The other morning, my kid woke up with an idea in his mind. Literally, the first words out of his mouth, still prone and pyjama-clad, were: “I’m going to make an Inukshuk. Where’s the LEGO?”
As someone who enters the day like a hard drive in need of defragmentation, files all scattered and hard to access, unable to start processing until half an hour after the coffee kicks in, I find this joyful anticipation perplexing, admirable, and hard to match.
Resilient little maker, I thought, bleary-proud, drinking my coffee.
He got out the old Duplo blocks, and the box of LEGO. We looked at a few photos of inuksuit online, for inspiration, but mostly I was blessedly able to leave him to how own devices, and do my morning defrag. I even had enough brainspace to post proof of our creative little home to Instagram, and he segued seamlessly from Project Inukshuk onto building an elaborate castle spaceship with secret tunnels and solar panels.
An hour later, cracks in the boy’s resilience-armour were showing. He wanted to watch some TV. I had indicated in the morning that if we did some creative-maker things, then he could chill out with a show. Dad wanted to encourage him outside for some fresh air and was using the promise of a TV show as leverage. Seven-year-old lost his temper and threw his LEGO creation down on the ground, hard. Our floor is concrete. The smash was effective. LEGO pieces went flying everywhere. Across three rooms.
I suspect he felt a tiny rage-flare of satisfaction, a little adrenaline hit maybe, from the release of that frustration. I could understand that he felt thwarted by two parents who weren’t on the same page and were basically making the rules up as we went along. “You’re going to need to clean all that up, but would you like to spend some time in your room first, calming down?”
And then, he started crying. Melted-puddle, dropped-my-icecream-on-the-ground-and-didn’t-even-get-a-proper-lick, break-your-heart kind of crying.
“I want it back the way it was,” he cried. “I want it back the way it was.” Over and over.
And suddenly I was crying too, because it felt to me like it was the story of the whole world right now.
I want it back the way it was, too.
Things weren’t perfect.
But our lives were of our own making, our creations, the things we built for ourselves, and others, with all our attention and devotion and energy and love. Our businesses. Our social calendar. Our plans. Everything.
All in pieces.
“We can build it again,” I said, trying to help shift him from his repetitive grief-chant back to that joyful anticipation or emotional stability or creative resilience that I had spent the morning admiring.
“I can’t remember how I did it,” he moaned.
Sitting on the ground with him on my lap, I felt the great weight of starting over, starting from scratch, and even though I knew it was possible, I knew we had everything we need to do it, I knew we could probably take what we’ve learned and build something even better, blending memory and experience and imagination, I could feel his fatigue at this idea, his grief, and it felt like such a pure mirror of what we’re all feeling.
Simply, the loss.
I don’t want to start over. I don’t want it to be in pieces. I want to keep enjoying the momentum of what I created.
And that is simply sit-on-the-floor-Hard. Sit-on-the-floor-hopefully-with-someone-you-love-in-your-lap-and-cry-Hard.
So we sat and we cried.
And then, we made ourselves a snack. Nutella on toast. Because needs-must.
And then, we rallied.
And the afternoon was lovely.
And it felt good, to have felt that, and let it pass through me, and to realize it kept moving. The loss remains. But, the possibility in the pieces remains too.
We haven’t started rebuilding yet. We cleared the pieces away and moved onto something else. We’ve got time. We don’t have to rush to bright-side it, or rebuild it. We can take the time to honour the loss. We can acknowledge that a room full of LEGO pieces is a fucking minefield, and warrants treading really carefully.
In her new podcast series, Unlocking Us, Brene Brown spoke with grief expert, David Kessler, who worked for decades with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and recently wrote a book called Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.
“We are all dealing with the collective loss of the world we knew,” said Kessler. “The world we have all been accustomed to is now gone. And this feeling is grief. Grief is the death of something – of someone, a relationship, a job loss. This is a collective loss of the world we all lived in before the pandemic, and like every other loss, we didn’t know what we had until it was gone. So here we are. Trying to find ways to virtually hold each other’s hands. We have to feel these feelings.”
Kessler names just a few of the losses: the loss of physical connection, the loss of routine, the loss of work, the loss of physical touch, the loss of gathering for meals. And offers permission to name it, even with this charged scary word that we’d rather barge past and body-slam to the kerb. “We have to name this for what it is. If we don’t name it, we can’t feel it. We don’t have to compare losses. The worst loss is always your loss. Kids are complaining about missing school or their friends, and we have to remember that school is maybe their worse loss they’ve ever [experienced]. And as a bereaved parent, I’m telling you, this is some hideous losses we’re in right now, and you can name them, they’re valid and legitimate.”
In an interview in the Harvard Business Review, Kessler expanded on this idea and the power of naming this as grief: “It helps us feel what’s inside of us. When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. Your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a ‘gang of feelings’ that will overrun me. The truth is a feeling that moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us. It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.”
And on the other side, may I suggest chocolate hazelnut spread.