Tuesday, March 1, 2011

What About the Children?

By Maureen Day

I have only a few memories of my sister, Patti; really just glimpses that I recall… jumping rope in the kitchen and getting in trouble, laughing on the couch, seeing her sick lying on my mom and dad’s bed. Then, she was gone. I was only 4 years old when she died at the age of eight, unexpectedly from Reye Syndrome - sudden brain damage occurring from the use of aspirin to treat chicken pox. I didn’t understand any of this, of course, at the time. I only knew she was gone and so were her pictures and that every time I said her name,
my mom would cry and my older brother would get very angry with me. So, I quickly learned and followed along. I was afraid to ever have a friend named Patti, not wanting to speak her name but kept my angel sister close to my heart and would talk to her at night. As I grew, sometimes I would secretly whisper to my mom asking about her when no one was around. She always cried and I always felt so badly about that, but my desire to know compelled me to choose hurting my mother rather than go on pretending. It became our secret and she would tell me small, beautiful details about her. Like how much my older sister loved me and had fun playing with me. And the time she dreamed about her… she had her blonde hair all in curls just like my mom always liked to fix it, and she walked in the back door, came directly over to my mom and without a word, gently kissed her cheek. She believed this was Patti’s way of saying good-bye. We rarely spoke of her, but when we did it was so healing and just felt so right inside even though I was convinced what I was doing was so wrong. To avoid the pain I believed I was inflicting on my mother, I would sneak around and ask neighbors what happened, rummage through her bottom dresser drawer and find pictures of her and sweet little notes and drawings she had made that my mom had tucked away. I just needed to know as much as I could.

Eight years ago I lost my baby, Katie, at 11 weeks. I was devastated and surprised at just how deep was my pain and sense of loss. I felt compelled to do something with my experience and try to help others who were grieving in the same way. But it wasn’t until I attended a class called Children & Grief that I had a personal epiphany, a revelation connecting so many dots in my life. I learned that if you’re old enough to love, you’re old enough to grieve. It was explained that at the age of four children process through repetition – which was why I kept asking over and over again about my sister. And as children develop and death can be more clearly understood, they need honest explanations so their minds don’t just fill in the blanks, which can be scarier than the reality. And at each stage of development, children need to be allowed to grieve all over again. Denying grief and loss only postpones, never eliminates. The only way to move through it is to acknowledge, talk, cry, and FEEL every emotion that comes along on the grief journey. Having a support system, opportunities to share and express grief, a stable environment, information about death, and encouragement to just be a “kid” will allow children to mourn in a healthy way.

My parents were wonderful, loving people and I don’t blame them in any way. They did the best they knew to do and times were different then in the way people dealt with death. But as a child of loss in an environment that did not allow for healthy grieving, without even realizing it, I had been prepared for being a parent experiencing loss. Somehow I instinctively knew that I NEEDED to acknowledge my baby, talk about her, keep her part of our family, express my love for her, and openly grieve her loss. I am so thankful for my sister Patti and the lessons her young life taught me that will last me and allow me to serve others for the rest of my life.

How do you share the memory of your baby with his/her siblings?


Lynn May said...

I have found that there is a huge difference in generations and how they deal with a loss of an infant. I was pregnant with twins and our daughter Riley had Anancephaly which we knew she would pass away. I have many family members that were my parents age or older that really thought we should forget about her and not name her or anything. I felt horrible about that but I think it was due to the mind set they were brough up under and the medical community beliefs of that time.
My mother didn't want to explain that Riley would pass away to my younger siblings. She hid it from them for a very long time. I knew that they had to know so it would not be a shock. It wasn't until a few short weeks before they were born that she told them. They still struggle with it however other children that we told earlier in the pregnancy seem to have an easier time. They asked questions about Abby and if she would get sick or if I would be sick. They asked what they needed and it was like them were comforted in knowing Riley a little better. My little brother and sister still ask if Abby will ever get sick like Riley and they are miles behind in understandiing it seems. The questions are never easy to answer but we try to be as honest as we can and give just what they understand at that time. I am sure there will be more questions as the years pass.

We could not ignore our daughters existance so we cherrished every moment we had with her. We had milestone parties which were mini birthdays for Riley and celebrated it made our other daughter Abby stronger for when she would be born. We had family and friends record stories and messages to the girls and I played them back with a headset on my stomach for them to hear. Our daughter Riley lived only 5 minutes after being born but we wouldn't have given up that 5 minutes with our little girl whos name means to act with bravery and to be valiant. She was that and more for staying so strong and helping to ensure her sister is strong and healthy. Riley my have only been in our arms for minutes but she lives on forever in our hearts.

Jen said...

My children were 22 months and just 3 when my third child Harper was stillborn the day after her due date. A part of me wanted to protect them from that, but I knew they would be so confused if we came home without a baby. We had talked about Harper for months and they already called her by name and knew the baby in mommy's tummy was their little sister. We decided it would be best to have them come to the hospital to see her and hold her. We didn't tell them she was dead at the time, and even now its hard for me to say the D word around them. When we got home we just explained that Harper had to go to Heaven to be with Jesus so we couldn't bring her home. They seemed fine with that until the memorial service when my 3 year old began to understand that whatever had happened to Harper was not good. She became very upset to see me cry and at first I would try to hold it in to protect her, but as time goes on I have become more open about it. I tell her sometimes when I think of Harper I get sad and its ok to cry. My 2 year old doesn't seem to pick up on much but I know as time goes on and he understands more I will have to explain more.

I am so glad we had the kids come to the hospital to see their baby sister. Of course it was not the way I had imagined it would be. We talk about Harper often and the kids recognize her picture. We visit the cemetery often and include her in some way on holidays. Because my kids are so young I think they will just always remember growing up with memories of Harper. Its just that those memories will not be memories of her physical being, they will just be memories of the ways we inncluded her into our family.

Abby said...

My son Harvest was 12 years old when my daughter Cordelia died.She was born at home and I kept him home from school that day.We all spent several hours together until we realized things weren't the way they were supposed to be.We ended up in Portland in the hospital two hours away. Over the next 6 days she had two surgeries and passed due to complications to open heart surgery. My son has gone through this journey and has grown up to become more compassionate and loving and understanding than I could have imagined.12 years old is a time where you are seeking out autonomy. He was an only child and I was thinking it would be so nice for him to experience having a sibling. He is now 16 and becoming a young man. I thought I would be home with a small child and have had a great deal of time to myself to focus on healing as my son has become more independent. The lessons Cordelia have taught us are a mixed blessing.. but they make us who we are.

Anonymous said...

My 13 yr old came to the hospital the day after my twins were born.
It was the day before my twin died.

i had been greiving since 20 weeks pregnancy because of diagnosis of hyperplastic left heart.

now a year later, if my baby is unwell, my older daughter will say to me " i hope she doesnt die too.."

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