Have you or someone you've known lost a parent when you were very young? When death or divorce shakes up the world of a child it can be so confusing for a childlike mind to make sense of what has happened. It's almost like our minds are made up of a long row of coat hooks. Each hook represents an experience you've had and what you've learned from it. When you have a similar experience to something that has happened to you before, you hang it on that hook.
Let's say you go the beach at noon in the summer without sunscreen. You've done it before. You play in the sun for 2 hours. You're not surprised when you get sunburned. When you start feeling your skin getting hot and painful you don't cry and wonder, "what is happening to me?" You already have a mental coat hook called, "I know the sun can burn my skin" to hang that information on because it's happened to you before or to someone you know.
When a child loses a parent, if nothing like that has ever happened before, there is no coat hook to hang the information on. The information, or lack of it, seems to float around until a new coat hook gets created in the child's mind. Maybe that child finally meets another child who has lost a parent. New coat hook: I am not alone. Or maybe that child hears an adult say something nice about the parent they lost. New coat hook: My parent was nice. Eventually as time passes the growing child may have experiences where, during a grief-stricken prayer, they feel that the Lord understands their pain and comforts them. New coat hook: It helps to pray. God can comfort me when I am hurt.
I just watched a sweet movie, called Ponette *, about a little girl who lost her mother. It was comforting for me to watch this little girl's struggle to make sense of losing a parent. I was about her age when my father died (suicide), so her emotions, the off-handed comments and advice from children she knows (and the few adults in the film) were so familiar! It made me realize how capable, imaginative and determined children can be in making sense of their world, and how natural it can be for them to turn to God.
Other family members who watched it with me had never lost a parent, so the film seemed sad to them, although they were very impressed by the little girl whose acting some reviewers call the "most amazing child performance in film history". It didn't seem sad at all to me. It was comforting, refreshing and healing to watch; even funny at times. New coat hook: you're never to old to heal a little more.
*The young 4 year-old actress, Victoire Thivisol, was named Best Actress for this role at the Venice Film Festival. She later played the daughter of Juliette Binoche in the film, Chocolat.