I did the best I could to prepare him.
Black pants ironed and hung carefully in the closet next to black heavy-metal band t-shirts and jeans.
Crisp white dress shirt ready to be buttoned up and adorned with a tie.
The lucky tie he always wore for Mock Trial competitions.
As ready as a seventeen year-old can be to say goodbye.
When he was little, a small bird crashed into our playroom window and fell silent on the sidewalk. Teaching him about death and the circle of life was easier when it related to nature.
Flies are caught in webs for spiders to eat; dinosaurs no longer exist because they all died off; the raccoon ran into the street without looking and was hit by a car.
Then death hit closer to our hearts.
The family cat; the huge chocolate lab we bought for him on his third birthday.
The loss of a grandparent when he was 8; the tragic death of one of his heroes in Afghanistan when he was almost 10.
Losses not as easily explained as the fly in the web.
Watching my child process the feelings and reality of death is a heart-wrenching experience unlike anything else I’ve experienced as a parent.
But these losses we processed as a family. We came together with common grief and memories, pulling each other close and weathering the ebb and flow of emotion together.
This death is different.
One of his favorite teachers died suddenly last week at the age of 61.
He was witty and sarcastic; incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking. He was a mentor, a teacher, an advisor for my son’s Mock Trial team. The students flocked to him for his quotes and comments, and for his ability to push them all just a bit beyond what they felt capable of thinking or learning.
And although we met this man briefly several years ago, I have no memories or amusing stories to share about him. I have no place in attending the memorial service.
He occupied a space of my son’s life that I do not share.
He needs to grieve this on his own, with his friends.
How do you really know if you have prepared your children with the proper tools they need to grieve? To let go? To know that everyone they meet and feel close to at one point will die, possibly leaving them behind?
I feel an empty space in my heart as I watch him straighten his tie and put on his blazer.
Empty because carrying this grief is something I cannot do for him.
Like teaching him to tie his shoes or do his own laundry, I have taught him to grieve as best I can.
Now it’s up to him.
As he stands before me I see a young man, not the small boy mourning a fallen bird in the backyard. A young man who can handle the emotions and sadness at the memorial service without curling up next to his mother and asking why.
And I did the best I could to prepare him.