One night within just a few days of his father’s death, my son – in his rage and confusion – took a Lego spaceship that he had carefully crafted and began smashing it. Originally created from one of those Lego Star Wars kits with a 17-page instruction manual, the spaceship had seemingly taken days to complete. He then further modified it to suit his imagination, investing his time, creativity and heart. In the throes of anger, he hurled the entire ship against the hardwood floor, grabbed chunks and threw again, thoroughly dismantling any remaining clusters of bricks. Seven hundred pieces went flying all over the floor, and he shouted at me through his tears “Mommy you have to FIX IT!”
Lego Therapy Lesson #1: There are times when it’s ok to smash things into little pieces. (In fact, it can be cathartic.)
The shrapnel from the Lego spaceship bore an alarming similarity to the state of our lives, sharp, little pieces rendering each step dangerous and painful. A daunting task to put the fragments together again. No obvious beginning point or organizing principle. Chaotic. Loud. Shattered.
He sat at the edge of the sofa, watching me defiantly, tears brimming in his eyes.
One of the challenges as a grieving parent is to recognize my needs and my sons’ needs, which are not only distinct from each other, but also different from my own. My initial desire had been to stop him, to preserve the work of his diligence and imagination, but at that moment what he needed most was a safe place for his mad. I went through my mental checklist: He wasn’t hurting himself, his brother or me, and the spaceship could be replaced. The best I could offer him was my presence as the tsunami of emotional turmoil washed over him, leaving a detritus of Lego bricks in its wake.
It was late, of course, past bedtime – again. One of the many aspects of our lives that had fallen apart was a regular bedtime. It was dark. It seemed like it was always dark. We were exhausted; that, at least, was consistent.
I retrieved a large Tupperware container from the kitchen and got on my hands and knees to collect the remains of his devastated ship. We both had tears running down our faces, and I told him, “These pieces are like the broken pieces of our lives, and they are broken. But we will gather all the pieces, and we will build our life again, and we will do it together. It will take time. But we will do it together.”
Lego Therapy Lesson #2: Things that have been smashed to smithereens are never exactly the same again. (The Humpty Dumpty effect.)
Evidently the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme is used to illustrate the second law of thermodynamics, which I would translate approximately as this: “Things that fall apart into more and more little pieces are less and less likely to go back together.” While this might be true in physics, I didn’t want my life to be governed by a principle where disorder prevails. And yes, I did ask my physicist father to review this statement before I hit publish. He gets all happy when I ask science questions. That little conversation was this year’s Father’s Day gift, and he was delighted.
But when dad segues into “entropy” and “heat transfer,” my eyes glaze over … I ran across my father’s PhD thesis in a box in the garage once, and the only thing I understood was the byline on the cover page. Fortunately, it was all I needed to know.
In the midst of the devastation, all I knew for sure was that the boys and I were not done writing the story of our lives. And I would not believe that our lives were beyond repair.
The next morning, my son asked for the Tupperware of his Legos, and he sat on the floor to rebuild his ship. I asked him if he wanted any help, but he said No. He started building, and I started a load of laundry. I checked on him, “How are you doing buddy?” He barely looked up from his construction project. “I’m good, Mom.” He focused on his project, and I fed the dog. I asked him again, “Need any help?” “No, thanks. I’m okay.”
After a while, he comes to me with his repaired spaceship, and he holds it out toward me in his soft little hands. He’s pretty excited. He shows me all the features – the laser blasters, the rocket boosters and the escape pod, and he says “Look Mommy, it’s better than it was before!”
Sometimes a child — unencumbered by rules and reality — can point the way to a higher Truth. He is a veritable phoenix, my boy.
Lego Therapy Lesson #3: It can happen, that when we put the pieces back together with courage and love, the result is powerful and inspirational beyond what we could have imagined. (All the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men are not the king.)
On this our seventh year after Sam’s suicide, here is what our Father’s Day looked like: No tantrums; Nothing broken; Not even an F-bomb. Tears (mostly mine) on Friday morning and quite a few more on Sunday. Like wringing out a wet cloth there remains always a sadness. Several toasts to daddy, still incredulous that he is gone.
The weekend also featured family time and laughter, a barbeque with all eight grandparents and a cast of characters. Some of us spent more time with the crowd than others; each walks his own path.
The boys are blessed with a step-father who loves all our sons as his very own. He wakes them and drives them to 6AM practice, he ties their Windsor knots, attends teacher conferences and music performances. He lectures them, gives them the proverbial kick in the tail, and hands them lunch money on their way out the door. He coaches and cajoles and makes them laugh. Together, they go golfing, camping and fly-fishing. We are beyond blessed.
Recently the phoenix boy, frustrated by a conversation with his brothers (who were firmly entrenched in rules and reality), blurted out, “Facts suck, you imagination slayers!” The boy remains undeterred.
When the facts suck, because sometimes they do, let the visionary lead the charge.
With each other, and in collaboration with the Divine, we continue to write the story of our lives. We live with integrity, a little faith, a dark sense of humor, and a lot of love. We experience genuine joy, lifting our hearts like a child’s rocketship soaring toward the sky. Their joyous lives are the best gift these boys could give their fathers – on the third Sunday in June, or any other day for that matter.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And the vision to see beyond the brokenness.