From what I understand of grief (which is not all that much), there is no ignoring it. One way or another, where the human psyche is concerned, it will have its way. It takes a long time for the grieving heart to fully work through its emotions, and it is best if it happens a little at a time, in measurable, manageable doses rather than as a full throttle explosion after being suppressed for too long. There are as many and varied ways of processing grief as there are individuals who grieve. We are all different, and we all have our own ways of trying to make sense of the senseless. I don't know if I have ever had that truth made as clear to me as it was today.
It happened when we were sitting down to open Christmas presents. We had gathered around our fireplace that isn't a working fireplace yet due to the construction/repair our house has been undergoing the last few months. To make it seem more like a fireplace, and to give the illusion of a real tree (which we prefer but don't have this year) I had placed a votive candle holder in the fireplace and lit the pine-scented candles it held. As is our custom, we told the youngest, Evan, that he could start the present opening. But instead of heading for the tree to pick out a gift, he started to cry.
"Mommy! Mommy! My duplicate is dead!"
(For those who may not know, the word "duplicate" when used in this way comes from the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip and refers to imaginary, often multiple, copies of Calvin who assist him in a variety of ways--for example, taking the blame for bad behavior, or doing homework so that Calvin doesn't have to. Evan has embraced the concept of the duplicate and over the past year we have had our share of Evan duplicates running around the house.)
Back to the story. "What?" I asked. "What do you mean, your duplicate is dead?"
"He died! I buried him, right there in the fireplace." Evan's extended arm and pointing finger directed our attention to the place where his duplicate was purportedly buried, and we saw something we had not noticed before: Evan had picked up one of the used matches and written in front of the candles on the fireplace floor, in black ash, his name: "Evan."
The crying continued. It was not faked, but real. Horribly real. Evan was distraught.
"But Evan, duplicates are imaginary. They can't die. They're not real." This was my genius insight, which didn't help. The crying continued, and Evan continued:
"And now that he's dead he can't get me any presents!"
It was at this point that Dad stepped in.
"Evan, come here." Evan obeyed and was pulled on to his dad's lap.
Dad continued. "How did your duplicate die, Evan?"
"He fell down and hit his head very, very hard."
"I'm so sorry about that. That is very terrible. But you know what? Your duplicate will always be with you. He'll always be in your heart. You'll never forget him. Okay?"
"Okay." A few more sniffles and hugs all around, and all was well enough that the gift-opening could commence. Of course, now Evan's (and his duplicate's) mom was a basket case. Because as all this was going on, and as my husband was handling it in the right way, it dawned on me that Evan at seven years old is no different from any of us, whatever our age. When a special day comes, whether it's a holiday or a birthday or a graduation or a wedding, we look around and expect that certain people are going to be there (or if not there, within calling distance). When they aren't, we are reminded anew of the loss that we have experienced and the depth of the grief it has caused. They can't be with us anymore. We won't ever again, in this life, see their faces, hear their voices, or feel their arms around us or our hands in theirs. They won't ever be able to buy us another present. And oh, how that hurts.
Evan has attended four funerals in the last year-and-a-half, for two of his grandparents, his preschool teacher, and a beloved family friend who was once our pastor. With each of those deaths, I think a little part of Evan died, too, as it does in all of us when someone we love departs this life. Perhaps what we saw today was Evan's trying to come to terms with that loss and grief by "burying" a little part of himself. So rest in peace, Duplicate Evan. You served my little boy well. You gave your heart without reservation to those you loved, and I trust that with God's help the rest of the Evans will carry on in your stead, in turn giving their hearts to many who will be blessed by their prodigal love.