Lizzy was drawing at a small wooden table in the kitchen. She liked to work in what she called her “office,” to be near her mother, Margaret. Tape, a few bright markers, a small box of crayons, and white paper were her “office supplies.” Lizzy drew a heart that finally met her high standard and was on her second one when the phone rang. Margaret answered the call with her usual cheerful greeting.

“Good morning!” There was a long pause and then Lizzy heard, “Oh Mom… oh dear.”

Lizzy’s crayon stopped. She got up and went to lean against her mother’s skirt, sensing her sudden sadness.

“What happened?” There was a long pause and then Margaret said, “I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’ll see if Mrs. Johansen can come and be with Lizzy for the day.” She paused again. “I love you Mom. I am sorry you have to be alone,” she said as her voice cracked.

Margaret hung up the phone in what seemed like slow motion. She lowered herself and looked into Lizzy’s eyes as she explained, “Dear Lizzy, Gramp died. I have to go to and be with Nana.”

Lizzy’s hands grasped her mother’s brightly colored skirt. She nuzzled into her.

“Let me go with you, Mommy. I want to.”

Margaret ran up the stairs with Lizzy clutching her skirt. “Oh Lizzy, I know you do, but this is not a time for a little girl. It won’t be nice for you. I have no idea how long I will be. And Nana is so sad. It’s definitely better if you stay with Mrs. Johansen.”

Gathering a change of clothes in case she had to stay overnight, Margaret brushed her hair, and saw her sad face in the mirror. Lizzy ran down to her little desk and made another heart. In big, shaky letters she wrote, “I love you, Gramp and Nana,” under the heart.

From downstairs, she heard her mother speaking on the phone to her father. Mike was in California on a business trip.

“He was reading the newspaper and just collapsed. Mom called 911 but it was too late.”

She listened for a moment and then continued, “Yes, please come home as soon as you can. I don’t want Lizzy to be without one of us for too long.”

“No, I’m not going to bring her. I think the house will be too sad a place for her. We’ll all be better off if she stays home.”

Lizzy handed her mother the note. Her eyes brimming with tears, Margaret hugged Lizzy to her. “Thank you, sweetheart.  I’ll bring it with me to Nana’s. Now I have to try Mrs. Johansen.”

“Oh Mommy, let me be with you. I just want to hug you and Nana. Please?”

“Lizzy, probably some of Nana’s friends will come over. They will want to be quiet. I’ll tell you what – when Mrs. Johansen gets here, you two can watch one of your movies.”

But, as it turned out, Mrs. Johansen had another babysitting job that day and couldn’t come. Without other choices, Margaret picked out a few of Lizzy’s clothes, put them in the bag with hers, and they left.

The car ride was a quiet one. At red lights, Margaret and Lizzy held hands. At one light, Lizzy saw tears streaming down her mother’s cheeks.

“Mommy, I love you too much.”

Margaret almost laughed. “Is there such a thing as loving someone too much?”

“I think there must be.”

“Lizzy how did I ever imagine making this trip without you? I love you too much too.”

The car wheels crunched as they went over the gravel in the driveway. Nana was looking out the window.

“Lizzy, please try to be quiet. Nana will be very sad.” Margaret knew this was a lot to ask of a four year old.

“Okay Mommy. I brought her the first good heart I ever drew.”

Nana met them at the door and they hugged her.

“Oh, Lizzy, how lovely to have you here, too. I was feeling sad for your Mommy having to drive all alone.”

“Yes, Mom, Lizzy has been such a comfort.”

“Nana,” Lizzy whispered. “I am so sorry Gramp died. I love him and you.”

Soon some of Nana’s friends arrived, bringing food and cakes and bunches of flowers. Their faces brightened at the sight of the little girl, who greeted each one with a tender hug. They seemed to enjoy looking at her drawings and hearing her describe what she had done. Margaret realized her daughter’s presence had brought comfort to everyone, especially herself.

In sad and difficult situations, our first instinct is to exclude children, both for their own protection, and to be sure the time remains calm, quiet and dignified. What we often don’t realize is the joy and comfort that children can bring to the saddest event. Their presence reaffirms that life goes on and renews itself, that family survives in spite of the loss of one of its members, and that a glimmer of sunshine alleviates even the most difficult times.

Children also need the security of knowing they are part of an extended family, not just at parties and holidays, but all the time. They gain confidence and a sense of belonging from being included in family events, both happy and sad.

PWM Mom's Corner

Written by: Anne Martine Cook, Managing Partner & Mom, with 35+ years experience teaching nursery school children.

We welcome your comments and questions.