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It’s late, almost 4am, and I’m watching LittleTDJ sleep and I love that he can enjoy peaceful sleep from time to time. He’s had trouble sleeping at night since MrTDJ passed away. At the time of his passing, our son was 3.5 years old and he had about 50 words in his vocabulary. Most of his speech was echolalia, meaning that he immediately (and involuntarily) repeated words and phrases that were directed at him. There are moments when I’m unsure whether LittleTDJ’s memory is a blessing or a curse. He has incredibly clear memories of his father. He didn’t have the words for the moments during his father’s life, but now he does. Over the last 2 months, his curiosity and frustration regarding his father’s disappearance has been building. Things reached a fever pitch the other night and I lost my composure. We cried it out together.

He fell asleep and I fell apart.

In a moment that was Oscar worthy in the category of emotionally over wrought 4-year-olds, LittleTDJ asked to see his dad before bed and to sleep in the bed with Daddy and NOT Mommy. He specifically asked for his father and repeated, incessantly that he did not want me. I tried to keep it together. I tried to dig deep into my reserve for just a few more minutes of patience. A few more seconds of deep breathing. A moment more of prayer. I failed. My dam burst. I raised my voice. I screamed at my wonderful, brilliant, funny, sensitive and confused 4-year-old who simply misses his dad. “No, LittleTDJ, you can’t sleep with Daddy tonight. You can’t ever sleep with Daddy again. Ever. Never.”

Yup, that’s what I said. I meant it, but I didn’t mean for it to come out like that. But in that moment, it’s all that would come out. It’s all I could say. My response felt like an involuntary utterance. From the moment that my husband passed away, my pain was intensified because of the eventual loss that I knew our son would feel. I worry constantly about the absence of MrTDJ in our son’s life. I’ve always been far less concerned with my own sanity and emotional state than that of our son. He’s been aware that his dad has “gone to heaven” and that we moved from the house we used to live in with daddy. He’s rolled with the changes and adjusted very well thanks to God’s grace and the support system that I built for him. His questions in the beginning were curious statements, accompanied by confused facial expressions. It was very easy to redirect his attention to other things and kissing pictures of Daddy was enough.

Until the other night.

The other night, he would not be denied. He knew what he wanted. His Daddy. In the present. Not in a photo, not in his prayers, and not in his dreams. And for a second, he didn’t want me. Perhaps that’s what tipped the scale. I can admit that it certainly sliced like a sharp razor against tender skin. He had no way of knowing that by uttering those words he was rejecting me, denying all that I had done to fortify his world and keep him healthy from the day I realized he had been conceived. He didn’t know that he was slapping me in the face with all that I have done as a mother, since the death of his father, to not give up, to keep pushing forward and not take the easy road into that gentle night, leaving him without any living parents. How could he??? He’s only 4. He’s a 4-year-old who misses his father. He cried out in frustration to me, his mother, because I’m supposed to fix it. I’m supposed to have the answers. But, I didn’t. How could I??? We want the same thing. We want him back. But that’s impossible. It can never happen. I understand that, but LittleTDJ doesn’t. And in that moment, I couldn’t explain away his request and I couldn’t soothe his tears because they had caused mine to flow. So I raised my voice. And I told him it would NEVER happen. Because it can’t. It won’t. And then I held him while he cried himself to sleep, hurt and broken by hearing the word never, and shocked by my raised voice.

After he fell asleep, I sent myself to timeout to reflect on what I’d done, but it was too soon. The morning after “the scream”, our amazing son awoke and kissed my forehead. He gave me the most tender hug and said, “I love you mama. You’re my best friend.” He seemed to be comforting me after the storm and not the other way around.

I’ve forgiven myself but it has not been easy. I know that there are many moments ahead where LittleTDJ’s desire for his father will test my patience and emotional sanity. I will have many questions to answer and I pray that I have the words and the actions to get us through the trying times.

Taya Dunn Johnson,


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