When my daughter Duchess was about seven years old, her grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She lived with us, so there would be no hiding the fact that Gramma was very ill. There would be treatments and surgeries and Gramma would be very sick all the time for a long time.
I wanted to tell Duchess the truth but in ways she could understand. One of those earliest days after diagnosis, when there was appointment after appointment and I had to be there to make sure I knew what was going on, I found myself browsing the gift store to pass time. And I saw a stuffed animal of BO, the White House Dog.
Duchess loves her stuffed animals. I frequently make voices for them and they all have their own personalities. I came up with the answer.
Bo would be the hospital’s representative. He was sent home by the doctors to explain things to her when she had questions. We would have a meeting every few days before bedtime. All the stuffed animals would gather around and Bo would ask if she had any questions and he would do his best to answer them in a very dignified but age appropriate manner. Mama wasn’t conducting the meeting. Bo was. Mama wasn’t giving the answers. Bo was. He made her a great promise in the beginning, that he would never fib to her. That he would always tell her the truth when she asked a question. And he always did, even when the question was the hardest things she could ever ask.
Last thing during the meeting, she would assign the “worry necklace” to an animal in a little ceremony. We would thank the previous animal for conducting his duties admirably and then she would select the next and put the necklace on it. That animal would be her “worry” animal until the next meeting. She could hold and hug it and be comforted when she was, well, worried.
It was just a simple plastic bead thing with her name on a string that she’d made a year or so earlier. But the ceremony meant the world to her. And my goodness but the critters fussed over that necklace. They AAAALLLLL wanted to be the worry animal! It could be a very difficult decision some nights, with a pool of five or ten animals all vying for the honor. I’m surprised no fights broke out.
If I saw her with the animal, it provided me with a visual cue that she was worried or anxious and I could give her a hug for no reason or go get Bo to ask what was troubling her. Since she was talking to Bo and not to Mama, it was easier to share her feelings and concerns. And Bo never told me anything. He was quite the tight-lipped little Portuguese Water Dog. Great confidence keepers, they are.
Over the course of the next couple years, she asked fewer and fewer questions. She needed the meetings less and less frequently, until finally she and Bo decided she didn’t need a “worry” animal anymore. Gramma wasn’t going to die (not right now, at least), so the major danger had passed.
I’m sure one of them is still wearing that necklace, though. I don’t recall a ceremony retiring it.