The case of the missing pacifier

set of multicolored baby pacifiers on table
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

Loss – Is something that is such an inevitable part of our lives, but that many of us find so hard to come to terms with. It is no wonder sometimes it just feels easier to express it in a colour, a picture, a song, or even prose.

I have often found that what a loss means to us, depends a lot on the meaning we attach to it. And hence, what you would have experienced as a loss, could mean nothing or something different to another person. Case in point – Just recently, I had a surprising discovery of this with my 3yo toddler.

About a year back, we were trying to wean my toddler off her pacifier, which she had doggedly refused to give up. One day, we could not find it, and were secretly glad of it although it took a while for us to comfort her for her loss. Later on, we realised she had misplaced it, but of course we didn’t tell her because we wanted her to grow up.

Recently, she saw it again when I was trying it on my number 2. I noticed that her face suddenly changed. As she started sobbing, she asked me what her pacifier was doing there on the table. I was taken aback by her reaction, but quickly moved in to offer a hug. As she sobbed in my arms, I went with my gut feeling to ask if she had remembered how much comfort her pacifier had given her when she was younger. She nodded her head, and sobbed even more, with her head buried in her favourite blanket.

I somehow knew at that moment not to go with the “but you are a big girl now and you don’t need it!”. I let her cry, and started to empathise with her loss by sharing with her an experience of loss I had myself. As she stopped crying, I noticed she did not want to look in the direction of the pacifier. I thought, why not try if we could attempt a closure to this episode by inviting her to touch her pacifier again. Get in touch with the loss at a new level, now that her grief had been attended to.

She took up my invitation, and touched the pacifier contemplatively for a few minutes. As she did so, I told her how I had observed that she now had new ways to comfort herself – such as holding her blankie, playing with her toys and asking for hugs. She therefore did not need her pacifier anymore. She actually agreed with me, and readily helped me to place the pacifier back at the tray where it was kept. Thereafter, she smiled and went about her usual business.

I was quite intrigued by that episode. It had never crossed my mind that any child would grieve the loss of a pacifier. I mean, after all, it was just an aid that gave us sanity because it helped her to sleep (and gave me more sleep). But to my little girl, it offered so much comfort. And that was the meaning it held for her – comfort.

This episode also taught me a few things that I was glad to have done for her, in the following sequential steps:

  • Identifying and helping her to articulate her feelings of grief and loss
  • Connecting with her experience of loss with my own personal experience
  • Inviting her to re-connect with the object of loss as a form of closure

With this story, I hope that, you too, can do the same in your own experience of loss.

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