Can we agree it’s been an emotional week?
Sunday morning was a swarm of news and information and horror as we settled into the unreality of yet another national tragedy. We grieved from behind our screens, praying for comfort and doing what we could to voice our support and reach out. Then that little boy in Florida. Right when our hearts were flush with hurt, a gut-wrenching reminder that life is unpredictable– that we can do everything right and still go wrong. I stayed away from Facebook for the most part. Fear feeds our desire for control and control makes us blame and blame makes us ugly. Nothing is as simple as we’d like it to be.
Then, early this week, a dear friend of mine lost her son.
We’ve been Internet pals from afar and although we’ve never met face to face, this woman has awed me for years. We first bonded over raising a child with a trach. We watched our boys grow from a distance. And then, just like that, he was gone.
We were at brunch when I heard the news. I told my husband I needed to step outside. I didn’t want the kids to see me upset. I didn’t want them worried. I stepped onto the sidewalk, sucking down gulps of fresh air and showing my face to the sky. I prayed and I cried. I collected myself and went back into the cool bustle of the restaurant. I took a deep breath.
Then I cried some more.
I tried to hold it in, I really did, but it bubbled up more and more until I was sitting with hunched shoulders, silently crying into a balled up linen napkin. And all the while I was thinking, “The kids don’t need to see this. I’m just going to upset them. They won’t know what to do.”
That’s when I heard my 4-year-old son’s voice, timid and confused. “What’s wrong, Mommy?”
I couldn’t even catch my breath enough to answer as my husband stepped in. “She’s alright, Simeon. Mommy’s just feeling sad for her friend right now.”
I thought the kid would be upset or maybe he’d go back to eating his breakfast, satisfied with the explanation. Instead he looked at me with concern and said softly, “I give you hug, Mommy?” Then, pointing to his shoulder, “You put your head right here?” I smiled.
And I did.
I leaned over and put my head on that tiny shoulder. He rested his cheek against my forehead. He wrapped his arm around my neck. He whispered in my ear.
“Shh… shh… shh… It’s okay. Simeon’s here. Simeon’s here. Simeon’s here…”
It was the sweetest little act of kindness. My son, reaching out, passing on the comfort learned from being so often comforted by the people who love him. Recognizing that even in times of grownup grief, he has something to offer.
There’s a quote from Mr. Rogers that says:
“We parents are often surprised to find how readily our young children offer us comfort at times of honest talk about our feelings. Children need to feel needed just as much as the rest of us.”
Maybe allowing our children to see a snapshot of our grief, in ways that are healthy and appropriate, isn’t such a bad idea– maybe it’s actually an opportunity.
When we receive comfort from our little ones, we give them the chance to learn that they are capable of both receiving and giving comfort. They can exercise compassion, knowing that their love is worthy and so very needed.
Their parents need them. Their families needs them.
Not only that, sharing these moments gives children the opportunity to see that we can express our sadness in ways that are healthy– without bitterness and without hurting others or hurting ourselves. Grief is part of living in the world but we don’t have to go it alone. Big or small, we can all support each other.
At bedtime, I sing the kids an old song from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood called “It’s You I Like.” Lately, Simeon has been asking to sing it to me, instead. I recorded us singing it together a few months back and thought I’d share it with you today.
It’s been a long week. We all have something to offer, to each other and to the world. No matter how small we are. No matter how small we feel.
Have you ever been comforted by your child? Did it surprise you? Did it help?