I had already tucked her into bed. Bedtime prayers were prayed and the lights turned off, but for the night-light that gave her comfort. She was too young and her loss too recent to feel at ease with closing the door.
Shortly after I walked away, I heard her hop out of bed. I expected the ritual last drink of water, but that’s not what happened.
When I peeked in on her, she was on her knees again, for a last-minute request. The biting irony still tugs at my heart today.
“Dear God, would you please send me a unicorn? Amen.”
As she hopped into bed, she noticed me standing in the doorway.
GN: “Gram, do unicorns exist?”
Gram: “No dear. Why did you ask God to send you one?”
GN: “Because one of my friends at school told me if I had one, I could make a wish on the tusk and it would come true.”
Gram: “What would you wish for, honey?” (I already knew, of course.)
GN: “I’d wish for Mamma to come back.”
Gram: “That’s a good wish. (Long pause for lump in throat to disappear) It’s time for bed sweetie.”
GN: “Goodnight, Gram.”
I walked away and the tears flooded down. Not for my grief, but for hers and the enormous amount of pain humans are asked to shoulder. She was doing it her way.
She didn’t trust God enough anymore to ask for her mother back and wanted to try another method . . . and yet she asked God for the unicorn.
I loved that little prayer.
I hunted high and low for a cuddly, stuffed unicorn. It took several outings to area stores and malls in the process. But I finally found one. I didn’t give it to her right away.
I had signed her up for a little kid’s grief support group and waited until the first meeting to give it to her. I thought taking a ‘buddy’ with her might make her feel more comfortable, since there would be times during the meeting that the adults left the room.
She named her unicorn ‘Miracle. . . . . ‘
The grief group was held in a different town a few miles away. When we got there, she hopped out of the car and we walked in. She left the unicorn in the car. She wasn’t nervous because she knew there would be other kids there to play with who were sad too.
She slept with Miracle from time to time, but there was a regular rotation with other ‘buddies’ too. So I thought the unicorn prayer was fading to non-issue status.
Several years later, an older Goodnight and I rented the nature movie, Arctic Tale. It follows Nanu, a polar bear cub and Seela, a young walrus pup in their frozen wilderness. The cinematography was spectacular!
But the very second I saw IT appear from the arctic water, I recognized what it was.
Gram: ”Oooooohhhh! Goodnight!!! That’s a narwhal!!!”
GN: “What’s that?”
Gram: “Just watch. Here it comes. It’s going to surface. It’s a narwhal! Isn’t it beautiful? I’ve only seen it in pictures.”
GN: “What’s a narwhal?”
Gram: “It’s called “The Unicorn of the Sea. See? It has a tusk, but it’s not really a tusk. It’s the left upper incisor of the male narwhal.”
GN: “I thought you told me unicorns weren’t real!!”
Gram: “I had forgotten about narwhals, sweetie.”
GN: “Can we find one, gram?”
Gram: “Find what, honey?”
GN: “A narwhal tusk?”
Gram: “Narwhal tusks are illegal to import into the United States.”
GN: “How come, Gram?”
Gram: “Too many little kids making wishes on the tusks, I think . . . . .”
GN: “Ok . . . . .”
Not long after the unicorn of the sea conversation took place, I found a toy online that was available through a shop on the west coast. I ordered it – two, actually.
I gave one set to her for her birthday. She doesn’t know there is a second set. She used to play with the first set and so far, none of the small parts have gone missing.
Which brings me to the third time we’ve had the Unicorn conversation.
Last weekend, at the quilt show we visited, I told Goodnight to have a look around and then tell me if she’d picked a favorite. Then off she went to browse.
Soon, I heard a squeal from across the room in the museum. “Gram!! Come quick!”
She didn’t have to say a word. I saw them right away, too.
They were relatively smallish pieces in a larger quilt, but there they were! Long time friends to a little girl, growing up.
Miracle sits on a shelf in her room. The second Unicorn vs. Narwhal play set is tucked away in a closet for safe-keeping and her long-ago prayer is tucked away in my heart.
There are no guarantees in life that we won’t be confronted with grief, but if there really is a Miracle to handling it, I think it’s to honor it.