I wake in the cold hotel room and hear the room’s archaic air conditioner humming and thumping, having been left on because of an unexpected warm spell in December. I peek at my watch and am grateful that it reads 2 a.m. – three and half more hours to sleep. I enjoy being one of those fortunate souls who can fall back asleep within seconds of deciding to do so, but I intentionally delay my slumber on this night.
My baby’s knees are planted firmly in my back. Again. She is a force to be reckoned with when sharing a bed, no matter how big the mattress. She’s like water, filling whatever space she occupies.
I plan to move her over a little, but not before I roll over and take in her breath, touch her face, hold her hand. From head to toe, my baby now stretches 48 inches. She’s eight and growing so fast. Wasn’t she just kicking me in the back from inside my body? I know I’ll blink and she’ll be 16, then 20 – just like her sister who is sleeping in the other bed a few feet from us.
All too soon, this small body next to me will grow into the body of an adult. And her dreams, wants and needs will become more complex. Earlier in the day, I purchased an inexpensive, sparkly necklace at a Christmas craft fair and she was delighted for hours. In no time, a piece of cheap jewelry will simply be a piece of cheap jewelry to her rather than a treasured souvenir that brings her hours of joy and makes her feel beautiful and grownup.
Likewise, in the not-so-distant future, I will be unable to soothe her pain with an offer to play Candyland, or ease her fears by holding her hand or letting her sleep with me. Gazing at the sleeping silhouette of my oldest “baby,” I am reminded of this reality.
A few weeks previously, my oldest daughter experienced profound grief and loss for the first time. Her boyfriend lost his mother unexpectedly – a 51-year-old woman with no known risk factors or health issues died of a heart attack.
Her boyfriend is an only child who was blessed with an enviable relationship with his mom. He is the type of man who loves deeply, with his whole heart, and that is how he loved his mom and how she loved him. That love meant they were incredibly blessed. But it also means that his loss is staggering, like a powerful wave that rolls in and pounds you from above while its undertow prepares to snatch the sand from beneath you, knocking you off your feet. Again. And again.
My daughter is suffering that loss, as well, because she also loved his mom, and she loves him. She’s confused and struggling to say the right things, do the right things, be the person he needs her to be. She’s trying to accept that she can’t fix anything, can’t heal the wound. That simple acceptance will be helpful to him.
That’s where he is.
I explained to her that she is grieving for the happy soul that he was before this tragedy. And she is grieving for the moments of joy they will experience together through the holidays and possibly throughout life that will carry a shadow. Sometimes that shadow will be large and overwhelming, especially in these first few months of grief. Other times, that shadow will simply be a brief dimming of the joy, a lessening of the bright colors, as her boyfriend feels the absence of his mom in a moment when she should be present.
I don’t know if my words helped. Unfortunately, a board game or a sparkly necklace won’t provide even a moment reprieve from her sadness. I not even sure my words did anything but confirm for her that she is, indeed, facing many more months of grief.
That’s where she is.
As I watch my 8-year-old sleeping, I am grateful and at peace. She had asked to sleep, claiming to be frightened by a scary picture I showed her earlier in the day of a movie character. My older daughter suggested that her baby sister was just “playing” me, using that as an excuse to get to sleep beside me.
I didn’t care either way. If it’s a special treat for her, it’s an even bigger honor for me. Life promises that some day, she’ll be crying big, soulful tears – over a social disappointment or a broken heart or a shattered dream or the loss of a loved one. She most likely won’t take comfort from me patting the mattress and letting her climb under the blankets with me.
Hopefully, though, these times when I’ve comforted her on the small things will create enough of a bond, enough trust, that she’ll let me pat her on the back, wrap my arms around her and share what little wisdom I have to offer, and all the love I have to offer – like her big sister is letting me do.
For now, though, my presence is enough for her. Blessedly, for a few more years, at least, that’s where she is. So, I’ll just breathe her in, hold her close for a few moments and then scoot her over so we can both get some rest.