ask you, is there any creature more gleeful than a child ripping open a birthday package that he suspects contains cold, hard cash and candy?

I’ve never seen it if there is. I love watching him. It is magnificent, an unguarded display of absolute glee in abundance that makes me incredibly happy.

Also as his parent, horrified. Because wow. That is some conspicuous consumption goin’ on there.

But mostly incredibly happy.

And, incredibly stupid, for ever thinking we had to expend any brain power whatsoever to find the perfect present for 12 or any other child. An amazing gift, one that would clearly demonstrate our eternal and abiding love, hitting the perfect balance of being fabulously stimulating and entertaining, yet guaranteed to actualize their unique potential right before our very eyes.

All we needed was a pack of Skittles and a $20.

We’ve been in the big surf lately. The grief comes in sets now, much like the huge waves that barreled in out of nowhere while I swam in the SoCal Pacific when I was about his age. Occasionally a big set arrived, much bigger by far than the waves we’d been lulling in. I was always surprised. But it’s how the ocean works.

In actuality, these waves were not big enough to be dangerous. These were waves that any seasoned surfer would look at and think, “Finally!”.

But to me, being the exact opposite of a seasoned surfer, they were thick, steep, fast-moving bitch slaps of doom. The first one would announce itself in the distance if you were watching and believing, one of which I was, and one of which I wasn’t. And they always came in two’s and three’s. The first would thump me under and in the thrash all I could think about was the next one, which was going to be cresting just as I popped up sputtering.

There was never enough time to swim close enough to dive through, which I was suddenly and enthusiastically willing to do. And the drag into the swell was so strong it made the other option, that of getting the hell out of the water, impossible.

The remedy was probably just to accept that it was part of the deal of a gorgeous day at the beach. We always went home in one piece, right? So no big deal. Be cool. I wanted to see myself as the kind of person who swam hard for the first wave, pushing to get the rush of diving through. I wanted to be the kind of person that got excited by the sound of a big wave crashing behind me. But — and I say this with no small measure of compassion for myself — when those big sets swept in, I was completely and constitutionally incapable of being cool.

In fact, I was so totally uncool with it, so undone by it, that with consistent regularity, I froze.

I was a kid who dropped out of ballet at five because fluttering like a butterfly around the room was too demanding physically. What I was doing spending my summers in the actual ocean of all places, I have no idea. But there I was, as often as possible.

Years ahead of mindfulness anything, before I ever heard about the option of staying in the moment I was in, I did start to notice that not freaking out after getting pounded by that first wave was a viable option. The more I fought for the surface, the more I thought about that bastard next wave lying in wait for my dweeby sissy self, the more terrifying it became down there. Once in a while, I’d surface after wave #1, mentally shrug, take as deep a breath as I could at the very last second before Getting Munched, Round Two, and I would find within myself just the smallest willingness to just allow the waves to be exactly as they were. I could give my consent, however briefly, for the water to be — and here I apologize because there really isn’t any word more perfect — gnarly.

And then, it was over. I’d stagger out of the water, my sinuses burning from all the saltwater I’d inhaled, my muscles aching all over, my lady bits evidently in new relationships with a wide variety of local seaweed and sand, and occasionally my foot or leg or arm bleeding from a stray rock hurled at me in the watery mosh-pit I’d just traversed. But the relief was amazing.

Yeah. That was a lot fucking easier than this.

12 had been really, really sick for a week with a cold that daily burrowed deeper into his chest. No one was saying it out loud, but it mimicked in a melancholic way the pneumonia that filled his father’s lungs with an ocean of wheezing sadness in his last days. We all knew which memory was rising by the scent of the terror in the house, wafting and moving through each room as if someone had left a burner on.

Sick on his birthday. Not good.

But it was. The energy of all the feelings he couldn’t completely flesh out during his father’s long dying, was pushing for the surface finally, struggling for air.

On the day 11 turned 12, I became a strange sort of midwife to my own child’s grief. Grief’s Midwife, now part of my job description.

For all of us, grief waits in the body until we are ready for it. I often wonder if people who seek a session with an Intuitive about their health know that we aren’t so much reading the body exclusively as we are touring their individual stories of heartbreak and trauma that are roosting there.

Grief surfacing in the lungs is always a good sign. A pattern is coming to an end. It offers us a chance to make the changes that loss brings productive. Contagious illness is our ally here: it will knock us on our asses for however long it takes to clear out old thinking, the old energy of emotion held tight in our cells. Whenever I hear a client say, “I haven’t been sick like that in years,” or, exaggeratingly, “I thought I was gonna die I was so sick,” in relation to respiratory illnesses like bronchitis, flu, or pneumonia, I always know to look within the last 6–12 months of their lives for the source. There we’ll find the profound shift in their identity. A loss that changed how they saw their future unfolding. Something that has been finally let go, surrendered, forgiven. Or if not that, then at least accepted.

Deeper, more complicated parts of the traumas we experience can go into hiding in other parts of the body for years. But 12’s simulation of my husband’s pneumonia was a sign that he was actively releasing, so I lent my voice to the active birth of its relief.

set up a perimeter. A space: our home. Slow time: as long as you need, as often as you need. In this space and time we are allowed to share the darkest, scariest thoughts and feelings. They, along with your tears, are welcome here. Was he missing Daddy more when he thought about his not being here on his birthday? I think he wondered what I meant. You mean more than I already do, which is every day? Was his throat sore because there was something he was afraid to say out loud? He talked about how flat his father’s affect became as he descended deeper and deeper into his illness. When they sat together as they did on the couch or in the garden, they would talk, or just were quiet together. My husband trying to say the words that would fill 12 up with the love of a lifetime. Encouragement, praise, everything a father wants his son to know about how special he is.

Except 12 didn’t hear the words. He felt the feelings. His father’s desperate sadness, his feelings of having failed his family, his terror and surprise at having run out of time.

And now 12 was saying that he was scared his life wasn’t going to make a difference. That maybe it would have been better if he’d never been born.

Wait a second. What?? Fighting down panic, I stayed in the deep water with him and asked him to tell me more. What 12 was trying to articulate was the mechanism of empathy. He’d viscerally perceived and held the feelings his father couldn’t release through tears or words. In the silence between them, he’d absorbed some of his father’s devastating sadness at having to die, to go, to lose the chance of tending to whatever was broken, unfinished. Underway.

His father’s anguish at wondering if he’d made enough of a difference to let go.

He also talked about how scary it was to get sick, how it felt like he himself could die. Cue the reality check that you can actually feel sicker than you’ve ever felt and survive, that what happened to Daddy was very rare. But I get scared a lot that you are going to die, too.

This has been a thing for a while. My impending demise, horrifyingly imagined in a series of gruesome scenarios. I am supposed to be the ballast to this storm, calming and steadying him when it gets rocky like this. Reminding him that his fears are very normal, that all kids who have lost a parent feel scared they’ll lose both. That it’s completely part of the process. It’s hard for him to see that he won’t always feel that way, or that even though nobody might ever be able to know for sure, my spidey senses point toward my not going anywhere anytime soon.

And I am an Intuitive, so my reassurances mean something.

Except for one thing. Right about the same time 12’s fears about me dying were reaching a crescendo, he, along with many of us, was also tanking with anxiety regarding a certain hateful demagogue’s candidacy for the highest office in the land, who, in a campaign fueled by unusually disgusting rhetoric and fear-mongering, was winning enough primaries to actually give him a shot at winning his party’s nomination.

Which in my previous efforts to calm him, I may or may not have repeatedly told him would never happen. Not to worry.

If there is an award for Intuitive Mother of the Year, I think I may be a finalist.

In an attempt to repair my credibility, I talked a lot. And listened some. But mostly got stuck explaining, probably too much, about how intuition works. It may or may not have helped.

But the day 11 became 12, I finally knew what to say. How to truly teach him how we tell intuitively, one thing from another. How we walk the dividing line between the seen and the unseen. How we would go forward, remembering to live from the heart. Holding his still-smaller, Skittle-stained fingers, I looked deep into his eyes and said,

“I saw a gnarly wave coming, Honey. And I froze”.

Photo by Aidan Rios, who isn’t afraid of the big waves at all.
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