I know now how to help someone out of quicksand, but that wasn’t until much later, after the little girl died.
Friends’ two-year-old daughter and her little brother were in mom’s car when it was t-boned on an icy road. The little boy had cuts and bruises but the little girl was paralyzed from the neck down. She couldn’t breathe, move, or speak.
When we visited the Pediatric ICU, she looked mystified.
And something else, beyond all that, or maybe I imagined it.
How could a parent, any parent, explain to a little girl the reason that the her life of movement, laughter, and speech was in an instant replaced by the very opposite. No one, no one, can make sense of something like this.
No one could; I know, I tried. For a year I looked for someone or something to explain it to me.
When she died a year later, I experienced the most intense grief I’ve felt before or since, even at the death of my parents. I passed a year immersed and overwhelmed by sorrow and anger, finding nothing to ease their pain.
Only now, twenty-five years later, do I understand that my intense grief and terror is a recognition of my own childhood experience being “unable to speak”. There is no “new normal”; while adaptation occurs, and each of us goes on, there is, I think, at the core of us something unhealed.
For me, that ancient pain is calmed as I help clients face and express their own astonishment at what has happened to them. Even though I could do nothing to give a “voice” to that little girl, her benevolence has taught me how to speak.