Our words to communicate fear and courage

“Nana’s not going to be coming any more. Not for a long while. She needs special medicine which will make her ill. She can’t travel. ”

He stood there and nodded rhythmically. Tell-tale frozen face. I know it to mean that in his head the cogs are spinning. Translating to understand what he has actually been told. Processing onwards to work out what his reaction is supposed to be. Scanning the input for meaningful ‘trigger words’; searching the memory banks for examples of ‘expected behaviour’ in this situation.

She waved goodbye, wiped away a tear and was gone. He turned 180 degrees and went upstairs. Lay on his bed. Cried wordlessly for two hours.

When he spoke, he repeated the last words she’d said to him. Repeated and repeated and repeated. For hours. The words were meant as a reassurance; a tenet for courage; telling him to not be afraid. In my son’s mouth, every repetition was nuanced different. Stress the first word; stress the middle syllable of the last word; add a pause before the last word. Every possible reading of those words. Each inflexion with a slightly altered meaning. I knew this, because on the second round of this he added comments to himself. Which version said ‘do not be afraid’ which version said ‘be afraid’. Trying to capture every drop. Parsing out the codex from these verbal glyphs for how he should be to support his grandmother.