22: A Little Child Shall Lead Them

22: A Little Child Shall Lead Them

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Heavy hearts, like heavy clouds in the sky, are best relieved by the letting of a little water.

~Antoine Rivarol

My friend Eileen’s husband died suddenly after a short illness that took everyone by surprise. Dan was only 56, in good health—or so everyone thought—so how could he be gone?

After the funeral, family and friends gathered to share memories and offer comfort to the newly bereaved widow. Eileen was doing her best to be strong and stoic. She had always been the rock of her family, the kind of woman who could handle any situation and cope with whatever life handed her with grace and aplomb. She moved through the crowd of mourners graciously, accepting condolences, thanking people for coming, pausing to smile at the stories people told her about something sweet or funny or thoughtful Dan had done.

She hid it well but I—and everyone else—could see how shaky and emotionally fragile she was, and we were all tip-toeing around her as if she were a time bomb, being very careful not to say or do anything that might shatter her hard-won control.

Suddenly, in the middle of a funny story one of the mourners was telling about Dan, the one thing everyone was afraid would happen, happened. Eileen stopped smiling and her eyes filled with tears. She looked down into her lap, her hands fisted tightly on her thighs, her chin trembling visibly as she struggled not to break down in front of everyone. But it was no use. Tears coursed silently down her cheeks as she lost the struggle with her terrible, overwhelming grief. Her shoulders started to shake.

Everyone froze. What was the proper thing to do? Should we go on talking, pretend we didn’t notice, and give her a chance to compose herself? Should we say something? Should we hug her? Get her a tissue? Offer her something to drink? Should we leave her alone to grieve privately?

While the adults were hesitating, afraid of doing the wrong thing and making things worse, Eileen’s eight-year-old granddaughter Lauren sat down beside her and took one of her grandmother’s hands in both of hers. “It’s okay, Grandma,” she said. “You can cry. I’ll just sit here and hold your hand while you do.”

It was such a simple thing and, yet, so exactly the right thing. While the supposedly wiser adults hesitated, embarrassed and unsure in the face of such raw emotion, eight-year-old Lauren simply and honestly acknowledged Eileen’s pain and grief, and offered her the comfort she needed at the moment.

Her innocent, unselfconscious action offered potent proof that simple acceptance and understanding is so often the best response to another’s pain.

~Candace Schuler

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