“Hi there. How are you?”
Fine, Jay, how are you?
“I’m fine, how are you?”
Oh, you’re not talking to me.
The voice is too tiny, and different from the first voice. This conversation is not between the Jeffs; rather it is between Orange Dinosaur and Thomas the Tank Engine Big Boy Underwear. My bad. We were just starting our journey to daycare, and Jay climbed into the car seat with everything (should I say everyONE?) necessary to make the trip- Orange Dinosaur, Thomas Underwear, and Green Crayon.
The stegosaurus and the briefs exchanged pleasantries. Then I heard a light, plasticky clatter.
“Oh no!” The underwear was audibly upset.
“Orange dinosaur, where arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre youuuuuuuuu?” the Thomas undies called out searchingly.
“Where are you?” As in, you’re not gone. You’re just hiding. You can’t really be gone.
After a couple of plaintive calls, Denial turned to Anger. Damn you, Kubler-Ross.
“Daddy. My dinosaur’s gone. GIVE IT BACK.”
I don’t have your dinosaur, honey, and I can’t stop right now to get it for you.
(change back to “Underwear” voice) “Hello, Green Crayon! How are you!?” Ah, finding value in the quiet one, making a new friend while dinosaur is away. Nice.
No Bargaining? Jay is always up for a bargain. Are we moving straight into Acceptance? No Depression? (fine with me). Is he really okay with “I can’t get that for you”?
“Daddy, I’m hungry.”
Oh, okay. Here it comes. “Do you want a sandwich or a banana?” Rule #103.6 of car rides, only offer fist foods. Finger foods end up all over the back of the car.
“I want milk.” Pick the option that wasn’t offered. Nice comeback. That brief “Acceptance” was a feint to get me out of position, and improve his Bargaining power.
“I can get your milk when we get to the stop sign.” He could see the flashing red light in the distance. Offer accepted.
I handed him his milk. “I want a sandwich, Daddy.”
The car behind me at the light crept up. Too bad. You’re no 12-ton dump truck; you can wait. I dug into his bag and pulled out a quarter of a pbj sandwich. I stretched. And stretched. “Help me out here, honey. Reach.”
We connected. The sandwich had greater value than Orange Dinosaur, and thus stayed in his hand.
I don’t think we ever got to “Depression”, but within minutes he was fast asleep.
Probably best known for her stages of death, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross also had a great deal to say about how we live. Much of her perspective was from a “looking back” point-of-view.
The stages, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, are often used to understand the process of many kinds of loss, including death, divorce, loss of a job, or a multitude of life’s hard lessons.
Kubler-Ross also writes that the one thing we can do for a loved one who is dying, is to be there with them as the end nears. “Sit with them-you don’t have to do anything but really be there with them.”
I am beginning to understand the fears of my long-time climbing partner, Tom. He went through a divorce in his 40’s. Upon re-marrying years later, he talked often about not wanting to grow old alone. Tom’s about ten years older than me, and was ahead of me in this process. While I am not in “fear” of much, now I can at least grasp where he was coming from. I am happy that he found a new love in his 50’s.
Mortality is inevitable. My own thoughts around it have little to do with myself, other than making an effort to improve my health so that my wife and child don’t have to deal with it for a long, long time. My thoughts go now toward my parents. Both are alive. One will outlive the other, leaving one in Florida, alone. I don’t like that idea one bit. I am not sure what I can do about it.
Secondly, my thoughts again go not to myself, but to Jay. He is an only child. Even Laura, as a 40-something parent, cannot expect to live forever. Jay will have a long life ahead after we are both gone. My hope is that he will find a lifelong love. It is a rare thing, I think, but possible. It seems to me that the best way to guide him is to help him learn to love freely, openly, to understand the hurt but embrace the power. If he can grow to be relatively fearless about love, he will be relatively fearless about just about anything that really matters. There will always be a light, always hope, and a way ahead.