My daughter’s fourth year was a rough one. This tiny three year old hadn’t been through much change in her life. Suddenly, mommy is pregnant. We’re moving to a new neighborhood. Mommy is on bed rest. A new baby has joined the family. Baby brother is in the NICU. Mommy has come home, with a new baby. It’s a lot, for someone so small.
She dealt with things in her own way. It wasn’t all positive. She regressed a bit, new milestones disappeared. But overall, she was a champ. She made new little friends in our new neighborhood. She helped mommy and the new baby. And she met Buggy the bug.
My daughter has a big imagination. She always has. She also has a very big heart, and only wants the best for all living creatures. I’ve always encouraged those qualities in her, even when it gets us into a tiny bit of trouble. She had experienced some potty training regression in all the stress of that year. We were just starting to get back into the swing of things. I heard her tiny feet patter up the stairs to the washroom. I heard her open the door. I heard her scream “MOOOOMMYYYYY!”.
There was a bug, you see. A great big bug, in HER bathroom. Whatever it was, it had wings, and it was perfectly content to flutter around our bathroom. I am not a squisher. I know it’s not terribly logical, but I’ve always felt sorry for bugs. I typically just carry them outside and set them free. This was no ordinary bug. This was a crafty bug. He evaded my best bug catching efforts and took up permanent residency in our bathroom. This was not what I needed while right in the thick of potty re-training.
She wouldn’t enter that bathroom for the life of her. She was terrified of this insect intruder. I decided to appeal to her sense of empathy. “You know, honey. He’s just lost. He was probably trying to head home to his family and got stuck here on his way. Look how much smaller he is than you. He’s probably afraid of you, you’re like a giant.”. It worked. Those tiny footsteps pattered up the stairs again. “Hello?” I heard her say “My name is Sam, what’s yours?”.
Sam and Buggy made fast friends. She was suddenly looking forward to entering the bathroom again. I’d hear her talking to him constantly, pausing between sentences to carefully take in his imaginary replies. She learned a lot about Buggy. It turned out he had a family outside, and he missed them. But he felt much better now that he’d made a friend. This tiny insect gave my daughter a sense of purpose. She was helping someone. She was proud of herself.
It happened again. Footsteps running to the bathroom door. “MOOOOMMYYYYY!”. There, on the edge of our sink in a droplet of water, lay Buggy the bug. She was devastated. For a moment, I considered sharing some hard truths. That Buggy wasn’t capable of true consciousness. That his loss didn’t carry the same weight as others. That she had used her imagination, and it wasn’t real. But I was wrong. It was real. It was a very important developmental step for her. She had written her own narrative, with roles for herself and her tiny friend. She had opened up her heart and showed tremendous kindness. It was real to her, and I decided it would be real to me. We made our funeral arrangements.
My daughter felt her friend deserved a proper send off. We talked about how she’d like to say goodbye. We lined an empty gum tin with cloth, and placed Buggy into his final resting place. She wanted him to be warm where he was going. She sat down and drew a picture of herself and Buggy together and happy. She buried him with that paper. She wanted him to rest under her special tree in our backyard. Her baby brother and I stood watch while she tearfully lowered his tiny coffin into the ground, and gave a little broken toddler English eulogy on how Buggy was the best friend she ever had. I found myself tearing up over the loss of a fly who lived a single weekend stuck in our bathroom. It was real to her, and her pain is real to me.
She had a lot of questions, after Buggy left this world. We talked a lot about not knowing what comes next. But we also talked about how love is forever. How those who don’t live on this earth anymore still live in our hearts. We talked about how energy never really dies, it just changes shape. The conversations we had would echo back for years to come. When her great grandfather died. Her uncle. Her dog. I’d see her grieve with the tools she’d learned after Buggy. “They live in my heart now” she’d say.
Buggy has been gone for three years. She remembers all of it. Sometimes, rarely, she’ll get choked up at the thought of it. It’s still very real to her. Someday she’ll realize this isn’t the story of a profound loss, but rather the story of a little girl with a big heart processing the concept of death. I hope she’s not embarrassed when that day comes. We treated her first experience with grief as a valid process. I’m grateful every day for it. It taught me a valuable lesson about meeting your children where they’re at, and finding the reality in a world of imagination.