Our daughter Hannah met her dear friend Bryce at the ripe old age of three months. I met Bryce’s mom, Bonnie, at a mom’s group of enthusiastic first-timers, hitting the circuit of neighborhood parks, mall play areas, and splash pads. We showed up each week, exhausted but eager to know we weren’t alone. Our arms towed strollers and Ergos, pouches and diaper bags; our minds were loaded with questions about nursing and sleep schedules. We came with tears of loneliness, doubts over our capacity for motherhood, along with the wonderment of army crawls and first-teeth. It felt good to belong.
Hannah and Bryce became fast friends and would squeal with delight, toddling into a full bear-hug as fast as their squishy legs could transport them, which often resulted in them both toppling to the floor. They embodied innocence, play, and deep affection, long before shame, coolness, or self-protection could seep in. Certainly, there was an occasional pout or hit over a desired toy, but each day, before Hannah could barely utter a sentence, she would look at me and say, “I want Bww—ice.” As rookie moms, Bonnie and I had no idea how rare this type of friendship is for toddlers.
It came as a shock one day when, two years after we first met, Bonnie came to me in tears and told me about an amazing professional opportunity their family was offered in Georgia, a five-hour drive from our home in Orlando. I panicked and cried at the notion of losing them. Bonnie and I had walked through theories of sleep training, teething woes, and the incredible honor and amazement of watching a child grow.
I felt immense grief imagining Hannah’s loss. What gnawed at me most was knowing she would not fully understand what this meant. I took out a map of Georgia and Florida and tried to explain it to her. She smiled and said, “I see Bryce in Georgia.” We planned a special goodbye with all their favorite activities and games, knowing her 2.5-year-old heart could not comprehend. Many dear friends asked, “How is Hannah doing with Bryce leaving?” Others scoffed, saying, “She’s two, she’ll get over it,” pointing out my naiveté as a first-time mom and suggesting that I might be taking this a little too far.
A year and a half later, my husband was reading to four-year-old Hannah in bed. Hannah looked at him with tear-filled hazel eyes and said, “Daddy, I miss Bryce every day. Every moment of my life, I think of him. I think of him when I wake and when I go to sleep. The only time I don’t think of him is when I’m eating donuts.”
We cried, and we laughed as Hannah courageously spoke to something I have difficulty naming for myself, and we made sure to hit up Donut King the following morning. Grief is gut-wrenching and all-consuming, and sometimes gooey sweetness is the only thing that brings respite to an aching heart.
Whether honoring your sadness over the end of the baby stage, voicing your longing for pre-child adult freedoms, or acknowledging the loneliness you feel in your marriage, feeling our emotions can be treacherous, but it moves us to live more deeply from our heart’s desires. As a mental health counselor, I know the importance of acknowledging and caring for emotions that reside under the surface. And yet, it’s still hard for me to name them for myself and not turn to self-sufficiency or numbness.
If I’m honest, Hannah’s disappointment over Bryce leaving sometimes collided with my desire for my kids to be happy and for our days to run smoothly. However, today I am grateful Hannah can recount the story of the goodness of her friendship with Bryce while also holding the pain of his departure.
Fred Rogers said, “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are, and their origins are beyond our control. It takes strength to face our sadness and grieve and to let our grief and anger flow in tears when they need to. It takes strength to talk about our feelings and to reach out for help and comfort when we need it.”
When we allow ourselves to feel, it beckons us to reach out to our loved ones. Whether it was Hannah reaching out to her dad in the midst of her grief or my decision to call Bonnie and share my sadness about weaning, sharing our emotions puts us in a place of vulnerability that calls forth others to care for us and share their own stories. When we share our emotions with others, and they receive it with care and walk with us through the treachery, it’s as sweet as a donut. It gives us the opportunity to offer sweet comfort to others with presence and words. May we be resurrection moms that hold death and life together for ourselves and for our children, whether it beckons us to offer a hug, share stories, or commune over donuts.
**Rachel was recently on Episode 53 of the Kindred Mom podcast: Mental Health for Moms. Click over to have a listen!
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Rachel Blackston loves a good story, deep connection with others, a savory piece of dark chocolate and a steamy mug of high octane coffee. She resides in Orlando with her lanky, marathon running husband and her three precious daughters, priceless gifts after several years of infertility. Rachel and her husband Michael cofounded Redeemer Counseling. As a therapist and coach for 15 years, Rachel considers it an honor to walk with women in their stories of harm, beauty, and redemption. She specializes in working with women with a history of trauma and abuse as well as those struggling with infertility and sexual betrayal. She writes regularly for the blog Red Tent Living and enjoys speaking in the community on topics such as the Knowing your Story, Calling, the Enneagram, Sexuality, and Attachment. To contact Rachel, check out www.rachelblackston.com or blackstonrachel on instagram.