I stood with Henry.

I sat up straight and smiled at the dermatologist walking in the room. She smiled back, sat down, and explained my diagnosis.

“Julie, you have a hair loss condition called Telogen Effluvium. Your body went into shock immediately after the loss of your nephew and almost losing your sister. Three months ago, those two events were enough to shut your body down momentarily. Your fingernails stopped growing too. Your body seems to have corrected the shock. I see where your fingernails grew again. Your hair will do the same but because hair grows in a cycle, it will take about a year or maybe longer for your hair to grow back. It’s a rare condition but a temporary one. I’m so sorry for the loss of your nephew.”

The divots in my fingernails are almost grown out now. My hair loss slowed down and I have new hairs sprouting around my scalp. I don’t cry when I wring my hair in the shower anymore. Yet, I still avoid brushing it or pulling it back in a ponytail because it is much thinner than it used to be.

I stood six feet from my nephew today.

I knew Henry wouldn’t hear my voice. He wouldn’t feel my feet above him. Or smell the lotion I put on this morning. I stood anyway. I stood six feet from my nephew for the first time since I held his sweet face 200 days ago.

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Just Henry and me, under a giant tree.

He slept and my chest felt heavy.

I looked around. I was surrounded by babies. Quiet, sleeping babies. I saw a bundle of yellow flowers against the fence, next to the giant tree with branches over my head. I walked over. I didn’t see any headstones. The flowers must have blown with the leaves and stopped at the fence. I picked up the flowers and placed them on Henry’s headstone.

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I whispered the only words in my head.

“There you go, Henry. Aunt Jules will hook you up.”

I got in my car. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. I didn’t want to wake the sleeping babies.

I started my car and drove towards the entrance. I got lost. I drove past Henry and his yellow flowers three times – and one time in reverse – before I figured out how to get out. And when I finally made the right turn out of the cemetery, the heaviness on my chest lifted. It shocked me. The weight on my chest was real.

My shoulders lifted too. I didn’t know my shoulders had bricks on them. The air filled my lungs. I didn’t know my lungs needed the air. My body lifted up.

My hair tingled.

I stood with Henry.

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I had another blog post for today.

I had another blog post for today.

I can’t post it because I’m not in the mood to laugh with others. It would be a fake laugh. I started a blog post last night. It was about Scott quitting the school PTA.

That’s when Scott got the call.

Scott: WHAT!

I stopped typing. My stomach dropped. Something bad happened. I could hear the shock and sadness in Scott’s voice. I stared at Scott. Scott caught the questions in my eyes.

Scott: Chris Mentzel passed away suddenly. Maybe heart attack.

Me: WHAT!

Scott hung up the phone.

Me: What? We just hung out with him. No, he didn’t.

Scott: That’s all Matt said. Oh wow. I just want to text Chris…ask if this…if this is for real.

Me: We just saw him at happy hour last week. He sat across from us. I can still hear his voice. There’s no way. He was here. Here. In front of me. I can touch him.

Scott: This doesn’t make any sense.

Me: He was so fit! He played hockey. No, this isn’t right. What is he, like, 32 or something?

Scott: But there’s nothing on his Facebook.

Me: I’m looking too. His Facebook looks normal? There’s no way.

We scrolled through his pictures. Hockey photos. Weddings with suits and beer. Happy hours. Work events. The pictures showed Chris talking and laughing. He smiled for selfies. His laugh pierced the air. His voice deep.

It hit us.

Scott teared up. We were flipping through photos of a complete life. 

Me: I don’t understand…

Scott: I texted him a few days ago. He was fine. I don’t get it. 

Me: Chris joked with Hunter about Emma’s height when we bowled with him. He said she’s going to be taller than him. And Kate wouldn’t say hi to him so he just laughed and waved. He was just here in front of us.

I shut my eyes. I put myself back in the bowling alley. There he was.

Me: I stood up and hugged him goodbye. He left the bowling alley before we did, remember?

I hugged Chris Mentzel goodbye.

He left before we did.

But then there’s Kate.

Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.

The five stages of grief. The experts say they can come in any order. They can last years or a few moments. Our dog, Bailey, has been gone for a week now. It hasn’t been easy for our family to move on.

But then there’s Kate – high tailing it straight to acceptance because she’s a mini serial killer with no emotions.

I’m exaggerating about the serial killer part.

Probably.

She does care. I know this because she has no desire to hunt with Scott and Emma. She doesn’t like seeing animals die. But once you’re dead – well, Kate…she…

she asked me for a cat before we even left the vet hospital parking lot, like, two minutes after Bailey’s final heartbeat.

Me: Did you just ask for a cat?

Kate: Can I? I really want a kitty.

Me: (in tears) Aren’t you sad about Bailey?

Kate: Bailey is gone. Can we get a cat?

Denial. Kate was in denial. She wanted a cat. She couldn’t comprehend Bailey’s death. Her tears would come. The pain is immense and it’s just her way of dealing with it.

I’m not a psychologist. But it sounded good in my head.

Scott’s mom called as soon as we arrived home without Bailey.

Kate: Did you tell Nana Bailey is dead?

Scott: KATE.

Kate: What. Why is Emma crying?

Me: She is sad, Kate. Bailey won’t be coming home.

Kate: Don’t smile, Emma! Don’t you smile at me! Ha!

Scott and I will still catch ourselves using the plural form of dog. Did you let the dogs out? Did you feed the dogs? 

Kate: Uh, only one dog now. Stop saying dogs.

It is true – we only have one dog. And Belle wouldn’t eat for days. She also needed one of us to walk her to the grass because her partner in poop was gone. The vet told me Belle needed a lot of attention. Dogs grieve too. Kate overheard my phone conversation.

Kate: Oh Belle Belle! You’re so cute! Yes, you are! You’re so cute and so alive! You’re alive, Belle! Give me some kisses!

Leaving the house is different. Our routines are broken. I spoke to a black jacket on the floor before I took Kate to school. Come on, Bay!

Kate: Ha! It’s a jacket! Mommy, you called the jacket Bailey. That was crazy. She’s dead.

Dumping the vacuum cleaner out makes me tear up. Her fur is still there.

Me: Scott, guess which room had the most Bailey fur? Kate’s!

Kate: Dead hairs!

Scott: KATE. You need to be nice. Bailey was my friend. We will never see her again. Stop talking like this.

Kate: But she’s not here.

Scott: She was still my friend. I lost one of my best friends forever.

Kate: (gives Scott a hug. Looks at me from the corner of her eye. Snaps at me.) I’m going to my room now.

Me: Wait. Kate, are you sad Bailey isn’t here? It’s ok to feel sad.

Kate: (pauses) Yes.

Scott: Are you?

Kate: Ugh, just stop talking about it. (Runs to her room)

I had to buy Belle more food at PetSmart. I knew it would be difficult walking out with just one small bag of dog food. I brought Kate with me on purpose. She would be my rock.

Kate: Let’s go look at the fish!

Me: Ok.

Kate: I wish I was a fish.

Me: No, you don’t. You would di…uhhhh. Hey, let’s go look at the cats now.

Kate: Yay!

Me: Should we get a cat?

Kate: Yeah, let’s get one. I like the orange one.

Me: I do too. Oh no. A black friday special. Already declawed with shots and ready to go for $50 bucks! And he’s a year old and loves to cuddle! Damnit. Kate, I can’t. Daddy will be upset. We need to wait a little bit before we get another pet. Daddy misses Bailey too much right now. A cat won’t help him.

Kate: Why did Bailey die?

Me: She had a thing called a brain tumor. She wouldn’t have remembered us if we brought her home. She was a different Bailey when we brought her to the hospital. She was dying. The vet can make her go to sleep. She didn’t feel pain when she died.

Kate: Oh. Bailey probably remembers us now. Heaven is where you remember people.

Me: Yeah. She knows who you and Emma are. Ok, let’s get a toy for Belle and get her food and go. Maybe we’ll get a cat another day.

I walked out of PetSmart with Kate.

Ok, she gets it. Her way of dealing with grief is different than most of us. She has accepted. She has tougher skin, that’s all. I can’t wait to tell Scott she’s not a serial killer.

Kate: We will get to see Bailey when we’re dead too.

 

How do you deal with death? Have you ever had to tell a child about death? How did they handle it? Do you have a pet that is running around with Bailey? 

 

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