Transparent Parenting: The Day I Scared My Son with my Grief

child hugging a parent in black and white

I knew my friend would be dropping off my son from school any minute. I had to get myself together.

I walked into my bathroom, slowly lifted my head to the mirror and began to wipe my tear stained face. I had just watched my father die, 3,000 miles away on my computer screen. He was surrounded by my mom and sister, my presence only seen on an iPad propped up on a hospital table.

Get it together, I told myself. Your family here needs you. I put a cold washcloth on my face in hopes of reducing the puffiness and redness hours of crying will do to you. I threw on my sweatshirt and waited for my friend’s car to come down our driveway. 

woman crying next to a bed in grief
Photo by Claudia Wolff on Unsplash

My friend, a fellow military spouse, had offered to pick up my son because she knew what was happening today. Today was the day my father, who lay comatose in an ICU bed across the country, would be removed from life support. I heard my dogs barking, the signal that my son was now home from school. I walked outside, greeted my son with a forced grin, and thanked my friend for bringing him home. She hugged me and asked me how I was doing.

How am I doing? I’m barely standing. Am I standing? What is keeping me upright at this very moment? I just wanted her to leave. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Maybe ever again.

I shrugged as tears began pouring down my face. She hugged me again and told me to let her know if I need anything. “Thanks,” I managed to respond.

I took a deep breath and turned to walk back towards our front door, tears still streaming down my face. I grabbed our front door knob, expecting to collapse back into my house but was met by a locked door. This door doesn’t automatically lock. I must be losing it, I thought, so I tried again. Nope, still definitely locked.

I calmly knocked on the door. I could see part of my son sticking out from behind the living room wall. “Hey, buddy, let me in, please,” I slowly said. Nothing. 

I called my son’s name, telling him to please let in. Still nothing. And now, no sign of my son peeking out from behind the living room wall. 

I start to get angry. I began banging on the door, yelling louder, “Let me in! Come on, this isn’t funny.” Doesn’t he know this is the worst day to be playing games with me?

The dogs began to bark, despite them knowing it’s me on the other side of the door, which only made me angrier. I continued to yell my son’s name. All my patience was gone. I decided to quickly walk around the house in search of an unlocked door. Locked. Every single one. Are you kidding me? I just wanted to escape into nothingness, and I couldn’t even get into my own house. 

At that point, anger abated. I began to panic. I had to get inside.

I suddenly remembered the hide-a-key. I raced around to the front of the house, uncovered the key, and let myself into my silent house. I called out for my son, sobbing his name. “Where are you?” I asked him. “It’s ok. Mommy’s not mad.” I’m begged him to come out. At that moment, I did not have the energy to search for him.

Finally, I slumped down against the wall in our hallway, softly crying and calling out his name. 

Cautiously my three-year-old emerged. My red, swollen eyes lit up and locked with his. He was the first person to truly witness my heartbreak. He saw my pain, despite my initial attempts to hide it.

My instinct was to open my arms and wave him near me. I don’t know why I asked him but I muttered, “Did Mommy scare you? Why did you lock me out?” He timidly nodded his little blonde head up and down.

“Oh, buddy,” I burst out, “I didn’t mean to scare you. Mommy’s just sad. Will you come sit with me?” My sweet boy sat right next to me on our hardwood hallway floor. He lovingly put his head in my lap as I continued to mourn a man he will never know. I don’t even remember how long we sat there.

child hugging a parent in black and whiteI’ve never asked my son, who is now seven, about the time he locked me out of the house.

I doubt he will remember a day that I will never forget. Of all the people to have witnessed my initial heartache, I’ve wondered why it was my youngest child. To be honest, I don’t have a solid answer. At least not yet, and who knows if I ever will. But I’m a firm believer that our experiences shape us by the lessons they teach us, if only we are open enough to learn from them. 

When I met my son’s eyes in our darkened hallway, I knew he could feel my pain. And that overwhelmed him.

Heck, it overwhelmed me and I’m a grown woman. Many times, our kids can pick up on our emotions and energy. Some are called empaths, others intuitives, and many are merely perceptive. This experience taught me that one is never too young to feel the pain of others, despite what we wish for them. They will witness our human moments, despite our desire to protect them.

That experience with my son made me more aware of the energy I bring into my house each day.

It’s forced me to ask questions like:

Am I dealing with my emotions in a healthy way or bottling them up and exploding on the ones I loved?

Am I able to see just how influential my words and feelings are to my children or am I so focused on feeling better at whatever the cost? 

One of my favorite quotes is, “Insight alone does not bring about change.” Having the awareness that my emotions and energy impact my kids is one thing. Taking responsibility for them is another. When we do, we model for our kids that emotions aren’t something to be scared of. We show them that we can feel our feelings. We demonstrate that we are in control of our emotions and not the other way around.

This is the work I do with my clients. I sit with them in their brokenness. I witness their pain. And when they’re ready, I help them create a life they are passionate about. Witnessing someone’s heartache is never easy, but it’s nothing short of transformational.

Even though I scared my son with my grief that day, that moment forever changed me and the work I do.

I hope you have someone who is brave enough to sit with you in your brokenness. And I hope you have the courage to the same.