but it also made her heart clench even more to see him lose someone he loved so much. Noor had the grace to laugh this off by offering to send help to mop the floor or wash the bathrooms and her son graciously accepted her offer.
Noor shared her experience with me, saying she didn’t realise that everyone grieves differently and the process may be longer for some. It’s something you know but it doesn’t really register until a situation like this happens. We always tend to assume that everyone shares our values, especially when that someone is your child. After all, we raised him, didn’t we?
Our child may always be our baby in our hearts and minds, but they do grow up and form their own ways and habits. As a mother, that part of letting go is truly difficult. Suddenly you see your child as an individual — an adult doing things his way and not yours.
With the death of her daughter-inlaw, she was now witnessing a man mourning the loss of his wife. He needed the time and solitude to come to terms with his loss. He needed time to connect with his boys and his baby girl. Noor could only do so much for him, but this was his own journey, to undertake alone and in his own time.
As much as it hurt her to watch him mourn and grieve, she respected his request and gave him all the time and space he needed. No matter the distance, she would always be there for him.
Once your child becomes an adult, you have to let him or her do things their way, not yours.