by Beth Saadati
At 10 p.m. my husband, Komron, said goodnight to our birthday boy.Then it was my turn to finish Josh’s preferred routine. “It’s because he likes to save the best for last,” I said with false conceit.
I stepped onto a stool to reach his top bunk. After a day of no school, extra screen time, nerf wars with friends, Chicago-style pizza, Cook-Out shakes and a Minion-decorated cake, I expected to see a smile as big as the moon. Instead, he was snarling, growling, about to transform into the Hulk.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
Josh climbed down the ladder. A second after I sat on the floor, seventy pounds plopped onto my lap. A couple of minutes passed. With arms crossed and brow knotted, Josh said nothing. Then he yelled. “Why do I have to be so greedy inside?”
Confused, I held my tongue.
“You’re not greedy,” I finally said. “Usually you’re quite content.” The scowl lining his face showed me he wasn’t convinced. “Is it because you had a great day, but you’re not completely happy with it?”
Under his breath he muttered. “Yeah.”
“There’s a greedy part in all of us,” I said. “Here’s what helps me. I try to remember things I’m thankful for rather than focusing on what I may not have. Does that help?”
“Not really.” For a moment his gaze met mine. “There’s a big, empty place inside me. Like something isn’t right.”
At a loss for what to say, I tucked him back into bed, prayed for him, and planted a kiss on his forehead before once again telling him goodnight. Then I crossed the hall to my bedroom, hoping to catch some much-needed zzz’s.
“What’s going on with Josh?” asked Komron. Frustrated by my inability to parent my son through his pain, I recited the conversation and tried to explain.
“Josh is too young to make the connection,” Komron said, “but it’s the grief. It’s about Jenna.”
Of course. Why hadn’t I thought of it? Of the last birthday he had with his oldest sister, when they played Lego Star Wars on the Wii. Of the way she adored and doted over him. Of the way she was always there.
My jaw tightened. Not that hard? The constant replaying, forgiving, and unanswered questions? It's a lifetime of hard. How I hated the lie that had wormed its way into Jenna’s head and blinded her from truth.
Fifteen minutes later Josh descended the ladder with a thud. The familiar footsteps followed, then Josh entered my room.
“I can’t sleep,” he said.
“Would it help if I slept in the extra twin bed?”
He nodded his head. I followed Josh and waited for him to climb up to his top bunk. Standing on tiptoe, I peered through the wooden slats.
“I think I was wrong,” I whispered, “about what might be bothering you.”
“Then what is it?”
“When Jenna died, it left a big hole in our hearts. It’s not your fault. She loved you. A ton. She should have been here today to celebrate.” I paused. “This isn’t how I want it to be for you. It’s not how I want it to be for any of us.”
By the glow of the hall light, my son’s anger dissolved in the dark as a stream of silent tears slid down his cheeks. I stepped up on the stool, wrapped my arms around him, and held him close. In less than ten minutes, he’d fallen asleep.
I pulled the blanket up over his shoulders then snuggled under the twin bed quilt. If only Jenna had realized how much hurt her choice would cause—if only she could have known—she’d still be here, I thought as I shut my eyes.
It’s said there are no tears in heaven. But, if Jenna had peeked through a porthole and seen the still-bleeding wound, I wouldn’t be surprised if some might have fallen that night.