He sat down in my counseling space, head down and pretty timid. I spoke softly to match his energy, followed all of the trauma protocols for "safe" approach and opened my heart and mind completely. I had worked with him before in a large group, so he was familiar with me, this was our first 1:1. I asked him. "Can you pick a card that shows how you feel?" He gave a small shrug and peaked over his little glasses at me. I asked, "would you like an orange, I am going to have one and I'd like to share one with you?" "I guess", he said quietly. YES! connection I thought. Here we go. This will be great! As I took a bite of my orange, feeling very optimistic, my little friend put his hand out to reach for a feelings card. I was excited and interested to see how my friend would choose. He pushed it to me and I picked up the card. "SAD" it read. My heart sank, but I remained in my space. "Hmm" I said, "is there something particular that is making you sad that you would be willing to share?" The energy was palpable. And here it came, like a punch in my gut...the words that force me to rise up as an advocate for childhood wellness and mental health. He stared straight at me, to let me know he meant business, he straightened his tiny glasses, took a sec and said, "I wish I was dead". I wanted to scoop up his little body and hug him and love on him until he loved himself. My motherly instincts were fighting me to protect and nurture this sweet little cherub from all of life that has hurt him. But that's not "allowed"...okay, focus Cheryl, don't panic, keep it together. I could feel my throat filling up, my tears were begging to release, but I am the guide here...I have to try and see him through this. I bumped his shoulder on mine in a half lean and said, "I am happy you are here, I think your pretty amazing". It was very hard for me to even probe further, but this is the job right...any and all feelings are valid. "Can I ask why you wish that buddy?" I said. He was relaxed and in an open posture, peeling at his orange and willing to share his story with me. I was all ears, heart wide open. He proceeded to tell me that ever since his Grandfather had passed, he felt like life was terrible and he had to be sad now. He lost his joy when his confidant and life guide left him. He mentioned how his mother cried all time time and no matter what, he could not make her happy, he didn't want to smile anymore, as it might upset his mama. He felt like he was a bother to everyone around him and just wanted to be "dead" like his Grandfather.
It was heavy...all so very heavy for an 8 year old to carry. We worked on grieving strategies, self esteem and I learned much about the man he missed so incredibly much...his beloved Grandfather. He even taught me how to say his name in his language. Our 30 minute session was almost over and I had to get through this ensuring his safety and wellness and did so by the book. But I will say this. What he wanted that day was to feel safe again. He wanted to know that he wasnt alone in this world and that he was allowed to be happy again in the remembrance of his Grandfather. He needed reassurance and love, guidance and coping strategies. He also needed that orange to peel back to get to the sweet goodness and find his reason to smile again. A permission, he thought at 8 years old was not allowed. He took on the pressure of having to "fix" his mama and wanted to please, but with his limited emotional intelligence and coping strategies, death was the desirable outcome for him. Now that we have talked a handful of times, and continue to build his EI toolbox, he is happier at school and at home. He realizes that his mama has her own emotions to get through, and that he doesn't have to assume or mimic her difficult feelings. He is able to talk about his Grandfather with a smile and knows its okay to miss him or even cry for his loss, but he also knows the joy of smiling again and what to do when the darkness becomes too dark. We're buddies now, and I feel pretty honored to know him. THESE...these are the opportunities we cannot miss. If he hadn't shared this with me and stayed in his broken heart, there could have been a negative mental health outcome. These are the opportunities that the Health Empowerment Series was made for. #blessed