Talking to children about the loss of a sibling
A few years ago I blogged about one of the first, of many, heart-wrenching conversations I had with my children after they asked a question about their sister. I received a nasty comment from a reader telling me that if I had not been “selfish” and told them about their sister I would not have to talk to them about her at all. The commenter went on to say that children should not know that babies can die.
In part, he or she was right. Children should not know that babies can die, because babies shouldn’t die. But sometimes they do.
When they do, we follow our parenting instincts and do the best we can to explain the unexplainable and we talk through tears and answer questions when we can barely speak because all of our children need us.
My surviving triplets are now five and a half, their sister gone over five years now. My daughter has always been extremely sensitive to the missing part of our family, asking about her sister long before I was ready to talk. She has asked if her sister can come to Easter, if we can pick her up from the hospital and, most recently, if we can plant a flower tall enough so she can reach it from the clouds. Her words are as comforting as they are devastating.
We moved last month and as I packed up the last of our things, I reached the top of the closet where I kept the memories too painful to look at every day. A few years ago I would have sat on the floor alone and cried into the box as I packed away the reminders, but this time I had help. My daughter walked in just as I was packing away her sister’s hospital bracelet and she had a question for every item I pulled from the shelf. Her questions walked me through memories I’ve kept to myself and as I handed her the answers, I knew she needed to hear them as much as I needed to share them.
I’m not sure there is ever a “right” way to talk to children about losing a sibling but I do know every conversation we have had has been necessary. My daughter, of all of my children, just knows. Sometimes I think she knows more than I do. Denying my children’s right to know about a part of their life, a part of their family, might spare me a few tearful conversations right now but it will not erase the reality of what happened to all of us.
So no, I don’t think my children should know babies die and I wish with every piece of my broken heart that I didn’t have to be the one to tell them.