Children and Grief: An excerpt from Gabriel Horn’s novel MOTHERLESS

To order Motherless, free on KINDLE UNLIMITED, click on the title.

by Gabriel Horn

… love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.
– Khalil Gibran

She was five and half years old….

It hurt to see his only granddaughter so gloomy, but it was her right, for everyone needs time to grieve. Even him. Still, it was heartbreaking, observing her little form on occasion, gazing through the screen door, her brown eyes following the trail past the front yard that snaked toward the mailbox where the pink lilies were getting ready to bloom. She was looking at them now….

“You know, when you were still forming in your mother’s belly, she planted those flowers.”

She shook her head, but kept her eye on the lilies. “They’re pretty.”
“In a few days, they’ll be stunning and yet so subtle….”

He explained that the lady who owns the beach shop, Irene Glassman, had given them to her mom. “They were so small and kinda sad lookin’ in these big pots. Didn’t have flowers. I remember your mom carrying those pots up to the mailbox. One at a time. There must’ve been six of ‘em. ‘Maggie,’ I said, ‘let me help you carry those pots.’ But she just shook her head, face sweatin’ and all, and instead, insisted she do it alone. It was a hot day and she worked for hours plantin’ those flowers, digging holes along that ditch….”

The young girl’s eyes strained.

“Ye can’t see the ditch because the flowers are tall now.”

She glanced up at her grandfather, then again looked up the driveway at the lilies.

“Can’t ever forget how she cut herself while plantin’ the last one.”

“How’d she do that?”

“She’d told me that she knelt down heavy on a shard of sharp shell. She was wearin’ a sundress at the time. The shell cut her knee open pretty good. She bled a lot. Needed stitches as I recall…. wound up with a small scar.”

The young girl with long hair like her mother’s, but auburn brown, not black, stared up at the road, and half a world away from where she’d been, still expecting, still wanting, someone to appear.

What could be sadder than a child’s grief?


Dead is dead, the bus driver had said. And she knew he was right; the tiny tree frog was dead, and a little girl was learning that death means never coming back. The pretty frog would not be listening to the singing of the male tree frogs that night as an angry off-shore storm, responding to their mourning songs, would bring a deluge of rain that would fall and finally free the dead frog from the corroded barrel, and in the little girl’s mind she could see in that instance of pouring rain, the small stiffened body sliding down the ugly drum into the once purified water that all her life had sustained her. The little girl could even see beyond the dump site, the tiny lifeless form carried in the night songs of the other tree frogs with the rushing water on towards the womb of the great mother of all life, the Ocean.


Rainy was in third grade and was sitting at the kitchen table. Grandpa was leaning against the kitchen counter. She wanted to know more about her father who was not Indian….

“What about my dad?” she asked, sliding a chunk of mango in her mouth.

“Your father,” he said, taking a drink of coffee, “he still felt that tribal connection. He still had not lost touch with his Indigenous spiritual being. Which was probably why he fell so in love with your mother, and she in love with him.”

Then he sighed, a slight sound of air leaving with his breath that he didn’t mean to make, something that loss and remembered grief can cause you to do sometimes when you’re not even aware of how much you still miss those you loved….


Rainy was just completing eighth grade at the time, and had taken the news of Mrs. Kingsley’s passing hard. Sadie couldn’t seem to console her, nor Koda, nor Grandpa. After weeks had past, finally, one day Grandpa and Rainy sat together on the porch steps after school. Koda sat behind them, sensing something in the air. The bamboo wind chime Grandpa had bought at the beach store was playing it seemed its first music in the sudden arrival of a tropical breeze from the South.

“Rain,” Grandpa began, “we’ve each known grief. It’s a part of the human condition. It’s a terrible feelin’. But it’s a necessary part of healin’.”

She was looking down and running her fingers over the turquois edge of the step. Before the renewal she might’ve gotten a splinter from the rough wood, but Grandpa had sure smoothed it out.

“I know,” she said.

“I know ye know. But please hear me out…as I love ye, and I understand you’re hurtin’.”

He paused and settled alongside her, and like always, trying to find the right the words. The bamboo chime played above them and the brown oak leaves rustled on the ground and bird sounds permeated the air.

“Grief can cling to ye, Granddaughter. It can stick to you like the sap of an oak in winter. “Stay stuck with ye all day. You can’t wash it off. You sleep with it at night. You wake up and it’s still there in the mornin’.”

“I know, Granpa. I’m sorry,” she said, a warm soft breeze lifting her hair. “I’ve been sad too long for my own good.”

“You got nothin’ to be sorry for, sweetheart. I’d been more worried if ye didn’t hurt. The world lost a great teacher. You lost a special friend.”

She shrugged and nodded and smiled just a little…. “I’ve not been a pleasant person to be around,” she said, turning her head to face the wolf.

“I’m sorry to you too, Koda.” He acknowledged the sentiment, but was still tuned to the air. And to the spirit that had arrived.

Rainy stared ahead at the rutted driveway, snaking towards the road, the mailbox at the end. She saw that the lilies were blooming. After the shadow man had run them over, they came back…. After all these years, she thought. But some things don’t come back…. Yet she was learning that they can, just not in ways we might expect….

“It’s only that Mrs. Kingsley’s dying raised up all these feelings I used to have, Granpa, and I feel bad she doesn’t get to teach anymore.”

“Grief can trigger those kinda memories and feelin’s, Rainy. But ye got a young heart, and it’s a strong heart. As ye get older in life, you’ll need a strong heart because you care so much and love so much. Those ye love get older too, and they die. It hurts every time, but just be certain that you’re grievin’ Mrs. Kingsley’s absence in your life, and not grievin’ for her. You can even grieve for the children who will never know her, but do not grieve for her. She’s in the Mystery.”

Rainy didn’t want to think beyond the moment, couldn’t think beyond it, but Grandpa’s words played in the notes of the bamboo wind chime. And he glanced up at it, his eyes gleaming, and then looked at Rainy who was also looking up at the hollow bamboo tubes of different lengths playing music in the gentle southern breeze.

“Mrs. Kingsley was pretty like that, and her words played in your ear, gentle like that too.”

“They did, indeed,” Grandpa said. Then he stood and stretched and put his face closer to the wind chime. “The road never gets easier, Granddaughter,” he said, speaking as much to himself as to her. “You just learn to cope better…understand a little more.”

Sitting back down on the step, he glanced up again at the music of the chime, and he smiled.

He took two fingers of his hand, the forefinger and the middle finger, and he touched Rainy’s heart. “All those ye loved, Rainy, are inside… here,” he said. Then he touched her forehead. “And in here…. In your memories. In your stories.”

Then he kissed the top of her head.

The bamboo tubes played above them in a warm southern gust of salty air.

“They’re a part of everything.”

He leaned his back against the steps, gazing with more than his eyes past the driveway, past the jungle of trees, across the road construction, and the steel and concrete support beams of new development. His vision sailed over the remaining dunes and last of endangered sea oats, and out to the turquoise sea.

“We have to let go at some point, as their spirit must continue the great change,” he said, “not hindered by our grief….

“As for the livin’,” he said, gazing back prophetically into the soft brown eyes of his granddaughter, and taking her hand, “the living must carry on for all those beings we love in this life who are still here.”

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