Remembering What Is Lost: A Parent Recognizes the Impact Physical Distancing Has On Her Child

Hillary Montouri, HFP alumni parent

I have recently had this feeling, that people I love are moving on without me. While there is absolutely a tally of parties and dates missed running in my mind, helpful or not, this feeling is larger and more abstract in nature; it is a sense of shared moments lost and connectivity breaking down.

Of course, I understand how physical distancing has created this feeling in me, and I imagine, in others. Although this feeling has some unique qualities, I feel lucky to be able to draw on coping strategies I developed in other times of isolation and social reorganization. I know how to lean in closer to my deep friendship. My brain and my heart remember that with hibernation comes spring and that spring is so beloved not in spite of, but because it is change at its most rich and tangible.

And then I remember that my children don’t have this wisdom of experience. We are the sleepy mama bears leading our cubs into those dens on their first full winter. They don’t remember spring, they just know to follow us.

Today I was playfully asking my 6 year old what he likes to do most with my mother, his grandmother. I suggested we write down his thoughts and create some watercolor art for her. Standing on the firm ground of adult memory, I assumed that my child would name one or two of the thousand things my mom has done with him over the last 6 years. Before we decided to stay physically distant from her 6 weeks ago, she would visit and play with my children twice a week.

My question literally brought my sweet child to his knees. He agonized over this question for a couple of minutes and then assumed a fetal position. He wouldn’t do the project, he couldn’t. I sat confused for longer than I wanted until it finally hit; he didn’t remember. My simple question unveiled a painful truth; he could not recall any specific enjoyable activity with one of the people he holds the closest. His relationship with his grandmother at this point in his life is ruled by physical contact and the reliability of her presence. Both important elements of their relationship have been indefinitely postponed. This archiving of his time spent with his grandmother is a great loss, of course. He doesn’t know when or even how their relationship will again have the effervescent, intimate quality that comes with being together in the same space.

After exploring his feelings and then validating his loss, there was little left for me to do. A facetime call or a long letter would be my coping strategy, but those stand-ins for togetherness are only powerful for me because I know spring and I know my own strength. That facetime call works because I know: many of my relationships will survive and some will not, I can lose someone I love without losing myself, and one day (perhaps in the distant future) I will likely hug my mom again.

To his credit, my little love, full of angst and fear, decided he did remember his grandmother’s favorite color and that she loves flowers. And so, we painted and painted. We remembered her favorite colors and we noted how she might like the wild designs of our flowers. We remembered her in the best way we could. We started to paint spring.

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