What My Youngest Daughter Taught Me About Grief
I opened the email and might have uttered a cuss word under my breath. It had already been quite a week. The news that our daughter's hippotherapy pony had unexpectedly passed away?
Not what I wanted in my inbox.
I seriously considered not telling her. I just didn't want to deal with that.
At least, not this week.
But honesty is one of my core values, so I couldn't stomach telling a lie when we arrived at her session that day, and she asked where her favorite equine friend was.
An hour before therapy, I sat down next to her chair. I asked her to turn off her tablet. I looked into her deep brown eyes through her petite pink frames, and I took a deep breath.
"Today, you're riding, but you won't be riding Rambler."
She looked away and started to pout.
"I'm sorry, Zozo. Rambler is dead. You won't get to ride him anymore."
She grabbed her tablet and threw it at me. Then she grabbed the lone goldfish cracker left on her tray and flung it too. I tried to make eye contact again, and she grunted "NO!"
I told her she'd probably get to ride Peanut, the pony she rode the first time.
She said, "No," still not looking at me.
"No ride. No Rambler. No ride."
Then her lower lip pooched out, and the sobs began.
I held her. We cried together. Eventually, she calmed down.
We went out to the barn, not sure how she would handle it.
I second-guessed my decision to tell her, wondering if a lie would have been so bad after all.
We got there. She saw Peanut. She told her therapist, "I ride Peanut. No ride Rambler. Rambler dead."
I might have cried a little. But that wasn't the moment that will be forever embedded in my soul.
After her session, I said, "See Zoe. It's sad that Rambler is dead, but it's okay because you got to ride Peanut. That was fun, right?"
As soon as the words left my mouth, I regretted them. I hate when people try to wrap hard things in pretty packages instead of being willing to dwell in the discomfort, but that's exactly what I was trying to do. I winced at my own hypocrisy.
"No," Zoe said again. "No. It sad Rambler dead. I like Peanut. But it not okay Rambler dead. It sad Rambler dead. Rambler my friend. Peanut my friend but Rambler my friend. And Rambler dead."
"I like Peanut. But I sad Rambler."
Not either/or. Both/and.
Amen, sweet girl.
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