It was way past bedtime on a pretty important Thursday night. I was laying in bed with Elsie and we were talking about the day, the week and all of the things that transpired over that period of time. We usually talk about funny things that happened at school or what we want to have for breakfast or what book to read in the morning. But, it wasn’t a regular week and in our heart of hearts, we sure wish that it was.
In the soft bedtime whisper that only a four-year-old could manage, she whispered it again.
I’m scared, mama.
But that is one of the funny things about fear - it hits you when you just aren't ready to be hit, it swallows you whole when it’s just not the right time. It comes out of nowhere, or sometimes in the middle of a bedtime story. Fear is brought to the surface while you find yourself sinking. Deeper and deeper, fear is something that you can taste. And it’s sour and bitter and stays in your mouth for just a moment too long.
And when your four-year-old feels fearful, well, you feel a little helpless because those feelings don’t just go away with a standard It’s going to be okay.
Earlier in the week, my husband’s dad had a series of small heart-attacks. Two were right in front of all of us, and let me tell you - they’re not always like how we see them in the movies. No grasping of the chest, no falling to the knees. Just quiet, slow, pain. Sweating. Nausea. And people, if this happens to someone you love, get them to the ER. Fast forward a few days and we found ourselves walking him through a quadruple bypass, and happy to be part of a team helping him after the surgery.
Anyway, a series of additional unfortunate events during this process gave Elsie eyes into the soul of a late-night emergency room, seeing first-hand her grandpa be no-bones-about-it sick, and waiting patiently yet observantly in the wings while her family figured things out. Her eyes wide, her heart open and her energy so young.
So yeah, on Thursday night we found ourselves cuddled under the weight of her down comforter, and she was scared. She told me so, but she didn’t have to because I already knew.
As she talked and talked about her feelings, I listened intently and tried to find the right words to ease her mind. I struggled.
It was scary.
I was scared too.
And so I told her so. I told her everything that had happened within that last week was scary and it was okay to feel those feelings and feel them hard and deep and wide. I told her things were better now. I told her we had a plan. I told her though, that I was scared and the things she saw by accident were scary and I felt that way too.
In that moment, nightlight dancing across our faces, I realized how darn important it is to be honest with these feelings we feel, with ourselves and with others. We broke it down - what being scared meant, what it felt like, and what exactly were we scared of. We planned what we were going to do the next day to face our fears. Talking it through made us feel a little better, but then so naturally, so easy, we quickly began talking about things we were thankful for.
That list was way longer that the scared list.
And we fell to sleep that night wrapped in truth that the things we are grateful for are stronger and larger and heavier, yet so much lighter in so many ways, than the things that give us fear.
That’s the power move. When fear creeps in, refocus on thankfulness and not just thankfulness but good old honest gratitude.
Things won’t stop being scary. Scary things will keep coming, sometimes at a pace that feels wild and unmanageable. But let’s keep talking about them. Let’s be honest about them. Nobody is a hero when fear wins. So let’s keep breaking fear down and building up the moments for gratitude.
This world is thick with those moments.