Grief group

Tonight was our first peer grief group meeting. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Or how Ethan would react. It tried talking it “up” with Ethan for days, but you just never know…


We arrived, as requested, 30 minutes early. Ethan was whisked off immediately by one of the counselors for a private tour. I took a seat in the dining room by the director. Small talk ensued. She was super easy to talk to and everyone was very nice.

Ethan came back just as some of the other families were arriving. After designing his name tag, dinner was served. Ethan wanted to get his dinner himself, so I let him. I followed, not too close behind, with his milk. I fully expected him to sit next to me in the dining room, but he turned into the sun room, where the other boys (ages 7-14) were sitting.

I dropped off his milk, waved, and walked back to my seat. I kept an ear toward the other room, in case Ethan needed me.

Within 15 minutes, the kitchen helper called out, “Jackie, Ethan has TOTALLY adjusted already! He’s doing great with the other boys!” She had a direct view of the activities in the sun room.

Soon it was time to break off into the sessions. The kids went upstairs where they would work on crafts and talk in age-appropriate settings. The parents went into the living room, where counselors facilitated our discussion.

Of course, details of all discussions are confidential, but there was SO much I could relate to. So many similarities to our situation and Ethan’s difficulties. I found myself in tears before I said anything.

It was refreshing to hear that others are experiencing many of the same things, that Ethan isn’t alone in what he’s feeling and doing. But it was sad, too. We were all there for a reason – someone close to us died. Insert tears.

The hour went by so fast, and soon the kids were coming downstairs. Ethan was smiling, carrying a picture he drew of Mike and another art project he made.

But he was ready to go home. (After all, it was bedtime.)

The drive home was good – he talked about his experience in a very positive way, but he wasn’t overly hyper about it (a good thing).

He did, however, have a massive stomach ache. Turns out, he and some of the older boys were sneaking extra cookies before the break out session.

As I was tucking him tonight, Ethan said, “I learned my lesson. Cookies and tortilla soup don’t mix.”

Words of wisdom.

Unintended Offense

Last week, there was a meeting for all second grade parents for us to learn about some of the activities this school year. I was sitting next in a group of my mom friends, and one of them asked how things were going.

Usually I gloss over questions like these, but recently I’ve decided that I need to be more honest when people ask. It isn’t that I’ve been lying to people. I just haven’t been forthcoming about Ethan’s struggles.

My decision to be more open comes from HOPING parents will be more understanding. It’s like when Ethan tells me stories about this new kid in his class. This kid is really having a rough time, getting into arguments and fights, having difficulty making friends. When Ethan tells me these stories, I instruct him to remember what it was like earlier this year when he was the new kid. That we need to give this kid a little understanding, more love, because he’s adjusting and that’s hard. Now, whether or not other parents are trying to teach these kind of lessons, well, I don’t know.

Back to the mom friend who asked how things were going. I was honest: that Ethan was really struggling this year and having some troubles. I believe, I told her, that it comes from the grief he’s trying to deal with but that we’re working on it, through tae kwon do and the peer group and therapy.

Her face squished up a bit and she said (and I’m not paraphrasing at all), “Really? He’s still dealing with that? I would have thought, well it hasn’t been a year yet, but it’s been a long time.”

“It was the end of January,” I said. “Kids process in an entirely different way than adults do.”

Then I turned and faced the front of the room.

Really? Do people really think Ethan should be over the death of his dad? Do people REALLY think it’s THAT easy? And, given that all my mom friends know the basics of  my relationship with Mike and the circumstances of his death, do people think nine months is enough time for Ethan to be fully healed and functioning like nothing is wrong?

A few days later, I had the chance to have the same conversation with a different mom friend. She reacted in an entirely different way, very sympathetically, and even with some suggestions for resources in the area.

I guess every reaction will be different, and some will be offensive. It’s true that no one knows your child better than you do. And, I guess I won’t be having any more Ethan-is-struggling conversations with THAT one mom.

Men are unicorns

Phone convo with my mom this afternoon.

Mom: I just think Ethan really needs a man in his life right now.

Me: Mom, you may as well say Ethan needs a unicorn because I don’t have one of those either.

My mom and I were talking about an email that I received from E’s teacher today. It really pissed me off. I interpreted it as a “he better behave or else” note. (Apparently Ethan has been misbehaving all week, but this is the first I’m hearing about it…)

He’s a completely different kid at home than at school. He’s not perfect, but he’s not REALLY bad either. I’m just not sure what else to do – especially with “dates” coming up (like Mike’s birthday and Christmas, which he’s already mentioned as being hard without his dad).

I’m going home now to reread the email and my response before I sent it. I was hoping the drive would calm me down. I don’t think it has…


Rethinking therapy and getting to the core of the issue

I did not have a good experience at Ethan’s therapist appointment tonight.

It started when we arrived. We were early, but there was already a line for the 6 p.m. appointments. I was third in line.

As I waited for Guy #1 to wrap up his business (WHAT could have taken him 10 minutes?!), I was forced to listen to the most asinine conversation behind me. I say “forced” because these guys were talking at an incredible volume, particularly for the subject matter.

From what I could gather, these two teen boys were there for a meeting – a meeting of teens with a drinking or drug problem. Teen dudes were talking about how, even though they were caught and arrested for drinking and driving, they WILL still drink in the future. One was even bragging about how he was going to convince the DA to reduce the charges against him. These teens couldn’t have been older than 16 years.

When it was my turn at the window, I was pretty irritated. Listening to two kids talking (loudly) about beating the system and not learning their lessons (especially when alcohol is involved), really pissed me off. Then the woman behind the glass window couldn’t understand how to process my change in insurance. (Former employer and COBRA really screwed up my August coverage.)

By this time, Ethan had already gone to the therapist’s office. They had been talking for almost 15 minutes when I entered the room. We talked about what happened since the last appointment, about my meeting with E’s teachers, and how E was affected by the burial at school.

Then the therapist suggested I have Ethan tested for ADD by a neuropsychologist. I’m not opposed to an ADD or ADHD diagnosis. In fact, a few months ago, I would have jumped at the chance to have him tested, evaluated, diagnosed. I kinda thought maybe Ethan was a bit ADD/ADHD; I mean, some of his behaviors and the fact that Mike was ADHD (but untreated). But now…now, I think we need to deal with the grief issues first. The more I read about how young kids process death and deal with grief, the more I think that there’s a core issue that needs to be dealt with first. Before we can address ANY other issue, I think Ethan needs to develop tools to deal with my dad’s death and HIS dad’s death.

I expressed that to the therapist. I feel like I was brushed off. I raised it again. And again, I thought he was blowing me off.

Since we stated seeing this therapist, I haven’t felt like he was dealing with the grief issues. Glossing over them. Maybe even ignoring them. Bringing up superficial questions to satisfy my concerns, but really not “dealing” with it.

The problem is that Ethan likes this guy (maybe because Ethan doesn’t have to talk about anything that’s really bothering him). I’m anxious to see how the grief/peer meetings will go, and if that will help. In the meantime, I’m going to start looking at other options.

Parent in-take

Like Wednesday morning, Thursday started with tears, too.

I found a local organization that helps kids deal with the grieving process. It’s not counseling and it’s not therapy. The organization is structured with regular peer gatherings in which kids can share their feelings and talk about what’s going on their lives and how they are coping with the death of a loved one. Every kid there has lost someone – a grandparent, a sibling, a cousin, a parent.

I talked to the director by phone earlier this week. Today was “parent intake day.”

The organization doesn’t take everyone. Space is limited. And there’s a process to matching the kid (and parent) to the right group. That’s why the director meets with every parent first.

I knew I would have to talk about how my dad’s and Mike’s death have affected Ethan, so the tears started before I was even in the shower this morning. I can usually stay strong – until I have to talk about the effect on my kids.

The organization is a good 35 minute drive from my house, and it’s in a part of town I’ve never been.  I allowed plenty of time to find the place, but when I got there, I just couldn’t pull into the parking lot.

I passed it, on purpose.

I drove down the street, did some banking, stopped for a Coke, checked out the window display at some of the cute little shops. Now, I was officially late.

I’m never late. Being on time is late to me. If something starts at 9 a.m. and I’m there at 9 a.m., I’m late. I would prefer 10 minutes early, at least. I can sit and observe. I can collect my thoughts. I can mentally prepare. But this morning, I was late. On purpose. Being late ALMOST never happens – on purpose, NEVER.

I turned around and s-l-o-w-l-y drove back. I was now about 10 minutes late and having thoughts of wanting to blow off the appointment entirely. “It’s for Ethan,” I thought to myself and pulled into the parking lot.

I approached the discrete, old, brick building with a little bit of mixed emotions. “It sucks that there has to be places like this,” I thought and I walked through the front door.

The director greeted me and handed me some paperwork. Name, address, occupation, employer… Fine.  Child’s name, school… OK. Then I got to the section about the deceased. Cue the tears.

I kept it brief and matter of fact. Then I turned the page.

Half of the page was dedicated to how I was dealing with the death, the other half to how Ethan was coping. Rate on a scale from 1-5 each of these statements. Cue more tears.

I finished the paperwork, grabbed a Kleenex and the director entered the room. We talked for more than an hour about the loss of my dad and the death of Mike. How both impacted me, the kids, and my mom.  More tears.

Ever cried so much that the Kleenex was wringing wet? Yeah, that was my morning.

The director gave me a tour of the house and explained the program. We talked about Ethan’s needs and what was going on with him at school.

His problems? All textbook kids-who-are-grieving. I felt a sense of relief knowing that during meetings, all the kids are hyper and squirrely. That the kids have to state their name and age before a meeting, but don’t have to participate if they don’t want to. That art and other ways of expression are big components to the meetings. That the parents get together and meet during this time, too.

It seems like a solid program. One that can help us through this. I’m hopeful. And a hot mess (must not forget to reapply makeup before my class this afternoon).

I just hope that Friday is tear-free – or I’ll need to buy more mascara.