Baby Dorothy–that’s what they called her. My Kindergarten class squealed in delight when I announced my pregnancy and they couldn’t wait for her to arrive.
Then, she died.
When it was time to go back to work, I was afraid to see my students. I knew that they loved me and that they hurt for me, but I also knew that 5 and 6-year-olds say what’s on their mind. I was worried that they would say something that would upset me and I wasn’t sure how I would control my reactions. My many encounters with adults who had said the “wrong” thing had left me feeling so raw and vulnerable.
How could I expect a child with so little life experience to get it right?
My return to the classroom was met with an abundance of hugs and stories about recess. I was gifted heart-filled pictures and choruses of “we missed you.” It was just pure love.
It was wonderful to be back and it was also completely overwhelming. I was still waiting for their questions or their comments about what had happened.
Baby Dorothy died and I was sure they were going to have something to say about that.
At snack time, I sat next to one of my quieter students. He hadn’t said too much since I had returned and I wanted to connect with him. I asked him about his family and how P.E. had been. He kept his responses short and I began to worry that he was uncomfortable around me. Maybe he didn’t know what to say.
During a long and slightly awkward pause in our conversation, I noticed him staring at me. “Can I ask you something?” he said to me.
Here we go, I thought. I took a deep breath and nodded, hoping my smile looked more reassuring than it felt. I reminded myself that whatever he said, he didn’t want to hurt me. I couldn’t expect a child to know how to comfort me. He did not have the experience to connect with my situation so I would need to be forgiving. With a deep breath, I told him to go ahead.
“Was Baby Dorothy the most beautiful baby?”
There they were–the words I had been dreading became the words I could only hope to hear. After so many painful conversations with others, I had been afraid to trust that someone could possibly say the right thing about my dead daughter.
The words of a child showed me that you didn’t need to know grief to comfort someone who was grieving.
His words for me did not come from his own experience–they came from his heart. And that is what is so wonderful about 5 and 6-year-olds, they almost always say what’s on their minds and they are not afraid to share their hearts.