Learning Grief and Eating Eggs

n this particular morning, the last thing I say to my middle son before he goes to school is: “You did not finish your eggs. You are a bad egg eater.” I say this because I do not like to waste food. And because two eggs is not too much for a teenager to eat before starting classes. And just because. I made them, I want him to eat them.

I should have said I love you. Enjoy your day, have fun. I know this. I have read the books. I have heard the talks. The parenting advice. I have seen those inspirational Facebook posts. Sometimes I remember. Sometimes I am good. But not always. Not on this day.

The last thing I see of my middle son before he goes to school is his back. I notice how big he is getting and how wide his shoulders are becoming. I do not look for very long. The kitchen is messy. The dishwasher, full. I need to scrape the eggs off of his plate and into the dog’s bowl. And to end the beginning of the day and start the middle. Meetings. Appointments. Work. Commitments.

I do not say good bye to my middle boy.

When he arrives at school, he learns that his English teacher passed away. Last night. Sometime after tweeting homework assignments. And before waking up. This is the first of my son’s school lessons. On this particular day. I wonder how he is told. And who is there, to comfort him. To explain to him. To help him to understand that sometimes people die. And sometimes it is unexpected. And sometimes you don’t get to say good bye.

And I am sad for the teacher. And his family. His daughter. His students. Everyone who knew him. It is a sorrowful day. There are many text messages. Phone calls. Emails from the school, the mayor. We are a community in mourning.

I text my son. To tell him I am sorry. And that I will pick him up if he would like. He doesn’t have to stay. I am ok, he texts to me. I am fine.

When my middle boy comes home from school, he is the same boy who left in the morning. The one who didn’t finish his eggs. Perhaps his shoulders are a bit broader, as they seem to grow every day now. Maybe he is a bit bigger, taller. I don’t know. He is still my boy. This death does not make him a man.

I ask him about his teacher’s passing. And how he is feeling about it. He is sad, he says. He says there are many grief counselors at school. They are there to help the children, the staff, with the grieving process.

I just barely knew him, my son says. He was a nice teacher, he says. I feel bad that I am not crying. That I am not sad enough. I don’t know what to feel, he says.

I do not expect these emotions. I am prepared for questions about how his teacher died. And why. I am prepared for questions about loss. I am ready to tell him that everyone dies at some point. That all we can do is appreciate each other while we are here.

And again, and always, I am not really prepared at all.

And so I tell him a story. Because that is what I do. When I don’t know what else to do.

It is something that has been on my mind lately. There are many sad stories told now, at this time of year, this 9-11 time of year. I tell my son about a young wife. Her husband is on one of those planes. Those planes. Those 9-11 planes. When she learns of his death, she does not return to her home. For many months, she stays aways. And when finally she does, she discovers her husband’s undershirts. In the dryer. She does not remember the person she was when she last washed those shirts. She is a different person now, but also the same. The same undershirt washer. The same undershirt folder. But without the man who once wore them.

What does she do?, my son asks. I don’t know, I say. That is the end of the story. Oh, he says.

My son does not finish his eggs the next morning either. I think we need a new breakfast plan. Maybe a little variety.

“You did not finish your eggs,” I tell him. “I love you,” I say. Because I should tell him that. I should tell him that often.  And also,  it is true.

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