A young widowed father opening up about living with loss
“Life can be really tough for the living.” – Mary Beth, The Book of Life
It was Halloween yesterday and as I tucked Jackson up in bed late last night I realised that, of the two of us, I was the one that had spent the day scared. In fact these days I spend a lot of my life in fear. I make preemptive decisions about how my little boy is going to respond to new situations and my own angst and insecurity can limit the experiences I’ll expose him to. I conclude that he won’t sit through a film at the cinema, or that he’ll put himself in the corner at a party where he doesn’t know any other kids, or even that he’ll get too nervous to go trick or treating with them afterwards. For one person who never really used to concern himself with self-limitating behaviour, I do a pretty good job of it for two these days.
I suppose, then, I picked a pretty apt day to face my fears. Halloween 2014 – a date I was dreading because it was one that Desreen loved so much – will go down as the day I took Jackson to the pictures for the first time, and I could never have imagined that I would be quite so engaged in the film.
I innocently selected the only kids flick that was showing but it turned out that The Book of Life was in fact about death. Just minutes in and we were watching a little boy standing beside his mother’s grave in Mexico and placing offerings to mark El Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). I immediately thought, Why does every fucking animated movie I watch with my son feature the death of a mother? But it was beautiful, lively, stimulating, funny, touching and refreshingly frank. And Jackson was too. ‘Oh God, more boring things!’ he shouted at the top of his voice in front of the other families in the room as yet another ad hit the big screen. I was petrified that he’d want to leave the theatre almost as soon as we arrived, but instead, as he always does, he simply reflected himself rather than my insecurities. He ate popcorn, took the storyline in his stride and had a great time.
Next up we went to a party that we’d been invited to by a neighbour we didn’t know just as we’d been leaving the house to head to the cinema. My anxiety was sky-high as Jackson said he wanted to go home before he’d even made it up the driveway of the house directly opposite from ours. We’d been seen already, though, and so there was no escape without looking crazy. I have to remind myself over and over that my son takes at least an hour to warm up and that it’s my job to make him feel comfortable and confident in any new environment. This time it took less; within half an hour he’d befriended a cat, Darth Vader and a couple of zombies, and within two hours, as I made feeble excuses for us to opt out of trick or treating, he absolutely insisted that we did.
What a brave little boy, I thought as he ran from door to door collecting sweets and chocolate. He’d spent the whole day doing things he’d never done before with people he’d never met and yet all I’d done was think about how scared I was of how he’d react.
Life can be tough for the living, though, and loss can make us insecure. What I learned yesterday is that sometimes I create my son’s insecurities in my own head as a way to avoid facing my own.
There were a lot of scary masks out in the streets last night and perhaps seeing them made me realise that I might need to try harder to remove mine. How frightening it is to think that we might both be missing out on the lighter side of life while we skulk in Death’s dark shadow.