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Grief knows no age, has no time limit

As I was speaking with the mother of 12-year-old Diara Page at the Albert G. Horton Jr. Memorial Veterans Cemetery for its Memorial Day ceremony, I couldn’t help but think back a few days earlier to an interview I had with Lakeland High School valedictorian Trinity McRae.

In the interview, McRae opened up about the grief she felt after her mother died of cancer when she was just 13.

No one should have to be grieving at such a young age, but realities being what they are it happens, and likely more often than we might know from seeing someone on the surface.

McRae spent a lot of time by herself, not wanting to be friends with anyone, and wearing clothing to match her dark mood.

It took the help of someone who became McRae’s best friend to find light out of darkness.

But how often have we encountered someone who is surly, or upset, and we can’t pin it – from a surface view – to any discernable reason? Then later, we find out that the person had troubles no one could fathom, but also that the person didn’t want to share.

I was thinking of the conversation McRae and I had as I was speaking with Audrey Page, Diara’s mother, following the Memorial Day ceremony.

“When I got to Lakeland, I was kind of closed off, but I carried that from middle school because I was still grieving in my own way,” McRae said.

Diara’s mother spoke about her ex-husband, Diara’s father, who served in the U.S. Navy and had died earlier this year. I could only imagine what Diara was thinking about.

McRae was still grieving over her mother more than two years later, and it’s not as if McRae’s ever stopped thinking about her. She’s honored her with her academic success.

Diara’s grief is likely still fresh, however, and it was palpable in watching them from a distance as she and her mother found where her father is interred.

There’s no statute of limitations on grief, or any kind of memories of trauma. It can be overt or insular – dormant for a time before it storms in when you least expect it.

The grieving doesn’t end, if experience is any guide. But with time and space to allow for grief, gentleness or a friend’s persistence, you don’t have to always think about the loss. You can begin to think about what you gained from that person, instead.

When my father-in-law died more than 10 years ago, I was still in the process of getting to know him, having only spent a handful of occasions around him in the nearly three years I had known my wife, and a year-and-a-half since we had been married.

My grief was coupled with the trauma of watching my father-in-law collapse in front of me and watching others try to save him. Then I had to call my wife and her mother –his wife – to break the news. It later became a comfort to know that he got to see a waterfall, something he got peace from, before he died. But at the time and for a long time after I was in that dark place.

I had vivid nightmares where I would scream myself and my wife awake, and for months I couldn’t close my eyes without all-too-clear images of what happened. Ultimately, I needed therapy, and for a long time I couldn’t bear to look at photos of him, as it would trigger those memories again.

But with that therapy, and with a gentle grace from my wife – who had her own grieving she was doing – we were able to talk to each other about him again, and what we gained from his presence in our lives.

It’s not easy to grieve and to go through loss, no matter the age. But to process those feelings at 12 or 13 years old is nearly unimaginable. As family and friends, we have to be present with them and allow them that space, but also let them know that we are here.

McRae’s now-best friend was persistent, and let her know she was there and would continue to be there.

And yet, as McRae’s teacher told her when she convinced her to talk about her mother in her valedictorian speech, there will be a silent group of people who have gone through something similar, only to have had no one to speak to about their experience – until now.

And while everyone’s grieving is different, it’s also universal.

McRae continues to feel her mother’s presence, and she found a way to honor her, just as Diara will no doubt always feel the presence of her father.

And if she hasn’t already, Diara, in her own time, will find a way to honor him too.