I couldn’t write anymore. I tried, I sincerely did. Nothing.
Musicians hear music inside their heads all the time, but now it was pure silence. Gone was my endless soundtrack of harmony that only I could hear. I would put my hands on the piano to play. The sound swirled around the room but brought no reminder of a heart without sorrow. What was worse was that no matter where I went in my musical life – my classroom, my home, or even the recording studio – memories of my musical mentor were inescapable. Learning how to love someone who is no longer here is one of the grief’s nastiest lessons.
My caramel macchiato and I were enjoying another chapter in the love-hate relationship with the silence as I sat alone. I detested this unwelcomed presence. Yet, I wanted to wrap myself in it to shield my heart from realizing that this chapter in my life was forever changed. I wanted to understand it and not fear the stillness. I went through the motions of my life, with endless laundry, meal preparation, and homework with my kids. But even the most mundane task of picking out produce felt as if I was in slow silent motion.
“So how’s your little girl?” she asked. My brain jolted. I was already involved in a conversation with someone and we’re now past the autopilot “Hi, how are you” part. I replied, “Oh, my kids. Yes, they’re fine. Doing well in school, playing stringed instruments, and I can’t believe my youngest is in kindergarten. How are yours doing?”
She smiled one of those sage smiles; you know, the one that happens right when someone is being sent to you to deliver priceless wisdom when you need it most. “Dana, I know your kids are great. I’m asking about your little girl.”
What did she mean? I didn’t understand. “You seem so lost since your best friend died. How’s the little girl in there?”
Our eyes locked in a deep gaze. “I’ll tell you exactly how she is. She’s absolutely outlandishly terrified.”
How do you put into the words that you have this incredible fear of never emerging from grief, that you worry that you will never feel joy again; or if you do, how much guilt you will have to negotiate if/when that happens? How do you successfully take an unplanned premature detour through emotional anguish?
She sat down in the chair next to me and put her hand on mine. Her hand was warm against the chill of a sunny March afternoon. “And what do you say to your children when the thunder comes and they are under the bed?”
I looked down at her emerald ring and her perfectly manicured nails. “I say everything is going to be OK. And then I hug them and we sing silly songs.”
She smiled, “And it works every time, doesn’t it?” I returned her smile. “Yes. Without fail.”
“Then do that.” She stood up and insisted that she buy me a second round of caramel bliss. The warmth of the store that flooded out of the door into the cold March afternoon was no match for the warmth of her spirit. The vice grip of heartache was suddenly a little less defiant. We hugged and I thanked her for her advice. And then I think I actually smiled.
It is predicted that life will continue to be unpredictable. We will face things that we never planned for that will send our inner girls screaming to run and take cover under the bed. But we are also women who know how to encourage and reassure. So when the fear overtakes you, when your emotional health is walking a tightrope, go find your little girl. Maybe you need to do a duet with a friend, clergyperson, or counselor, but begin with a hug and a silly song. It works every time.