“What would you like to talk about today?” I asked Fiona, as she settled into the couch in my office. Her nine-year old body felt so tiny under my hands as I tucked the fleece blanket around her shoulders, as I always did when she came for her monthly counselling session. I couldn’t help but compare her little body to the sturdy frame of my robust nine-year old niece Hannah whose parents are alive and well.
“My dance performance was on Saturday,” she said, her large hazel eyes exuberant. Fiona had danced competitively since she was six years old. Her joie de vivre was irrepressible, even living with the enormity of her Mom’s death from cancer when she was five. “Dad said it was the best show yet.”
“He is so proud of you,” I said, knowing that he was proud of her and her twelve year-old sister Nicole for their capacity to enjoy life, in spite of their grief. He had not fared so well. His first priority two weeks after his wife’s death had been to find a live-in nanny. The grief exacerbated his workaholic nature, and four years after her death he worked twelve-hour days and most weekends. The death of one parent can prompt losing both, for a while, sometimes years; one parent lost to illness and the other to heartbreak.
“How has the rest of your month been?” I asked.
“Not good.” Fiona looked down at the floor. I waited for her to continue.
“Dad gets mad at Nicole all the time for not doing her homework or tidying her room,” she said quietly.
“Does that scare you?” I asked.
Fiona shook her head slowly and looked up at me. “I know he’s still sad about Mommy, and that’s why he gets mad. I just wish he’d be happy again like he used to be.
“The heart mends very slowly when someone we love dies, and actually never mends completely. We will always be a little sad, but we can also be happy again, in time,” I said.
“I think it helps him when I’m happy, especially when I’m dancing,” Fiona said. “I saw him in the front row and he kept waving at me and smiling, though it was kind of annoying too,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
Fiona’s resilience empowered her voice as she spoke about helping her Dad to be happy. Her inner strength had developed over her first five years of life from a secure, loving attachment to her parents, and a destiny that had its own plan for her, from before she was born. Even though her heart would never fully mend, its brokenness would fuel her happiness. Not everyone thrives after such an early and vast loss, but I knew Fiona would.
“Can we do the relaxation thing where you talk to me and hold my feet?” Fiona asked. She knew how to reach out for comfort, another good sign for her future.
“Of course,” I said. “Why don’t you lie down and I’ll put a pillow under your head.”
I wrapped the blanket again around her little body and she closed her eyes. I placed my hands on her feet and noticed her socks didn’t match.
The words of the loving-kindness meditation came easily to me for this little girl whom I'd known since her Mom became ill. “Fiona, may you be happy and peaceful,” I said. “May you be safe and protected from inner and outer harm.”
She had asked me what inner harm meant when she first heard the meditation. I explained how sometimes the voice inside my head talks to me harshly and says things like: You shouldn’t have done that. You’re so silly, or, you’re a mean person for saying that. I told her I had to learn to be kind to myself and she seemed to understand.
“May you live with ease and peace of mind,” I continued. “May you always know how much you are loved.”
Fiona smiled. “Now for Daddy, and then Nicole?”
“May Daddy be happy and peaceful. May Daddy be safe and protected……”
I continued until all the people Fiona wanted me to include were blessed.
“See you next month,” Fiona said, as she bounced down the stairs to find her nanny waiting in the lobby to drive her home for dinner.