Grief: Out of the Mouths of Babes


My wee son, Thing 3 who is nine, finally collapsed in my arms last night heaving tender loving sobs for his grandmother.

“I will miss the way she spoke so softly to me.”

“I will miss the way she liked what I did for her.”

My heart expanded and contracted. His love and grief for her, in his own little kid way, is finally being expressed. We cried together for about three minutes and comforted each other.

“Does your body get sick if you don’t let it cry?” He asked, his voice weak from sadness and thick with pain.

“Well, I know mine does. I know my body feels pain if I don’t let myself cry,” I said as I stroked his back.

“Like my throat,” he said. “It hurts really bad when I try not to cry. Like a throat ache, it hurts. Can that happen to our bodies, our legs or our hearts too?”

“I think it can. Crying is a natural function. When we hold that stuff in, it can burst when we least expect it. Sometimes the ‘time’ doesn’t feel right, like when you’re talking to your teacher about something completely different. A tear will pool in your eyes and all of a sudden, poof: the crying can begin.”

“Is that what happened to Mimi’s heart? She didn’t cry enough?” he asked quite seriously.


He had me there. This is a tough one. He’s bright, but he’s also a child, so I needed to be careful with the analogies here.

“I think that Mimi had lived a long time with lots of sadnesses but also lots of joys too. I think that she did her best, as she knew how, to say how she felt and to share her feelings, but maybe she felt afraid to do it too,” I said.

“Afraid that people might judge her?” he asked.

“Sure. She had worries like that. She didn’t like change much, you know, like how you don’t like change. She liked her things the way they were. She liked her life the way she wanted it and when it changed, she had sadnesses and fears about it.”

He thought.

“Do you know what ‘constant’ means?” I asked him.


“It means never-changing, always the same. Like how a clock ticks constantly, you can depend on it. Or how the sun rises, you can depend on it. It’s constantly there.”

“Ok. Like waves, they are constant,” he said, clearly wondering where this was going as his periwinkle irises slowly wandered to the left corners and his lips pursed.

“Yes, they are, but are they always the same waves?” I asked.

“No, they’re little or big or sometimes lots of little waves become one big wave,” he said, his hands making wave motions and his sniffles slowing. I could see the dots connecting now.

“Here’s something that’s going to be like a riddle. Are you ready?” I asked.

“Yes,” he sighed.

“The only constant — the only thing you can know will happen all the time — is change. ‘Change,’ which is the opposite of ‘constant’ is forever, it’s always happening.”

He was in. He loves riddles and deep chats like this. I think that’s why he loved talking to Mimi when he did. She was deep like that.

“Here,” I said. “Think of a tree. It changes constantly in ways you can see, especially right now. The angle of the sun makes the earth cooler here. The rains stop falling as much as they did this summer and the leaves begin to … what…?”

“Fall,” he said.

“Right. So when the leaves fall they do what…?”

“They de- …. de-… something that happens to a dead cat… and mushrooms … they de-….” he said, searching for the word, his hand now planted on his forehead.

“De-com-pose… ” I helped.

“Right. They decompose. And they turn into dirt.”

“And what grows in dirt?”

“Plants? Mushrooms?” he asked.

“Well, yes, they do too, but I’m talking about something big. What is big that grows in the dirt?”

“Tree. A tree grows in the dirt,” he said proudly.

And then we went through the cycles of the tree and the seasons a few times. I kindly drilled it into him. Despite his tendencies for abstract concepts, he also likes that kind of linear thinking. We talked about how when trees die, people can use them to build houses, boats, tables, keep warm, all sorts of things. Like The Giving Tree book.

So he gets quiet and he gives me a kiss and tells me, “I love you, mama. Thank you for helping me.”

And then he came back 10 minutes later with this:

"True Fact about Life:" What life is like most of all is a tree. Because a tree has its own seasons. One season is full of death and sadness. When leaves fall, the tree it came from is crying because leaves are tree's tears. The other season is filled with [sic] happyness, which is when the leaves grow back.

“True Fact about Life:”
“What life is like most of all is a tree. Because a tree has its own seasons. One season is full of death and sadness. When leaves fall, the tree it came from is crying because leaves are tree’s tears. The other season is filled with happyness [sic], which is when the leaves grow back.

EPSON scanner image

We are trees but don’t look like them.
Trees have emotions. Just like we do. Let your leaves fall.”

I am humbled. I am grateful. My wee son is helping me heal.

Thank you.

12 responses »

  1. I know I saw this last night and it touched me deeply but I am now crying in my office ( man enough to put it out there). As adults our minds are so full. Thank god for our kids to ground us.

  2. When my Mother In Law passed my daughter was just turning six. Together we read The Fall Of Freddy The Leaf ~Leo Buscaglia She really didn’t process the loss until almost two years later while reading Because Of Winn Dixie. We use books a lot around here to explain, grieve, and guide us through things we can’t process alone. I’m grateful to you for sharing each beat of your heart with us. Your pain and pride and beauty is in each word. xoxo

  3. Wow! He is his mother’s son, totally amazed that he took to pen and paper!! You used wonderful analogies. My guy was your son’s age when his Nana passed away, three years ago……He had difficulty processing it as did we……on our car ride back to her house it hit him…..and he said “this means she will never be able to celebrate another one of my birthdays”……this was his constant…..she made all of us feel so special; him,even more so…….at that time I wish I had found the words that you found for your little guy…..Great job Molly!


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