She asked me if I knew about dying.
I said I knew it hurt when someone we love died.
She nodded and fiddled with the pencil, poked the tip against her finger, poked again. Again.
I wondered if she was trying to make the hurting take a form she understood through the pinprick of a just-sharpened pencil. I gently put my hand on hers.
She looked up at me, thankfully without embarrassment or worry of judgment. Feelings weren’t easy for this child, whose very early years were filled with much that couldn’t be expressed and had no wording. Her grandfather passed away right before her birth and a hue of grief lingered many months, adding to her mother’s post-partum depression. Her mother has recovered since, and the home was generally caring, but unspoken early patterns of if-you-are-quiet-you-won’t-overwhelm-mom and waiting for another’s space to open so you can have your needs met still played out often. The girl, not yet ten, was more likely to attend to others’ feelings than her own; more likely to dismiss her anguish to not distress others.
I smiled at her and she smiled back shyly. Her eyes glistened and she sniffed.
“My dad told you?”
“Your mom did.”
Her eyes flew to mine, surprised at being thought of. She took another breath. Tears slid down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Sweetie.” I handed her a tissue and snuck a bit of extra affection into the gesture. Just because. She noticed. Smiled the sad smile again.
Her great-grandmother died two nights before. Her father’s grandmother was a fixture in the child’s life. A rock. The one who filled the gaps, stepped in, held, held on. An elder in the best sense of the word. There was a love there that spanned generations. A special bond with this child.
It was a gentle death, the mother said. Doctors believed the grandma had passed away peacefully in her sleep. No pain. No long decline. That was a blessing, but for the child this loss still hollowed.
“I didn’t get to say goodbye,” she whispered.
“I know. I’m sorry.” I moved a strand of hair off her cheek. “You can still say it. Maybe not in the way you’d have wanted, but still …”
“Yeah,” she sniffed. Dismissed. Reconsidered. Looked up. “How?”
“Any way you can think of, almost.”
She pondered. “Dad said she can hear me. In my dreams. In my thoughts.” Her eyes probed. She wanted to believe it.
“I believe that’s possible, yes.”
“I don’t know exactly. I just feel it. In my heart. About people I love and passed away. It feels right to me that we are still connected, that in some way they can hear me.”
Her eyes overflowed again but her face softened. “I think I’ll talk to her. Tonight, maybe. You know, just me and her.”
I nodded, smiled.
She sighed. Drew in a shuddering breath. Sighed again.
“I miss her,” she whispered. “It hurts. I wish I had a Bandaid for my heart.”