We have a little game we play repetitively with the toddlers in our family. At first, it comes across like a “Q&A Intelligence Test,” but it’s actually a bemused response to something the child originally said and we’ve become quite adept at getting them to repeat it, for our continued entertainment.

An example is an ongoing exchange with my almost 3 yo granddaughter.  It goes like this:

Me- “Who runs the show?”

Her- “Grandma Lay-lay runs the show!”

This silly patter reminds me of a moment one of my Besties recounted about an exchange she had with her 5 yo daughter years ago.  In a rare moment of rebellion, my friend’s daughter retorted, “You’re not the Boss of the world, you know!”   Trying to suppress her astonishment, my friend queried, 

“Well, who IS the Boss of The World?”

And her daughter responded,

“Miss Leslie!”

Well, there you have it!  I’m in charge. Out of the mouths of babes, etc etc. There was a general consensus among the neighborhood children.  I guess they watched me lording over the cul-de-sac just long enough to render this assessment.  I am unequivocally “Boss of the World!”

Only, I’m not…

What I am…or at least what I have been, is a Grief Mitigator. And all that really means is that I have experienced traumatic events in my life, over which I had zero agency, and am still here to talk about them. Grief Mitigation has similarities to what AA touts about Alcoholism – “Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.”  It could also be compared to being in remission from an incurable disease.  You still have the condition, you will always have the condition, you’re never entirely cured…you’ve just employed some extremely powerful work-arounds.  

I read an article about surviving trauma today.  It was great.  Really insightful.  The author talked about how the Survivor’s  life is divided between a strong line of demarcation.  The “before” and the “after.”  Oh, how I get that.  And, how very gratifying to be understood.  

It seems like everyone wants Grievers to eventually become “cured” or “fixed.”   I feel this a little bit when people tell me over and over how “strong” I am!  I’m never really sure what they’re basing that on.  After I lost my husband, I really only had two viable options.  To live or die.  I had to choose the former because I was a Mother.  (Failure is never an option for mothers.)  So, I chose to live… minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day…until eventually one day, recently, I noticed …5 years had gone by.  

Five years that feels like 5 days, but also 50 years.

The bottom line is that there’s not really a cure. People so desperately want to believe there is.  I think this is because, as people bear witness to YOUR grief and efforts at recovery, they need to bolster the belief that THEY too could survive their own worst fears.   Watching you navigate yours with a modicum of resilience, gives them hope for themselves and quells their fears to some degree. 

Not long after Jimmy died, people started enthusiastically reminding me about all the good things I still had in my life.  They offered me a smorgasbord of my own blessings as consolation prizes.  Like an obnoxious 1970’s game show host, they would suggest, “You didn’t win the brand new car or trip around the world, but you are going to take home this Amana Radar-Range!”

Gee, thanks.

For a long time, I bristled when strangers and friends threw my very own grandbabies at me, as though they could replace my Love.  This made me crazy.  So crazy, in fact, that I even went so far as to admonish several cheerleading friends to, “Call me when YOUR husband dies!”  I know, I know…that was shameful, but it felt like everyone was secretly relieved I “took a bullet” for the team. I’d won that awful lottery, so no one else had to play.

But, the thing is, they also weren’t wrong…about my blessings.  I just couldn’t receive the message yet, and certainly not from anyone who hadn’t experienced what I considered to be my advanced level of trauma…my National Merit Trauma.  

But survivors do manage to find the palliative care that mitigates their suffering.  They just do it on their own timetable.  And the lived experience of other survivors honestly CAN help.  I recall how I immersed myself in memoirs of Holocaust survivors, drawing strength from their experiences.  If they can do it, I can do it, I reasoned.  

So, it’s been 5 years since the ringing of a doorbell.  The quiet chime that drew a bold line right down the center of my existence.  The Before and The After.  But, on this side of the line I’ve welcomed 4 new grandchildren into my heart, found an absolutely amazing new Love, bought a new home, made new friends and reveled in lots of new experiences.  I willfully and intentionally embrace joy, whilst I carry my pain, somewhat contained, in a Fanny pack around my waist.   It’s always there, but it burdens and encumbers me less these days.  

I’m sure by now my friends’ kids (all fully-grown adults) have come to realize I don’t actually rule the world. If I did, things would’ve proceeded quite differently.  And yet, life is indeed both wondrous and wonderful.  

One of the coolest things is that there’s a whole new crop of little ones who think I run the show.  And, I’ll take it.  

“Cheers to Laylay! Boss of the world!”