A Child and His Grief

He ran up through the backyard as fast as his little legs would carry him. With a small shovel in hand he finally reached Pa’s screened back door. Knocking hard he yelled,” Pa! Pa! Let me in, I have a prize!” The shovel now hid behind his back.

Pa opened the door and JJ came in stumbling across the walkway, holding on to the shovel as if it were his bedtime bear. “What kinda prize?”

Quickly bringing the red shovel out from behind him he said, “I brought my shovel so we can dig to China.” The excitement exuded from his little voice.

JJ loved Pa as much as his own dad. Pa taught him how to catch a baseball.  Plant tomato plants in the garden. In fact JJ had his own plant that he watered and cared for every day. Pa put JJ on his first tricycle, and even helped potty train him. These two did almost everything together.

Pa got his big shovel and JJ had his little red one.  Searching the yard they found the perfect spot behind the pecan tree. The digging began. “How deep do we have to dig ‘fore we see China?”

“Don’t know son. It may take us a few weeks, or months.” Pa stopped to take a draw off his cigarette, sweat dripping from his forehead. Breathing harder than usual and coughing now and then. But he kept digging with JJ until the hole was almost a foot deep and just as wide.

“Can we dig some more tomorrow?”

“Yeah, after school. You bring your shovel and we’ll dig a little more.”

The two hard workers went inside to get a drink. Kool-Aid for JJ and a beer for Pa. They sat down on the couch, with JJ as close to Pa as he could get.  They watched Road Runner and fell asleep, JJ’s head on Pa’s shoulder.

One day after school JJ’s mom told him Pa was in the hospital.

A few weeks later she told him Pa was  leaving to go to heaven.

JJ went to visit Pa. To say good-bye? A boy of 9 years old just couldn’t grasp the meaning of heaven. Didn’t understand he would never see Pa again.

Did it mean the dig to China was over? How about the ‘mater plants, how would they ever live? What  about bicycle lessons, basketball, pop flies in the outfield? He promised.







JJ would not get close to anyone again. He’d keep his distance. It wasn’t worth the pain. Lesson learned.


This week’s prompt, from Angela and Galit at The Red Dress Club for RemembeRed was to write a post that either starts or ends with the words “Lesson learned.”
A true story about my son and my father.


  1. What a bitter-sweet memory! My 3yo and the dog have dug up the whole yard, but I really don’t mind. They’re happy.
    Just a little concrit: There’s a line-return in the fifth paragraph that is probably left over from copy/paste. There’s a typo “One day afterschool…” that needs a space. You may consider a different way to spell the non-words like “mater” instead of “tomato”, sometimes an apostrophe can stand in for a missing syllable, and clue in the reader that it’s an incomplete word because that is the way the character would speak it. So mater would be ‘mater. But there’s no rule for it that I know of!
    I do hope that this is one of those childhood lessons that is learned (“Don’t get close to anyone”) and then relearned (It’s OK to get close to someone, even though you might get hurt) later in life.

    • Thank you so much for the concrit. Seems I miss something every time. Also I didn’t know that about the ‘mater. Getting right to it.
      It was a lesson learned but unfortunately he has not unlearned it and it is sad that he is afraid to make those needed relationships.

  2. beautifully written…made me cry… 😦

  3. This is such a heartfelt piece. I could feel the connection between your son and his grandpa right away. What a tough lesson for a child to have to face 😦

    I just loved this part:
    They sat down on the couch, with JJ as close to Pa as he could get. They watched Road Runner and fell asleep, JJ’s head on Pa’s shoulder.

    It was written so simply and clearly.

  4. Galit Breen says:

    Oh sweet friend. This absolutely breaks my heart. Your emotions, his pain and confusion all shine through.

    I love the one word section- very powerfully done.

    I am so sorry.

  5. Oh, I’m so sorry. This story is moving and raw and…tragic.

  6. Heartbreaking…and told so well. I knew from the title and your details about Pa where we were headed…but not the lesson learned. I am so sorry for your son and the impact it has had on him.

  7. Susan Leffler Chase says:

    Beautifully crafted – I love hearing the innocent voice of a child and his thought process of the good and the bad. Thank you for reminding all of us of the depth’s of a child’s love!

  8. Oh, Julie…this was so heartbreaking. It evoked so many emotions in me about my grandfather and the wonderful times I spent with him…and then the pain when he went away. So sorry your son had to go through this pain, but so happy he was touched by such a wonderful influence in his life…and that he got to learn all about ‘maters. 🙂

    • I remember reading your post about your grandfather. I hope this is a reminder for you of good memories. Yes my son learned so much from my dad and he carries it with him even today.

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