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What Steve Jobs’ Death Taught the Wolvog about Mourning

I am completely overwhelmed — and grateful — by everyone reaching out to the Wolvog after Steve Jobs’ death*.  We tucked them in, and Josh went downstairs to heat up dinner while I sat down for 20 minutes to take those memories out of my head.  The emails and Facebook wall posts and Tweets had started to come in while we were telling the Wolvog the news, but we had walked away from electronics for a few hours to eat and clear the pictures off a camera.  When I opened email again right before bed, we both stared at the number of emails, the number of people who said that they thought of the Wolvog when they heard the news, and said “holy shit.”

I cannot thank you enough, and I feel horrible that I can’t respond to everyone’s writing personally.  You took the time to tell him that you were thinking of him, and that makes my stomach twist to not be able to write everyone directly and let them know how much that meant to him (and us!).  I have put all the emails and Facebook wall posts and Tweets in a folder for him to start reading this weekend.

The Wolvog is mourning in this very strange way; it’s the loss of a hero, but not the loss of a family member or friend.  He is not someone he saw every day, but he’s someone who affected my son’s mind every day.  Harry Potter is magic, but Mac is magic too — perhaps more so because while the Wolvog watched or read about how others utilized wands, he was able to place his own hands on the computer and control what he wanted to do; where he wanted to let his imagination go.

That is all a wand is — a computer that is rolled into a tight, little stick.  And a computer is just a wand that has been rolled out into a rectangle, both objects capable of changing the world in the right owner’s hands.

This is what the Wolvog learned when he saw all the notes (and thanks to BlogHer sending it out, they came from strangers all over the world, all touched by his story):

That people shouldn’t mourn alone.  That being sad together somehow spreads out the burden of grief.  That we should always reach out to someone who is mourning and take part of their load simply because it is the right thing to do as humans.  That coming together is better than dividing apart.  I hope what he retains from this is that he should never dismiss someone else’s grief; that he should always give the hug, say the kind words, ask what he can do.

You taught him that, so thank you.  Which feels like two too small words to convey how you drove home the humanity we’ve been trying to instill in them in birth.  That it’s always better to connect, to reach out a hand, to not ignore, to give empathy.

Some people mourn by talking about the person.  Some people mourn by cleaning or trying to control their environment.  The Wolvog backed away from scary thoughts about the unknown and death — ideas he couldn’t wrap his mind around — and returned by morning to the orderly computer world, where everything is black-and-white; where a command always creates the same action.  If I brought up Steve Jobs, he’d look at me and then say, “I need to talk to Tim Cook about why they keep changing the thinness of the iPhone.  I need to understand that.”  And then I’d tell him that his kindergarten teacher wrote to say she was going to find him at school and give him a hug, and he’d say, “do you know that they released the iOS5?  Do you understand how this is going to change the iPad?”

Coincidentally, I went to a discussion on Tuesday night about children and anxiety, and one of the things the speaker covered was how children have no perspective or context.  In other words, an adult hears that someone died of pancreatic cancer, and our thought it how rare that is.  And a child hears that someone died of pancreatic cancer and all they know is that there is “happen” or “can’t happen.”  There is no context, no in-between.  So part of last night’s discussion was trying to give them that context, the idea of rarity, the knowledge that just because something can happen doesn’t mean that it will happen.

On Wednesday night, the twins learned that heroes die.  And they made the jump to the idea that one day Josh and I would die.  And finally they traveled to that space where they learned that they would one day die.  We spent an hour and a half before tuck-in standing on that very scary patch of mental ground.  And I didn’t know what to do the next morning, so I put cartons of chocolate milk in their lunch box.  I hoped that chocolate milk said to them everything I wished I could find the words to say.

* Again, to understand the backstory about the Wolvog and Steve Jobs, it is here and here and now here.

22 comments

1 Hope { 10.06.11 at 7:05 pm }

I, too, thought of the Wolvog when I first read the article about Steve Jobs’ death. I wondered how he would react. I’m really impressed with the way you’ve handled this with him. (((Hugs))) to your whole family right now.

2 It Is What It Is { 10.06.11 at 7:08 pm }

It is a rite of passage, this kind of innocence lost. I wondered after reading your post last night, how long it would be before they would connect the dots between “Steve–Mom/Dad–Me”. Ugh. Even as an adult, I wrangle with thoughts of my own mortality so without the context it could be overwhelmingly scary (hell, even with the context, it is).

I thought today about how powerful the Internet is, that one of my first thoughts upon hearing the news of Steve’s passing was of the son of someone that I’ve never met in real life. That sure is something, you know?

Hugs.

3 Eggs In A Row { 10.06.11 at 7:27 pm }

Chocolate milk is a pretty good idea. 🙂 Hugs!

4 a { 10.06.11 at 7:51 pm }

It’s really great to see so many people remembering and honoring someone for being an inspiration and an innovator. I hope that there are more people like Steve Jobs out there.

Chocolate milk always helps…

5 tash { 10.06.11 at 8:06 pm }

When my cat died when I was Kindergarten, I built a shrine, sobbed, and couldn’t get out of bed for two days. My mother claims she was seconds away from calling a grief counselor. I do remember, as does my mother, that my best friend Phillip from next door came over and sat next to my bed and read to me. I remember that to this day. Sometimes you just need someone to sit and be with you, even if what that person is doing is not talking about death or your feelings. Sometimes you just need to be in the presence of others, in the presence of love. It was an amazing lesson for me, and I hope one he continued to carry forth into his obviously very empathetic life.

Chocolate milk sounds like the absolute right call. I thought about him first thing, too. Death is tough stuff.

6 Kristin { 10.06.11 at 8:38 pm }

It’s so very hard when your child/ren first learn about death. I think you did a brilliant job handling it.

7 Lori Lavender Luz { 10.06.11 at 9:42 pm }

I love that photo of the Wolvog. Wearing and handling the magic, soaking it into his brave body.

And I love that you put chocolate milk into his lunch. Better than words.

Hugs to you both.

8 loribeth { 10.06.11 at 9:43 pm }

I know you’ve been dreading this day — not so much the day Steve Jobs died specifically (although I’m sure you had an idea this was coming, more so than poor Wolvog), but the day the twins learned about death — it just so happened that Steve Jobs’s passing was the reason for that sad lesson. (((Hugs))) to them, & to you too.

9 Tigger { 10.06.11 at 10:48 pm }

I am absolutely astounded by his technological comprehension. I just…a 5-year-old understands more about computers and OSs than I do!

I am very happy that he has you as a mother, someone who tries to understand what he’s thinking and how best to help him understand the reality…without pushing him, without demanding that he understand it as we do. I love that the bloggy world came out in force for him, and that you put chocolate milk in their lunches. I hope that I’m as mindful a parent with my own son as you are with your two children.

10 Angelina { 10.06.11 at 11:12 pm }

As soon as I heard the news I started crying. Not for my own sadness but for the incomprehensible sadness Wolvog must have been feeling. You did a wonderful job explaining to him what heroes really are. I have no doubt that someday Wolvog will be a hero in the same vein as Steve Jobs. Peace to your family.

11 brid { 10.06.11 at 11:18 pm }

There are probably more people out there than you know who first thought of the Wolvog when hearing the news. He was first in my thoughts when my husband called from the road. I automatically clicked over to see if you had posted. I thought about commenting then, but I don’t really comment, so I didn’t. I’d bet there are a lot more people who are thinking of you… I am so sorry for your loss; just keep in mind all the cool things he had to say and remember him that way.
All the best

12 mash { 10.07.11 at 5:38 am }

Have you ever seen the commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford? He speaks about death and what a gift it is, because it makes us live each day to the fullest. It’s here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLc&feature=relmfu. Ironically, this speech came after he believed he was cured of pancreatic cancer. I just love how he embraced death in a way that made his life better.

I’m always harping on about how we’ve lost perspective in the modern world, and one area is definitely death. We avoid talking about it, we avoid facing our own, and we try to protect children from it (BTW I think you’ve done a great job of being open about it). In less privileged cultures, death is something that all members of a community are involved in, children see dead bodies at funerals, they are involved in all aspects of mourning. It’s not something that is feared, the way we fear it.

I believe in the modern world we spend far too much time protecting children from sadness, which is such an integral part of being human, and being whole.

Sounds to me like Wolvog is actually in full blown stage 1 of grief – denial. The rest will all come in their own time. Hugs to all of you!

13 L A Cochran { 10.07.11 at 8:47 am }

Now I want chocolate milk.

It IS comforting. Carry on type comforting.

14 Merry { 10.07.11 at 9:04 am }

Watching my girls experience grief after their brother died was just a truly terrible thing. What was amazing was watching them assimilate, accept and move forward. Kids have the most amazing capacity for dealing with things in a very straight forward way, I think.

Sending love to Wolvog and to you for having to watch.

15 Gail { 10.07.11 at 9:17 am }

I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking of you and the Wolvog this week and that I am abiding with you while you go through this loss of a little boy’s hero.

16 Kathy { 10.07.11 at 9:59 am }

I love this picture of your son too (so adorable that he has an Apple t-shirt) and that you put something special in their lunches (chocolate always helps). It is so bittersweet when the time comes to teach our children about death and when they grieve the loss of someone that they cared about for the first time.

I continue to be impressed with how you and Josh are handling this Mel. I believe that the sooner children learn to deal with grief and loss in healthy ways, the more compassionate they will be in supporting loved ones throughout their lives. Holding Wolvog and all of you close in my thoughts and prayers. xoxo

17 Justine { 10.07.11 at 12:40 pm }

You have such an amazing little boy. But you know this.

And you are such amazing parents. Maybe you know this, too.

What a gift to the Wolvog, both to have a hero, and to have parents to turn to when the hero has gone. I’ve been thinking a lot about him, and you, hoping I can parent that way when the time comes.

18 Mo { 10.07.11 at 2:54 pm }

Wow. Just – wow.
Profound and beautiful, as usual.

19 HereWeGoAJen { 10.07.11 at 3:00 pm }

Much love to the Wolvog and the ChickieNob as they go through this growing up.

20 Suzanna Catherine { 10.08.11 at 2:10 pm }

Like countless others I immediately thought of the Wolvog upon hearing of Steve Jobs’ passing.

I’m an adult — a rather old adult actually — and one of my secondary reactions was to think, it’s just not fair for someone like Steve Jobs to be gone so soon.

Chocolate milk and hugs sure can’t hurt!

Love to your family.

21 Bea { 10.15.11 at 9:40 pm }

You can give him one more hug from me. It’s funny, I thought of him too when I heard the news (I have been a bit Internet disabled, hence the delay).

I’ve been wondering how long it takes them to put all the pieces of the death puzzle together. We are adding little pieces from time to time, too. I guess we have a few more years before it fully clicks into place.

Bea

22 Searching { 10.19.11 at 8:41 pm }

He was actually my first thought, too. Poor sweet boy. I’ve been praying for his tender heart. Send him a hug from me, too.

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