Siblings Grieve Too
This post is an excerpt from the book Sufficient Grace (Comfort Publishing) by Kelly Gerken:
Timothy was two years old when we were expecting Faith and Grace. His little life was turned upside down by my extreme illness and constant vomiting. Then there was a long hospital stay and little contact from me. Of course, he was doted on by his grandmas…so much so that when I finally returned from the hospital, I had to peel him off my mom. He was getting used to the “spoiling”!
When Faith and Grace were born still due to twin to twin transfusion syndrome, I told him as simply as I could, in language he could understand. He has always been a very perceptive person and a deep thinker. I told him that Faith and Grace were very sick and too sick to stay. I shared that God gave them new bodies in heaven…bodies that were perfect and they would never be sick again. He seemed intrigued about the fact that they would have new eyes to see differently than we do.
In the weeks following their passing, Timothy drew pictures of his sisters (stick figures with really big heads!). He would sometimes give me a picture when he saw me crying…to “make me feel better.” He knew instinctively how much I missed them. I ran a home daycare at the time and during the early weeks of my grief, I was not working. For Timothy that meant no children filling our house with life. Lonely and sad, sometimes he would stand at the window and say, in the saddest little voice… “no kids coming today.”
He loved to talk about his sisters and look at their pictures. He didn’t seem to notice their brokenness. That was so refreshing to me. Because I didn’t see their brokenness either. As time went on, others grew uncomfortable or tired of hearing about Faith and Grace. But he never did.
We would talk about what heaven was like and what they would be doing in heaven. On their first (and subsequent birthdays), we celebrated together (with my friend Ginny sometimes) with cookies and cupcakes…pink, of course for our little girls. He would blow out the candle. We would talk about them playing in heaven and Timothy decided they would be wearing Barbie pajamas! I loved his child-like faith…and I loved his openness in sharing about his sisters. Sometimes he would even run to get their picture when a visitor came, making others uncomfortable. I loved his lack of inhibition. And, truth be told, I think we could learn a little from the way children experience grief. They live their lives and let out their feelings as they come.
With the loss of our son Thomas, Timothy had already experienced loss. So, he knew that pregnancy did not guarantee a baby. It broke my heart that he knew that at the tender age of four years. He prayed for this baby to stay. He prayed for a brother. A brother, he was given. But, we soon found out that this baby would not stay either when doctors diagnosed our son with Potter’s Syndrome. We told him that Thomas was very sick, and the doctors say he probably will not stay. He will go to heaven when he is born. It was so confusing, because Thomas was still alive in my growing belly. He shook his head and his little voice sounded strangled as he choked out the words. “So, I won’t get to hold this baby either. He will not come home.” I hugged him. He was heart broken, but trying to be tough.
When Thomas was born, it seemed like such a whirlwind. As long as I walk this earth, I will regret not bringing Timothy to meet his brother when he was alive…not letting him hold him. Tim and I didn’t know if it would be more painful or confusing to Timothy to meet his brother. But that decision caused Timothy great sorrow…and I’m so sorry for it. Not meeting his brother and holding him was very hard for Timothy…and he talked about that for a long time. I did bring him privately to the funeral home, and he touched Thomas’ cheek. But, his skin felt different than a baby usually feels. And the experience was not a comfort.
We talked often about Thomas and what he would do in heaven also. We shared pictures. Timothy kept praying for a brother. We started traditions, like giving a shoebox filled with presents every Christmas to the Samaritan’s Purse organization in memory of each child. In the early years, we bought Christmas ornaments to remember the babies. We had birthday celebrations…sometimes just Timothy and I…for many years. We would read Mommy, Please Don’t Cry and Someday Heaven… we loved to talk about heaven. And those talks were a comfort to my heart as well as his.
Timothy did get a brother “who stayed” in 2001 when our youngest child James was born after another tumultuous pregnancy.
Sometimes, we still talk about what life would be like with all five children here in our little house…and what they would be doing now. We have always focused on the hope of heaven…that we will see our loved ones again someday. And there will be no more good-byes…no more tears. And bodies will not ever be sick or broken.
1. I want to encourage you to talk to your children, openly and honestly in language they can understand. Be a safe haven for them to share their feelings…whatever they may be that day.
2. Include them as much as possible in the process. Share moments and make memories with them that include your babies in heaven.
3. Realize that siblings are grieving as well. Be available to talk and listen. Answer their questions simply and age-appropriately.
4. Shower them with love and reassurance.
5. Keep their schedules stable and structured. Routine can be reassuring.
6. If this is in line with your faith, share comforting scripture about the promise of heaven. Pray with them and encourage them to pray.
7. Find ways to celebrate the life of your baby in heaven and incorporate him or her into your memories and traditions.
8. You may have regrets about the your choices to include or exclude your older children (wanting to protect them). It’s difficult sometimes to make the best decisions in our own grief. Know that God’s grace can cover our mistakes. Give yourself grace.
There’s Going to be a Baby! A story of sibling grief by Katy Larsen
Sibling Grief ~ Wintergreen Press
Mommy Please Don’t Cry by Linda Deymaz
Someday Heaven by Libby ~ McLoughlin
Tear Soup by Pat Schwiebert
Someday We’ll Play in Heaven ~ Strannigan (Standard Publishing)
Pictured above is a grieving sibling holding her Comfort Bear. To order a Comfort Bear and other Dreams of You items, click here.