After about 15 minutes lying on the carpet next to her bed, I looked up into Missy’s face.
“Feeling better now?”
Nod. Smile. “Yeah.”
I smiled back, hugged her. “OK. Now try to get some sleep.”
It was a situation that was odd and familiar at the same time. Growing up, I used to spend some of my nights in the room of my youngest sister, an imaginative girl with equally imaginative nightmares. I’d stay a bit, wait for her to fall asleep, then quietly decamp for my bed.
I’d even had to deal with it as a pet owner once, when our first bird got night terrors, flipping around the cage at breakneck speed. Remembering that she had always enjoyed my music, I began quietly playing on the piano (to Heather’s amusement). Three songs later, Rocky was completely relaxed.
So I had the resume. But there’s still nothing like your first time as a “parent.”
I use the word in quotes since Heather and I are caregivers and guardians for her developmentally disabled aunt Missy, a wonderful woman about eight months younger than me. It’s a role that combines equal parts of parent, sibling, best friend, and sometimes (it seems) second banana in an ongoing comedy act. When Missy smiles and laughs, the room seems to brighten.
But Missy doesn’t talk a lot. So when something scares or worries her, it can be hard to figure out just what.
And that was our challenge when we heard the moans coming from her room late one night – or was it early one morning?
I went in. Heather went in. I went in. Missy went to the bathroom, had her glass of water, sat up a little as each of us tried to deduce what was wrong. Was she feeling OK? Had the day’s story been a little scary? Was she worried about something?
No clear answer. Just a nod or a shake or a shrug, maybe a smile as one of us came in yet again.
Finally, I called on my old big brother training. “Want me to stay up with you for a bit?”
So I turned out the light. Stretched out on the floor. And waited.
It seemed to be enough.
And maybe that’s true for more of us than just Missy.
Sometimes it seems that we live in a world of fears. Some have names: fear for a job, fear for a relative overseas, fear of a bad situation getting worse. But sometimes – maybe even often – they congeal and combine, creating a layer of stress and worry and doubt that hovers like a Denver brown cloud. It can’t be articulated. It can’t even be completely understood.
But maybe understanding isn’t what’s needed.
Maybe what’s needed is a presence.
A friend. A spouse. A parent. Anyone who can be near and remind you that you don’t have to face the darkness alone. Even if they don’t understand the fear, they understand you. They stand by you.
And having them there can make the darkness a little brighter. Maybe even just bright enough.
“Perfect love casts out fear,” the Sunday School lesson went once upon a time. I know that sounds lofty. But even a love that’s still learning can find enough strength to hold fear at bay til the morning comes.
Often, that’s all we need.
Thanks, Missy. Thanks for letting me be that heart in darkness, that friend in the night.
I’ll see you in the morning.