I read a book about ten years ago that shattered my heart. It was about a woman who lost a piece of her memory, and when it came back, she realized her young husband died. I remember shaking as I read the words, and realized what happened in the story. I couldn’t sleep that night, and I remember waking Scott up many times for comfort. I read the rest of the book the next day, and loved it. I have read it a few times since, and I still love the story. Within a day, the news of the character’s death settled down in my mind. I slowly forgot about the book and that feeling of sadness. Life went on, it was a fictional story, after all.
Years before that, I remember seeing the movie Phenomenon. I loved the story about a simple man who one day noticed he had extraordinary powers. It was a sweet movie with a surprising ending: the character died. I cried about it for a couple of days, but in time, I slowly forgot about that feeling of “loss” around the fictional character.
I have never been one to shelter myself from sadness. I have teared up many times over beautiful or tragic stories, but I can honestly say that none of them prepared me for the cancer diagnosis or the sudden loss of my husband.
Furthermore, the fictional books and movies about young widows and widowers do not give me comfort in my many moments of pain. Yes, the characters often find hope and love again, but they are fake people living in a timeless world. I am not.
The other day, I saw a debate on Honest Mom’s Facebook page. She recently saw a movie, and was telling parents the truth about it: the movie had death in it. Of course, a debate ensued. The sides were simple: sheltering vs exposing our kids to sadness in movies. Like so many parents, the ones speaking up, felt strongly about their opinions. I’m not going to lie, the debate struck a nerve, and I’ve been thinking about it since.
Years ago, I would have easily been on the side that said, “Hey, life is sad, let’s get our kids prepared. Death or not, we’ll see that movie!” Scott and I let our kids see shows that had death; animals were never “sleeping” alongside the road. We talked about life and death on a regular basis so our kids understood it existed. It was a silly thought that our kids would somehow be prepared for real loss by letting them feel sad during a movie or knowing that sometimes animals were killed by cars.
Before cancer, we let our kids be exposed to sadness, but we also tried to protect them from certain realities of life. It was important to us that our kids had a happy childhood, without any worries or problems. Now, I understand, that sometimes kids can’t be sheltered from pain. Suffering is a part of life, and while we don’t run to it, we can’t hide from it either.
The truth is, our kids knowing death existed, did nothing to prepare them for the real loss of their dad. The grief they feel on a daily basis, is nothing compared to superficial tears shed over a dead fictional character.
Every once in a while, my tearful child says, “I thought my grief would be over by now! Will it last forever??” I always wonder, why do we think that grief is a short-term feeling? The loss of the person will last for the rest of our lives, so why are these strong, never-ending feelings surprising to us? Life goes on, but so does grief. Grief might look different as the days roll by, however, it will never be absent from our lives again. Scott will be gone forever, and because of that, we will grieve. Forever.
After living the last two years with my kids, I’m grateful to know when a movie might be sad, and sometimes we avoid it. The kids and I like to believe that we have perfected “the public face.” I’ll be the first to admit, I try not to get personal in public, whether it’s in church, a restaurant, or a movie theater. If I think there’s a small chance a tear will roll down my cheek, I will stay away. I might be grieving, but I’ve grown to be comforted by my “public face” even if it’s a show.
At the end of the day, parents need to do what they believe is right for their kids. However, exposing kids to sad movies won’t prepare them for real grief. Just like keeping kids away from pain, won’t protect them from the upsets of life. We all need to do what we think is right for kids, for our own reasons. It’s also important to know that fictional characters are not our loved ones, and the two types of sadness should not be compared. Sheltering and preparing are both ways we comfort ourselves as parents, but in reality, fiction does not prepare us for life.