Everyone told me after the accident that at least Eleanor is too young to really grasp what’s going on. Everyone told me that she would save my life.
At first, I told myself that too, grasping at anything to give me comfort among the devastating loss. But as I’ve watched her grieve this in her own way, I’ve seen the folly in those thoughts.
No, I didn’t have to pick her up from school and tell her that her father’s been killed. But I have had to watch her crawl around the house calling out for him, then lay her head on the floor and cry when he never shows up. I’ve had to watch her check behind pictures of him to see if he’s behind them. And I’ve had to console her in the middle of the night when she wakes up crying, calling for him, but he doesn’t come to her like he used to.
Her pediatrician said to show her lots of pictures and videos of him to keep his memory alive. So anytime she sees my phone now, she’ll clamor for it, crying, “Daga! Daga! Daga!” Nothing works to distract her from this and her crying is inconsolable until she hears his voice from a video.
The Navy portrait of him is still framed from the funeral and I’ve propped up against the wall so she can crawl up to her father. It’s the largest photo I have of him, so we use that when we “say night-night to dada.” Last week, she was standing up at it and pulling it back from the wall to check if he was behind it and when she didn’t see him, she crouched down and kissed his mouth.
Though I understand the complexities of a young child losing a parent grow as their mental development grows, not being able to rationalize with her is heartbreaking.
I want to tell her that daddy isn’t gone because she’s done something wrong or because he chose to leave her, but rather that he loves her very much and he’s in Heaven with Jesus. I want to tell her that when she took her first step and looked around to see if her daddy was watching, that he saw it perfectly from his perch. I want to tell her that he’s now her guardian angel and he will always protect and look after her.
But I can’t tell her those things.
Instead, I have to wonder what’s worse: watching her desperation as she tries to connect with her father again, or seeing that one day stop and realizing she’s given up on him ever returning.