She's had bouts of insomnia for a few months now. Some of it is just kid bedtime procrastination, but some of it seems to be legit. On evenings like last night, when her fear of not falling asleep begins to get too big to quell, it is truly miserable.
"Don't worry about falling asleep," I told her. "When that feeling or thought pops into your head, just tell it, 'I know you, but you aren't true. I will fall asleep, I don't have to worry.'"
Breathe. Sigh. Her ten-year old body tried to relax, but her mind wouldn't let the thoughts go.
"Mom, it still makes me feel anxious. I hate insomnia. I hate that I can't sleep lately. I hate this part of growing up."
"I know. It doesn't feel good. Just imagine you are in this warm, safe bubble. Everything in that bubble is calm. That bubble is made of all my love for you, it surrounds you all the time. You don't have to worry in that bubble."
"I don't like to talk about how much you love me. Do you want to know why?"
"Because it makes me think of your death, and how I just won't be able to handle it when you are gone. It makes me cry."
Stillness. No breath from either of us. Yes, I know that feeling.
"I understand. I'm not planning on dying anytime soon."
"I know, it's just...it's just terrible to think about."
"It is. Right now, let's think about something else. You know that my love lives right here." I touch her heart as I wrap her up in a hug. She nods her head and squeezes me back.
"That never goes away. Ever. In a million years, no matter how far away we are from each other, it is always there. My mom's love lives in my heart, and her mom's in hers...the love stretches out forever in time."
"It's so much."
"It is. You are also loved by so many other people: family, friends, etc."
"I have a tremendous bubble of love to live in."
"It's still hard."
"I know. But we are here now, and you are safe, and we can choose to smile whenever we think of that love, even if we also cry a little bit."
Ten-years old for our child has been about alternating moments of tiny kid vs. tween; needing hugs and believing in the tooth fairy vs. growing cynicism and wanting to let us know she has all the answers. This reckoning with death is so different from younger versions, because a part of her now understands that this will be devastating, and there is no escape from it, for any of us. All we can do is acknowledge the truth of the feeling, give each other hugs in the moment, and remind ourselves that even as we lose each other—and nothing is ever as right or good or peaceful as being together, alive and well—we can seek comfort from others, and have that eternal love live on in our hearts. It doesn't feel like enough, and maybe it never can be. Still, though, it is what we have, and it is a lot.