Many years ago, when Jena was young, her dad and I spent an overnight in Pittsburgh. She hated when I went away. She called me at 10pm, missing me. I talked with her and with Barb, our babysitter/nanny/pseudo grandmother/family friend. Jena decided she was okay and would go back to bed. At 11pm the phone rang again. I used my best soothing voice to reassure her and to remind her that we would be home the next day. She settled down, her breathing softening. She said she thought she could fall asleep. I told her I loved her and we hung up. At midnight the phone rang again.
You get the picture. I tried every thing I knew to comfort her. Barb did the same. Each time we settled Jena, an hour later she was upset again, calling. Finally at the 3am call I was exhausted. “Jena, you are going to be okay!” There was silence on the line.
“Oh. Okay. Why didn’t you say that before? Night Mom, see you tomorrow.”
I was dumbfounded as I snapped my cell phone shut for the last time that night. Why hadn’t I said that before? I had spent the entire night consoling, convincing, and conjoling her that my being away for a night was not a big deal. I had tried to come up with solutions, distractions, even bribes.
But what she needed from me was to acknowledge our separation was a very big deal to her and to assure her she would survive it. She needed me to know something that she was unable to know…that she would be okay.
Sometimes that is all we need. To have a trusted other hold our strength when we can’t find it. We have all been there. So far in with no visible way out. Our minds tell us we will always be stuck in this scary place. We lose ourselves and our hope.
Recently I spent time with a friend who had been sick for 3 weeks. She was exhausted, angry and afraid she would never be well again. I told her, with maternal assurance, that she would be well again, that it was just really hard for her to trust that right now. Her smile spoke her appreciation. Some part of her knew that, but it was buried under her current panic. The same was true for Jena. Some part of her knew she would be okay. I simply reminded her.