She sobbed in my arms and I had no words to comfort her, because I know all too well how useless a phrase like “It will be okay” is when you feel like your world is falling apart. Someone my little Bear loves dearly and adores like an older sister is moving away. Not far, just thirty minutes, but that seems like the other side of the world to my newly-minted eight-year-old. She knows there won’t be drop-in visits and last-minute playdates on snow days anymore. To her, it will not be okay. As much as we’ve promised that we’ll still see her beloved L, all my Beary feels is hurt and confusion and the sinking feeling that everything has changed.
“It’s not fair, Mama!” she cried. “Why would she go away when she knows Daddy is already gone?”
Because that’s really what it’s about.
When I was my daughter’s age, I never imagined that my parents wouldn’t be there every day, just like they’d always been. I played and went to school and never worried about them dying, because I didn’t know any other child who’d lost a parent. I was constantly surrounded by my siblings, parents, grandparents – and the thought of any of them just not being there one day never crossed my mind.
But it crosses Beary’s mind. All the time. She worries that I’ll get sick, or that I’ll die and she’ll be all alone. We have plans for all possibilities and she knows those plans, but that still doesn’t keep her from thinking “What if?” And I can’t tell her that it will never happen, that I won’t die, because in her world, it already has happened. She’s already lost a parent and it’s not that big of a stretch to worry about it happening again.
As much as I want to wrap her in my arms and shield her – and me – from ever feeling the stabbing pain of loss, any loss, again, I can’t.
I can’t make everything okay for my daughter. And I hate that.
I can’t ensure the things that bring her joy and laughter and comfort will never go away.
I can’t make people stay, when it’s truly the best decision for their family to move.
I can’t bring her Daddy back, though I wish and pray and cry for him every night.
I can’t prevent the unsettling realization, slowly revealing itself to her, that growing up isn’t just about having an allowance and getting a driver’s license and going to college and falling in love. It’s also about loss and heartache and moments of aching joy and soul-crushing grief. It’s about constant changes, about people coming and going and leaving a mark on your life, love etched in your heart, and memories imprinted in the deepest recesses of your mind.
But I do what I can.
I sank to the floor and pulled her into my lap and she buried her face in my shoulder and I rocked her back and forth, back and forth. I stroked her hair and murmured into her ear, “I’m so sorry, Little Bear. I love you. I’m so sorry.”
In my mind, I added:
For the moving away part, for the Daddy dying part, for the being-forced-to-grow-up-so-fast part.
I’m so sorry that I can’t force this world – this endlessly circling, busily whirling, constantly shifting world – to stop and let us catch our breath. Let us find our footing. Let us figure out how to be without Daddy before it asks us to figure out how to be without other people we love, too.
I can’t make everything better, can’t make sure nothing ever changes again, can’t prevent chaos and confusion in your world, but I will hug you and love you and sit on the floor crying with you, and together we’ll figure out how to find joy in the unknown and peace in the uncertainty.
I can promise that.