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 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.