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Sun., Nov. 27, 2011

Smart Bombs: At home in our hearts

In this book report about a girl waiting to hear from her working mother who is away from home, my 11-year-old daughter delivers a Thanksgiving message. Her fifth-grade teacher handed me this essay on Tuesday. My column appears on Sundays, so please excuse the tardiness of this holiday message.

“Coming on Home Soon” by Carly Crooks

It’s hard to be patient and wait for someone to come home, especially for kids. With the possibility of someone not coming home, who could be patient? I think this is how Ada Ruth felt in the book “Coming on Home Soon,” by Jacqueline Woodson. When reading “Coming on Home Soon,” many people might think it’s just about a girl waiting for her mother to come home, but I know it’s really about how people die every day, and we’re lucky our loved ones come home.

The author of this story uses details to describe the settings and feeling of the character. The character Ada Ruth is worried about her mother because she isn’t writing back. “Keep writing to her,” Ada Ruth’s grandmother says to her.

When my dad was in New York and I had to stay at a friend’s, I didn’t hear from him. I began to worry. I thought about him day and night. When he got home I was filled with joy, overcoming the tears. This makes me think about how good things come when bad possibilities are in your mind.

Imagine if one of your loved ones was in danger, and what if they never came home? This is probably how Ada Ruth felt. What if her mother never came back? “I listen with my eyes closed, pray for all those men who won’t be coming home soon” (she says of soldiers at war).

I know how this feels. When my mother was dying in the hospital, I had to wait with my brother at our neighbor’s house. Wait, for what I was worried my dad would say. That she isn’t coming home. I still wish I had said “I love you” to her before it happened. I understand that Ada Ruth was waiting for something that might never come.

Ada Ruth was close to tears, watching the postman go by without stopping. Then, she received the letter from her mother, saying she was coming home soon. When my mother died, I was silenced. I would hardly talk, and I could never concentrate. When I learned the school had dedicated a bench to her, it was like I found a light in a world of shadows. I realized that sometimes it’s the smallest, yet most thoughtful things that are all we need to cheer up.

It is clear that since people die every day, we are lucky that our loved ones come home. Even if they never do, it’s important we keep them forever in our hearts, because they are always at home there.

We should all think more about how lucky we are when our loved ones come home. Some people are not as fortunate. They might wait and wait for what will never happen, the coming home of their loved one.

Works in progress. Carly’s essay got me to thinking about the arc of grief. I recall the first Mother’s Day event in the classroom after my wife died. My daughter was 6, and we had to excuse ourselves and retreat to Mom’s bench on the playground. This year she read the above essay to the class and held her composure.

As for me, I’m more aware of those who are facing the pain of death. The school’s counselor who lost her husband. My son’s sixth-grade teacher who recently lost her mother. Co-workers whose spouses and parents have died. But I’m no expert in what to say.

Grief is individual. That’s one of the two insights I’ve gleaned after five years. Within our own family, we handle it differently. I don’t know if any of us are doing it wrong, because I’m not sure there is a way to do it right.

I’m now reading “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” by Dave Eggers, a beguiling memoir about a 21-year-old college dropout who raises his 8-year-old brother after their parents die. At first, I couldn’t connect with the juvenile antics and intentional disarray of their lives, until I understood it as a product of honest anger.

So what is appropriate? The seeming immaturity of a 21-year-old or the adultlike maturity of an 11-year-old? The answer provides my other insight into grief.

Whatever works.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter at @GaryCrooks.

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