Loss, Grief, and an Ant

After the tornado, I was determined to make my kids feel at home in our rental house. I purchased new beds, positioned favorite books on their shelves (some tornado survivors, some recently purchased, some replaced by angelic friends), and set out toys. I wanted things to feel normal. The kids’ arrival at the rental home was a flurry of excitement and chaotic joy. They were home! We were together again! There was a roof over our heads! They were excited and enjoying their new rooms and I was basking in the moment of parental success when the tone abruptly changed.

Emily saw an ant.

I responded quickly, wiped up the ant, and flushed it down the toilet. I turned around to see Emily standing there silently with an expression of absolute shock. It didn’t take long for the silence to end.

“NOOOOO!!!! Why did you do that? You KILLED her. You KILLED Anty. I didn’t want you to do that. SHE’S GONE!!!!!”

“Emmy, I’m sorry. I thought you wanted me to get rid of the ant.”

“Why would you kill her? YOU SHOULD DO MORE THINKING BEFORE YOU START KILLING. I never thought you would do that. She was Anty and now she’s GONE …”

 I reacted in the worst possible way. I laughed. I didn’t mean to; I just thought it was funny. It was an ant. I especially couldn’t keep a straight face after “you should do more thinking before you start killing.” Those are definitely words to live by, right?

Then the tears came. Big tears. Heartbreaking tears accompanied with the kind of heaving sobs that end in hiccups. Emily went into her new room and sobbed that she wanted to be alone.

This was not my Emily. She never wants to be left alone. I tried a few times to go in but she was adamant that I leave her sobbing on her bed.

Keith came running into the family room and I tried to explain that we were in some sort of crisis because I thoughtlessly committed ant murder.

Finally Emily emerged, handed me her journal and went back into her room. The journal had pictures of broken hearts, of Emily dancing with Anty, of Anty dead, and of Anty’s tombstone. The pictures were an unsettling mix of hilarious and sad.

Emily's broken heart and a dead ant.

Emily finally let me in to cuddle with her and help her calm down. While holding her sobbing body I recognized this moment for what it was.

This was loss.

This was grief.

Powerful emotions spill out in odd ways. Emily was sobbing about the loss of an ant but she was also grieving the loss of a home, of belongings, of feeling safe. She was sobbing because she now carries the memory of huddling under her father while windows blew in and walls bent around her. She couldn’t express how she felt about those things. They were too powerful, too confusing. So, she grieved an ant.

And so did I.

I love that, even in grief, Emily is dramatic and unique. I still laugh at the picture of her dancing with an ant. There’s something beautiful and healing in finding sorrow and laughter in the same moment. And there’s something cathartic in crying over a dead ant.

Rest in peace, Anty. Your untimely demise served an unexpected purpose.

Can't you envision Emily and Anty running towards each other in a field of flowers?

15 thoughts on “Loss, Grief, and an Ant

  1. Emily copes alot like I do in crisis. After the fire destroyed our home I obsessed over my green down coat. It was wet. It would smell. I HAD to save my coat. I could cope with trying to salvage my coat but I couldn’t do anything about the sagging ceiling fans or piles of smokey debris. I wasn’t yet allowed to shovel out my kitchen, but goshdarn I could wash that coat. As a wonderful writer, you not only share your experiences but help me unearth my own memories so vividly. God bless you all. She is so lucky to have you for a mom. BTW, I love the fact that you used the word “adamant.” It was so fitting 🙂

  2. I definitely agree with Chase. Kids have a certain way of diving to the quick of a matter – be it a tornado or the death of an ant. This is symbolism at its best.

  3. I’m glad you had this moment, though certainly uncomfortable. You both moved another step forward. The grief process is like a roller coaster ride in the dark, and it eventually comes to an end. We can’t fully grasp how children are dealing with it. My grandchildren lost their other grandmother this past week. Hugs to you and your family.

  4. I, too, had to laugh when I read the “you should do more thinking before you start killing” comment. It may seem odd, but how wonderful that she was able to find an outlet for her grief. Too many kids can’t find a way to express their emotions in a healthy way after such a traumatic event. On a side note, I hope you will be able to rebuild!

  5. I lived in tornado country for years.

    I cannot fathom how Emily felt when it hit your neighborhood and the upheaval it caused.

    But I also do not thing I ever would’ve imagined dancing with an ant.

    And I know those tears.

    This tale summed up how a child deals with grief in a real, humorous, and sad way.

    Thank you for sharing.

    I hope the home rebuilding is going well now that you’ve caught the thieves.

  6. Only a really wise mama who truly knows her children would have understood that. Good job, mama. I hope I have the same wisdom if ever the Tragedy of Anty (or something similar) comes knocking at our door.

  7. Bless her heart, and kudos to you for recognizing what was really at the heart of it all. I have family from that part of the world, and I think of Joplin and pray for you folks on a regular basis. I’m sorry you’re all going through this. All the best to you.

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