Two days ago my oldest daughter – an 11-year-old preteen who doesn’t hold back her strong opinions – challenged me. That’s a good thing. We all want our kids to feel the confidence to question authority and assert themselves, especially in private moments when we can have a real conversation about why we disagree.
I will confess that what she challenged me on startled me. We sat together, skimming through various social media outlets on my phone. She hovered over my shoulder, her long dark curls tickling my cheek. Her fingers work so much faster than mine, and she clicked away on the device in my hands, at one point opening the new Facebook fan page I started. “You should read this stuff,” I said. “I’m writing a lot since my TED talk.” She’s definitely plugged into a range of platforms, though she’s not on Facebook. I want my oldest daughter, of all people, to have a window into my thinking right now. We should share this journey. I sat quietly to give her a minute with my words.
She scrolled quickly through some recent posts and stopped at the one devoted to my new year’s resolution: “I plan to get the most out of 2016, creating and telling stories about living fully with grief, reaching people who have suffered loss, opening up conversations about life and death and everything in between,” I wrote.
“Oh no,” she said. “Uh uh.” And she popped up from the back of the sofa and started to walk away.
“What do you mean?” I replied, wanting to understand her reaction.
“Living fully with grief?” she shot back at me. “Really?”
“Well, yes,” I said. “That sums up everything I’ve been talking about recently. That’s what my TED talk was about. Living FULLY with grief. You were there. What are you saying?”
“You have a FINE life!” she exclaimed. “Why do you have to live with grief?”
Wow. I was getting worked up. This was my eldest daughter, my first-born, the person who started to heal me when she came into the world. I had longed for a mother-daughter bond my whole life, and she and her sisters have filled me up. My oldest daughter is a sharp analytical thinker with deep emotional intelligence: she knows how to unpack something she reads and in particular something she hears and comprehend its emotional resonance. She’s heard a few times that she might want to think about being a lawyer who makes a living making smart arguments. But she doesn’t necessarily like to spend time unpacking her own (or anyone else’s) feelings.
Once she told me that I overcomplicate things. Another time she told me that I overstated the description of something we all experienced together. I get that this will be a conversation we have our whole lives, and it’s okay that we’re not the same person. I will always push her to talk about her life, and what’s going on in her head and heart, and she will probably continue to roll her eyes and sigh and offer me a sliver of what’s actually inside.
[Gigi at 11]
But a couple days ago, I insisted that we talk more. She couldn’t easily dismiss something that is bringing me purpose and walk away. So I asked for more clarification.
I said, “Yes, I have a fine life. And it’s because I am living FULLY with grief – that’s my point! Anyone who has lost people they love lives with grief. It’s unavoidable. What are you saying? What do you think I mean by living fully with grief?”
“I don’t think people have to be sad and mopey all of the time.”
“Of course they don’t have to be sad and mopey all of the time. They SHOULDN’T be sad and mopey all of the time. That’s what I’m saying. When someone you love dies, it doesn’t have to lead to a lifetime of sadness and depression and isolation. You can live a FINE life even though you’ve suffered lost, don’t you see?”
“Okay, I guess, fine.” And she walked away.
I suppose we had resolved this. I suppose we both understood that we were really saying the same thing.
My oldest daughter is pushing back, and I don’t mind. I don’t want anything I do here to be overwrought or unnecessarily complicated, so maybe I need to consult with her once in awhile. I think she gets that my healing continues and that I’m on this path to help myself and others, but we’ll see. I want her by my side, especially as she gets older. She and her sisters are my legacy, and as I look at them and see my future and theirs so intertwined, I am hopeful that my own complicated story of loss is woven into our family’s story and that my girls ultimately feel proud of me.
[Mother’s Day, 2015]