When we're tender from tragedy, grief wears many disguises. One can attend a function on auto-pilot and have concerned friends misinterpret it as "handling this so well." We can get annoyed with one another for not intuiting our needs. And anger can crack like a whip over seemingly trivial things.
The early days of grieving were marked with much confusion and little activity, and so it may have been an act of insanity to attempt anything so bold as an outing with the kids. But in a misguided move toward normalcy, Mom and I struck out one day, only two weeks after my dad's death, to take the grandkids to see a movie.
I didn't have the mindfulness thing quite down yet at that point, it was much too early. With time, I've become more discerning in discovering the triggers we all have, and therefore can back up and mend fences before the cows run amok. Most times. On the movie day, though, I let a simple thing turn into something big and ugly.
Hungry but not in the mood to cook, we stopped for sub sandwiches after the movie. A video gaming shop was next door, so Jonathan gave a quick order and the older kids left to browse gaming shelves while we picked up the food. My mother and I made our executive ordering decisions (we had five more at home to feed, in addition to our movie-going group) and ordered four big sandwiches, one of which was similar to what Jonathan asked for.
The dinner time was a loud affair, with mom cutting fruit, me cutting sandwiches, and the kids tossing all the couch pillows on the floor for some jumping. I served Jonathan his sandwich slice and even picked off the tomato since I knew he'd frown at it. Well, the sandwich had some kind of sauce spread on it and he complained it wasn't what he'd asked for. So I began offering all sorts of remedies. I'll scrape the sauce off. I'll get different bread. I have ham in the fridge and will make a new sandwich. But he continued to explain, tearfully and red-faced, that this wasn't what he'd asked for.
I wasn't angry or frustrated, and I was lovingly "fixing" the problem. Well, he refused to eat the sandwich, refused my offers for something different, and decided not to eat anything at all.
Jonathan's grandpa had died, unexpectedly, three weeks before. We were all extraordinarily fragile right then. Jonathan hadn't eaten any food before dinnertime on one single day since my father had died. And this movie-sub sandwich outing was our first venture back into life outside our dark grief. And I ordered the wrong damn sub.
When I told an acquaintance about it, who had, incidentally, just lost her daughter to cancer, she said, "I've been taking many, many deep breaths and reminding myself ***DON'T TAKE IT PERSONALLY!*** and soon it's really not about the sandwich anymore, it's just sadness leaking out disguised as anger and frustration."I went to Jonathan and I held him and told him I was sorry I didn't order the sandwich he'd asked for. I'd made a mistake. I should have ordered the right one. He said, "Ok" and we were better. Not fixed, but better.
It might sound crazy, but if it wasn't for the amazing insights I glean from people further down the path than I, people who help me see how even - or especially - the slightest change in perspective can improve our lives, that scenario would've ended much differently. That night, Jonathan had one of his worst nights yet, coming to bed with me, choking back tears, saying he couldn't sleep, didn't feel well, and fidgeting late into the night. Everything makes a difference. And that day's lesson woke me up.