Answering the hardest question, post-divorce:

Wendy and Angie enjoy a moment in the setting sun.
Wendy and Angie enjoy a moment in the setting sun.

I was going to write a column about something that a bully said to my daughter on the playground, about how it made her feel ashamed of herself and how it broke my heart to watch her be ridiculed by her peers.

I ended the column with a happy little lesson, just like I usually do, and was all set to press the "send" button when my four-year-old daughter, Angie, asked me a question.

"You still love Daddy, right?" she said.

I turned away from my computer screen to face her, and saw in her blue eyes exactly what she hoped my answer would be. I had no idea what to say.

I thought for a moment, then told Angie that Mommy and Daddy love her very much but they don't love each other anymore. She quietly went back to building a skyscraper out of Legos.

My reply didn't seem to be adequate for either one of us.

I had given my four-year-old the textbook answer, the response that would cause her the least amount of confusion regarding her divorced parents. But this week something happened to her father, something that I would rather not share. And it has left me wondering whether my answer to Angie was truthful, or maybe just incomplete.

When you truly love someone, does that love ever really go away? Or does it fade like a scar, taking on a different form with time and healing? Does it turn into sadness, sour into hatred, or perhaps become something much more difficult to define?

I suppose the answer is different for each of us, but for me, I think that if you love someone once and love them unconditionally, then you will love them forever.That affection might morph into friendship or fondness, but a certain amount of caring for that person remains, despite any hurt that surrounds it.

Perhaps life would be simpler if love burned away, if it dissipated like a morning fog. But I think it becomes more like a cloud on the horizon: a bit more distant and vague but present, nonetheless.

Maybe that kind of love is an ember that glows long after the fire has blown out. Maybe it's the scent of cinnamon from your grandmother's kitchen, a memory of cookies baked long ago. Maybe it's that dusty high school yearbook you take off the shelf, look through to remember old friends, and then put back where you found it.

Love can mean a lot of things. It can mean that you found someone who makes your skin tingle. It can mean that you met a person who makes a great partner, who challenges you to be more fully involved in life. Or it can mean that you care about someone and wish them well, even if you don't want to be with them anymore.

I realize now that I gave Angie a flawed answer that day. Even though she is only four, I think I can do a better job of explaining things to her – if not now, then over time.

Ultimately, it is up to her to find her own definitions of love, to discover whether love can burn forever in one form or another. Sometimes it takes a lifetime just to find love, let alone understand it.

If there's one thing I do know, it's that denying a certain amount of affection for Angie's father would mean denying part of who she is, and that isn't something I am willing to do to my daughter.

Last night, just before bedtime, Angie and I talked about her father again. I told her that I would always love her daddy, but with a different kind of love. I will always care about him and want him to be healthy and happy.

And since her father is having a difficult time right now, she and I sent good thoughts out to him. A care prayer, we called it.

"My heart is full of hearts for you, Daddy," Angie whispered into the darkness.

I hope he heard her.

Wendy Fontaine is a New England original and a freelance writer pursuing her master's degree in creative writing at Antioch University in Los Angeles.

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