Several months ago, we moved across the country. Among our myriad reasons for moving, we wanted to be closer to my cousin; my child's legal guardian should the unthinkable happen to my husband and me. It's important for my child to know this family well. We need each other; this familial connection.
My daughter knows this cousin of mine is the closest thing I'll ever have, at least biologically, to a sibling. We both love this human deeply and were floored by the amount of gratitude we felt to finally, after all these years, be able to fully embrace family, literally and figuratively. This was a connection for which we've always longed. My daughter felt it as much as I did.
Just weeks after our move, however, my cousin unexpectedly had to move far away to care for a very sick family member on her husband's side.
My child, being an only child just like I was, was devastated. We're not exactly overflowing in the family department.
Of course my daughter has my husband and me, but there's nothing like having someone besides your parents love you and give you a sense of greater community. We need each other. We're designed to thrive among one another.
We need each other.
For weeks after they moved away, my daughter would wake and call for me at night. She'd lean her tear-soaked face into my pajamas and choke out, "Why did they leave us?"
She felt deserted. Abandoned. Isolated and confused.
Seven years wise and an old soul, she's young enough to still be innocent and hopeful, but old enough to know that this life doesn't last forever. She knows that, oftentimes, we need each other urgently when someone's time on Earth is coming to an end.
Although she understood the reason they left, the "logic" wasn't speaking to her gentle heart.
Logic rarely speaks directly to the heart.
As it turns out, the "surface" question of why they had to leave was the easy one to answer -- but there was more work to do.
I realized I had to address what was underneath her question: her deeper and unanswered hurts. Her feelings of being left by these wonderful people whom she loves so dearly. Her stress of making many moves in her short seven years, never being able to fully "settle into connection" -- and having this hope evaporate once again before her beautiful blue eyes.
She learned the hard truth that it's much easier to leave than to be left.
The deeper questions she was subconsciously asking were these:
"Am I not worthy of someone I love staying with me?"
"Do I not matter as much?"
"Am I truly lovable to anyone besides you and Daddy?"
These are not the questions she needs to take into adolescence or adulthood; to absorb into the fiber of her self-worth.
She won't "grow into" loving herself if she measures her value on whether others stick around.
Resultantly, we talked every day about how deeply she matters; how much my cousin would love to be here with us if she could. I helped her internalize the sadness that my cousin must be feeling having to leave under these circumstances. I helped her see their perspectives.
To replace hurt with empathy.
I reiterated that truly, we need each other. They need us, as much as we do, them.
Further, I knew the importance of letting her watch me grieve -- and to accept the change without resentment.
I wanted her to see that this type of pain could be a peaceful companion until it moved on.
She heard me say that I felt sad; that I sincerely miss my cousin. I modeled how to move through sadness and to return to the faith that love isn't about physical distance or geography.