On the car ride to the hospital, even before I knew my dad had died, I worried about what I would say to Bean. Gracie is really too little to understand or to even know that something is wrong, but Bean Man was a different story. He’s old enough to know when something is going on. And he was really close with my dad.
I asked my mom the first night what she thought we should tell Bean. I was at a complete loss, but I knew he would wake up at Nana and Granddad’s house and ask where Granddad was. My mom said she didn’t care what we told him, but please not to tell him that Granddad was in the koi pond with Lt. Dan…
The next morning when Bean woke up, he predictably asked about Granddad. So, Chris and I took him back into his bedroom (he and Gracie have their own room at my parent’s house) and sat down with him. We told him that Granddad had gone to live at God’s house in Heaven, and that we wouldn’t see him anymore. But that he still loved us and we still loved him, and that we could talk to him when we said our prayers to God. Bean thought about it for a minute, nodded, and then got down from the bed and went to watch TV. Chris and I didn’t want to push anything on Bean, so we let him go on his own for a while.
That morning, in the midst of all our own tears, neighbors and friends of my parents were in and out of the house. In the chaos, I slipped away to find Bean, who I hadn’t seen in a while. I found him in my parent’s room, sitting on their bed, watching a movie. When I asked him if he wanted to come out and sit with us, he said no. He ended up sitting on their bed for about three and a half hours, which is really unlike Bean. He didn’t say anything, but you could tell he wanted to be by himself. So, we left him in there, and just kept poking our heads in every half hour or so and inviting him out to the living room with us. I think he could tell something was going on, and I’m sure all that raw emotion was really hard for him to see. In hindsight, I’m glad he had the foresight to separate himself, really.
For the next 24 hours, Bean didn’t mention my dad at all. That in and of itself is really strange. Bean always talked a lot about my dad. Another thing he did was stop referring to things as “Nana and Granddad’s”-something. It was always “Nana and Granddad’s chair,” or “Nana and Granddad’s bed,” or “Nana and Granddad’s car.” Suddenly, everything was Nana’s. There was not one mention of my dad. I know that may not seem strange when you read it, but it was very strange behavior for Bean. Still, though, we left him alone. We would check in with him and made sure to hug him extra hard and we got him out of the house a bit and went for a walk around the neighborhood. But we didn’t ask him about Granddad or force him to talk more about it.
On Monday night, my mom went to bed early, and before I went in there with her (she and I slept together in her and my dad’s bed for those first few nights), I went outside to call my sister. I was really struggling that afternoon, and sometimes only a sister can pull you through something. She and I talked and cried and laughed and cried some more for over an hour. It was the hardest I’d cried since my dad had died. Bean must have seen me outside at some point because when I came inside to say goodnight to him, he was sitting up in his dark, quiet bedroom all by himself.
I laid down next to him and put my face right next to his. He took his index finger and traced my cheek, where a tear would fall. Something very unlike Bean to do.
“Mom,” he whispered. “Are you sad?”
“Yes, buddy. I’m sad.”
“Is it because of Granddad?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “I miss Granddad a lot. Do you miss him?”
“Yeah,” he said. “I miss him a lot, too.”
“That’s okay,” I told him. “I think we’re going to miss him for a long time.”
Bean sat there for a second and then said, “Maybe tomorrow, we could go sit in his chair!”
“That’s a great idea!” I said.
“Okay, mom,” he said brightly. “You come get me in the morning and we can go sit in Granddad’s chair together.”
“Sounds great!” I said.
And the next morning, that’s exactly what we did.
Bean still has been very quiet this week, and we continue to not question him or push him to talk about Granddad. But we are trying to pay special attention to him and give him some extra loving.
Last night at bedtime, Bean asked if we could read a family picture album that my mom put together for Bean’s second birthday. In that album were quite a few pictures of my dad, and Bean pointed him out and we talked a little bit about him. Then, after the book was finished, we said our prayers together. For Bean’s bedtime prayers, I say one little line and then Bean and Chris repeat that line. Our prayer went something like this, “Dear God, thank you for all the good things that happened today, and thank you for all the bad things that happened today. Bless our family, and help us to be good boys and girls. Please take care of our Granddad. Tell him that we miss him a lot. Amen.”
I think we are handling Bean’s grief as well as we can. I keep having to remind myself that, though Bean is small, his grief is big, just like mine. And that he will grieve differently than me, but it is still grief. I’m going to call our minister tomorrow and talk with her about some things we can be doing to help Bean through this time. You can really mess a person up if you don’t handle death the right way, and I don’t want Bean to become afraid of God or death, and I certainly don’t want us to belittle or sidestep his grieving process, whatever it might be. But, for now, I think he’s doing okay.
There are a lot of things that make me sad right now, but I think Bean might be at the top of my list. His special relationship with my dad was such a joy for me to see, and such a powerful part of both their lives. I worry so much that Bean will forget my dad. Or, more specifically, he’ll forget how much my dad loved him. I don’t want to force death or my dad’s memory on him, but I also don’t want Bean to put that away in some corner of his mind and forget that incredible feeling of such deep love and pride my dad had in him.
But maybe that’s mine and Chris’s job as parents. To help him remember, and to help him grieve. Right now, I’m just lifting my little Beanie up in prayer, that his perfect little heart will feel complete and whole again soon, and that my dad’s spirit will fill him to the brim.