Denial is a strong barrier to the truth. It happens in grief and in life. Scott was so happy when he bought a new toy, it was something he had been waiting for, and he knew his mother would love it. He wanted to show her right now. They could play with it on their visit.
I reminded him she was gone. “Gone? Gone where?”
“Remember we had the funeral service? Poppy asked if you wanted to go to the gravesite service for her?”
“Oh, yes. But can I bring this to her? She can still see it from heaven, right? I can talk to her”
“Yes, buddy, we can, she can, and we will go now.”
Driving, he looks at the houses. We talked about the homes we saw at Christmas. I remember him saying, “no one really knows what is going on in someone’s house when it is closed up.”
“No, we really don’t unless someone shares what is going on with us.”
” Have you ever been hungry?” he asks.
“Yes, I have.”
“No, I mean so hungry your stomach hurts, and you feel sick?”
“No, I can’t say I have.”
“I have, he continues, “when I was little in kindergarten or first grade. Remember that little house when we were not next to you? I was hungry in that house.”
“In that house, my mom would have people over; it was so scary to me. I would sleep with a knife. Well, not a real knife but a wooden one. I know it would not hurt anyone, but I thought it would protect me from them—the people she had in the house. One guy had a gun. The lights from their cars would come into my room and keep me up all night. I was scared. My mom would lock me in the room to keep me safe, but I never felt safe. I felt afraid. I wanted you and my dad, but I couldn’t call you.”
“Do you know I was so hungry in that house? I was sick from being hungry and could not eat. My mom would wake me up in the middle of the night to make me eat, but I was tired and would fall asleep. She would get mad and make me eat, but it was only things like mac n cheese or crackers. I did have milk, and that was good. But I was tired, so I did not eat. She said I could not tell anyone, but now I guess I can.”
” I never knew. I thought that was going on because you were so hungry and shaking when you came to my house. You would cry in your sleep. But I never really knew.”
We get to the cemetery and drive to her gravesite. No stone yet, just the spot. He begins to cry and realizes she is gone. He can’t get out of the car. He sobs and begins to talk again while playing with the toy.
“You know, I thought they were pranking me until we were at the service. Even at the service, I thought they were pranking me, and she would come in and say, ‘surprise! I’m not dead,’ but she did not do that? She was really gone.” He continues to fidget with his toy.
I ask: “Do you want to get out?”
“No. How did she die?” he asks. ” I am not sure because the police are still looking into it.”
I had a bad dream because someone said she was shot in the head. Was she shot in the head? Like POW! and you know- her head is shot off and all bloody?” is that why she was not at her service?”
Holding back tears, I reply: ” I can tell you she was not shot.”
“Can I tell you something?” he looks at me, nodding, “I looked her up online and saw what they said in the news about her, but I still did not believe it or understand it. The paper said she was in the yard; why would she be in the yard? I thought maybe it was because she fell and got an infection. You know how she falls sometimes and is not strong. So, I thought she fell and could not get up, and the infection got her, and it killed her. So she was in the yard, and they just found her body.”
“Bud, she did not fall or get an infection. I actually do not know why she was put in the backyard. I only know that is where the police found her.”
“You know, I thought it had to be Roger because he was the only one not at the service. And the paper said she was on his street when they found her body.” I thought he was our friend?”
“I did too, and I don’t know what was going on or why he did it.”
He continues to say: ” I know it was not drugs because she would take me in her car to get drugs when I was little. I would be so scared in that car. She would go into the house with her purses and leave me in the car. She said I could not go in. I hated sitting in the car. It seemed like forever.”
“Before dad got you full time? when you were five or six?” I asked.
“Yes, so I thought it was not drugs, it was not an infection, and now you say it was not a gunshot. So I am not sure what happened to her.” He stops to think and looks up. “Do you know?”
“No, we don’t know anything yet.” I wait as he sits, crying silently.
“I think I am ready now.” He opens the door and begins to walk to her gravesite. He falls against the back of the car, sobbing. I rush to him and sit with him for a minute. I take the toy and help him up. We walk back to the car. I put him in the front seat and buckled him up. He is limp in the front seat of the vehicle.
“She really is not coming back, is she?”
“Will you take this and show her?”
I take his toy and walk to where her ashes lay to rest. I begin crying and holding the toy. I sat for a short time, which seemed forever. Getting up slowly, I walk back to the car and realize. We are both in shock, denial, and unbelief with the recently witnessed and endured events.
This was only the beginning, and already so much has been revealed.
My thoughts are, “how much more happened to this child that we never knew.”
I have worked with so many children who have experienced traumatic grief. Things they have endured, held secret, something that most of us can’t imagine.
As one little boy said one Christmas not too long ago: ” we really do not know what goes on behind closed doors.” However, if we are open to listening, available to see, and given a hand to accept, we might be a little closer to knowing what goes on behind closed doors.