boy with shopping cart

by Helga Illig

A few years ago, during a busy “Pre-Christmas” trip to Costco, I found myself heading in the direction of the cashiers at the front of the store when I noticed a man with a shopping cart, a young boy in the shopping cart and another little boy seemingly tagging along behind.  As this trio passed me, I noticed something “off”.  The boy walking along side the man had a look on his face that I can only describe as absolute terror.  His eyes wide and his mouth gaping- It looked as though he was crying but as I passed him I realized that there was no sound coming from him.  He was scanning the crowd as he was walking, and when I passed him, it dawned on me that he wasn’t part of the “trio” – he was alone, scanning the faces around him to see if he could find his people.

When it clicked that this little boy who couldn’t have been more than 5 or 6 years old was lost and obviously terrified, I turned to follow him and see if I could help.  At almost the same time, the man who I had thought was his father had also noticed this little boy and realized he was lost.  In minutes, there were about three of us adults standing around this boy hoping to help find his parents.

“Hey buddy, are you lost?”

The man with the shopping cart stooped down and said “Hey buddy, are you lost?”  “It’s okay, you’re okay”.  The soothing sound of his voice seemed to communicate that it really was going to be okay.

Just as the man was starting to gather information and getting ready to find help, I saw another man (obviously one of the boy’s family members) come up and call the boy’s name.  As this happened, the man verified that this was the boy’s dad and the boy was reunited with his father.

As they walked away from the small crowd that had gathered, I overhead the boy’s dad say “So you decided to wander off again” in a tone that was likely meant to let everyone know that it wasn’t his fault the boy was lost.

The look on that little boy’s face haunted me for a long time.  Probably because I recognize that feeling of being lost and all alone.   It might look like I’m okay and doing well- I’m an adult after all…… but sometimes there’s a little kid inside me, screaming silently wondering if anyone has noticed that she’s lost and hoping someone is coming to look for her…..

You might also be able to relate to that experience- perhaps you have felt like you were lost, screaming for help, but not able to utter a sound.  In a couples’ relationship, you might be the one who looks like you have it all together but no one sees or hears the terror inside.

It’s frightening to feel lost

As frightening as it is to feel lost, it can be just as scary to notice that your loved one isn’t as close to you as they once were and you are desperate to find them.

Whatever the reason, feeling lost and disconnected can be a traumatic experience for both the one who is feeling lost and the one who can’t seem to reach their partner.

There may be many reasons why our cry for rescue goes unheard. We’ve all heard people say “I am not a mind reader!”   (Maybe you’ve said these words yourself at some time)  There’s a hint of exasperation in that statement because it can be pretty frustrating to want to be there for someone you love and miss the fact that they need you.  You might feel blamed for getting lost, or you might blame yourself for not paying closer attention.

When we experience the distress of feeling alone and lost each wishing your partner were there, soothing and comforting you but finding it difficult to know how to reach each other what we long for most of all is someone who can help point us back to safety.

“It’s okay…..You’re okay”

At those times, I hope as a therapist I can be like the “friendly stranger” who can see your fear of being lost and disconnected from the one you love and say “It’s okay…..You’re okay”, and help you find your way back to each other.

Couples Workshop