When Accompaniment Becomes a Calling
The afternoon sun warmed the room as she sat snuggled into the couch with three small children sitting as close to her as possible.
I left the house knowing that this young mother needed these children surrounding her … listening to her as she read the many voices from a favorite Disney version of a Grimm’s Fairytale. Only one of the children was her; two were mine.
As she read the children settled in quietly. My seven year old leaned into her, interrupting the story as he reached out to gently touch the necklace around the young mother’s neck.
With a soft voice, he said, “Your necklace is pretty.”
Around her neck was a simple silver chain with a small egg-shaped silver medallion hanging from its center. Inscribed on the medallion was a tree with many branches.
The other two children, ages 3 and 4, turned their bodies into the woman, and looked into her face.
My 4 year old daughter lifted to her knees, leaned her elbows on the young mom’s thighs and peered into her eyes. With a tender 4-year-old’s heart she touched the woman’s cheek with soft fingertips and said, “Who gave you that necklace?”
“My mother gave this necklace to me.”
“Why did she give you the necklace?”
The room became very still. It was as if all three small children knew that something important was happening.
“It was my sister’s.”
My daughter put her whole hand, warm from a day of play, on the young woman’s face, and said, “Where is your sister?”
“My sister died.”
Very softly, very tenderly, my daughter reached out to touch the necklace and asked, “What is your sister’s name?”
“Her name is Gretchen.”
Tipping her head to one side, my daughter again put her palm to the young woman’s cheek, and said, “Gretchen. Gretchen.”
The next day with emotion in her voice, the young woman told me about this exchange. She told me about her beloved sister, too fragile to survive the growing up years.
The young woman said, “It was a holy moment...so sacred...my sister’s name was spoken. Your daughter asked me my sister’s name. I don’t remember anyone ever asking me what her name is. I got to say the name of my sister. Gretchen.”
Many special needs children do not make it through childhood. Those children are not forgotten by those who love them. Do not be afraid to ask the families the names of those children. Listen to the families tell the stories of their loved ones.
The Rev. Laurel Halvorson Bernard
Pastor of Special Needs Ministries