Finding Gracie's Joy
By Jan Ackerson
The file on my desk told Gracie's tragic story. She had been in her mother's car, with her twin sister and baby brother, on an evening errand to the grocery store. As her mother rounded a curve, the headlights caught the startled gaze of a deer. Nora had swerved to avoid the frightened animal and skidded on wet pavement, sending the car spinning into another vehicle. Gracie and Nora had survived; Sophie and little Jack had not.
That was six weeks ago. The cast had just been removed from Gracie's broken arm, but Nora was concerned about the deeper injury to Gracie's spirit. The little girl never spoke of Sophie or Jack-and she never smiled. Nora had called me for an appointment, frantic that her remaining child seemed to be disappearing into grief.
I knew that Nora and Gracie were in my waiting room. Surveying my office and the play areas that I had set up for my sad and wounded little patients, I breathed a prayer. Lord, help me to find Gracie's joy. Through the peephole, I saw that Gracie was sitting solemnly beside her mother, her feet inches from the floor but motionless-as if the simple act of swinging them might somehow betray her sorrow.
I opened the door, and knelt next to Gracie's seat. "I'm Meg. What's your name?"
Gracie shot a look at her mother, who nodded. "It's okay, sweet pea."
Her wide green eyes studied me for a moment. Then-almost a whisper. "Gracie the Great."
I've learned this: let the child guide the session. "Well, Gracie the Great, would you like to see what's in my playroom?"
She slid out of her chair and followed me, then quietly surveyed each play center. I saw that she was wearing a dishtowel, pinned cape-like to her pink tee shirt. As good a place as any to start. "Gracie the Great. Do you have any superpowers?"
Gracie's eyes flashed. "Yes!" She took a few steps toward the road mat, a carpet printed with streets and traffic signs. Taking a toy car out of a nearby bin, she hesitated at the edge of the mat. Her grip on the toy whitened her knuckles.
"What are your superpowers, Gracie?"
"Gracie the Great!"
"I'm sorry. What are your superpowers, Gracie the Great?"
She took another car from the bin and tapped their bumpers together, ever so gently. "It doesn't hurt me." She looked at me, then at the cars in her hands. "When cars smash up. It doesn't hurt me."
"That's a really useful superpower, isn't it?"
But Gracie didn't say a word for the rest of our time together. I made arrangements with Nora for a series of sessions.
Over the next few weeks, I learned more about Gracie the Great's powers. She could talk to animals, and see in the dark, and she had no blood-"just more skin." Clearly, Gracie was working through the accident, trying to regain control. Always, her face remained solemn; her eyes wide.
One afternoon, Gracie the Great revealed another superpower. Twisting a corner of her dishtowel cape, she gazed at her shoes. "I never need to drink juice." Then, to my astonishment, she sank to the floor, sobbing.
"Gracie? Why don't you need to drink juice, honey?"
Several weeks' worth of emotions poured forth. "I told my mommy I wanted juice but we didn't have any so I told her to go get some. She didn't want to because Daddy wasn't home to watch J-Jack but I cried a little bit and she had a mad face and said okay we'll go get juice…" Gracie stopped, her broken heart choking back her words.
"Oh, Gracie. Do you think the accident was your fault?"
A nod. Shuddering gulps.
I gathered her into my lap. "No one thinks it was your fault, honey. It was just an accident."
"It was just a dumb deer?"
"Yes, Gracie. Just a dumb deer."
Gracie sniffed. "I don't like dumb deer." She peered at the framed print on my wall-a smiling Jesus surrounded by happy children. "Is Sophie in heaven?"
"Is Jack in heaven?"
"Do they know he likes his tummy buzzed?"
"Yes, Gracie. They know."
Gracie sat silent in my lap for a minute. "I have another superpower."
"What is it, Gracie the Great?"
"I can see your underpants."
I drew back and looked into her tear-stained face. She was not smiling, but a twinkle played at the corner of her eye.
Jan Ackerson has always loved words, but only relatively recently begun writing, when she realized that the act of writing can also be an act of prayer. When her family went through a time of great trial, Jan found that committing her words to her Heavenly Father was a means of emotional healing. Jan enjoys being a wife, mother, mother-in-law, teacher, and owner of Bad Kitty. She is a tireless volunteer at FaithWriters.com, acting as a book reviewer and longtime Writing Challenge judge. If you would like to write to Jan, you can do so through the Letters page of this magazine.