It’s a benign enough request…
“Please bring a family picture for our family tree.”
Yet, for me, and I’m guessing far too many others like me, it’s a request that stabs my heart.
I don’t have a complete family picture to send in with my son.
My son’s brothers died.
One before him; one after him.
And as I remember thinking very early on in my loss, even when the possibility of ANY other children was simply a desperate prayer, “I’ll never have a complete family picture in this life.” No accurate family picture exists.
I asked my son what picture he thought we should bring. He said, “One with you and me and Daddy. That’s our family.”
He’s only four.
His world should not be one of constant effort to remind the world that he has brothers, and that his mother and father had more children.
It’s not his battle, nor should it be. I work hard to make it that way.
But I can’t lie–hearing, “That’s our family,” stings a little.
Well, stings a lot.
I then asked him about his brothers. Earlier today, I’d read and published an amazing piece by fellow Still Standing Magazine teammate Malka Ahmed about how she hoped that her daughter would always be remembered…even as life continued and new birth branches were introduced into the family tree. I nodded with nearly every word.
I always want my sons remembered.
Especially by his family members.
My son’s reply about his brothers was, “Well, they are in Heaven.”
I said, “Yeah, it’s a little weird, isn’t it? To have your brothers in Heaven and figure out how we can have a family picture with them, huh?”
I know of many families who have ‘family pictures’ that include a special something or picture of their lost child/children to have as complete a picture as they could…on this earth. We have never done that, and I’ve never felt compelled to do so because the anxiety of figuring out what to include always stopped the organization of some such picture in its tracks.
He said, as matter-of-factly as a four-year-old should with regard to such topics, “They just won’t be in my picture. I’m fine with that.”
Ouch. Again, tremendously contradictory thoughts brought me more stabbing. I’ve raised my only living child to be both very mindful that he’s not my only child but to also be self-assured and confident in knowing he’s the most amazing thing on this planet. I’ve never wanted the shadows that accompanied the deaths of his brothers to weigh him down as they so often weigh me.
I know in his little heart, he was reassuring me that it was okay we didn’t have a picture that had his brothers too.
But it’s not okay.
Not to me.
I know this is one of a (seemingly) million different times in his school career that this sort of thing will come up…the truthful explanation of his family dynamics will possibly lead to some awkward moments.
But the exclusion of family members for comfort’s sake?
Leaves me feeling extremely uncomfortable.
It’s doubtful that my son will ever feel the tug of the heart that I do when his teachers request family pictures or ask if he has any brothers or sisters. His answers to that question thus far have always been very straightforward. “Yes, I do. I have brothers. They are dead but they are in Heaven.” Maybe, at some point, the bearing of that statement will bring more of an emotionally attached and analyzed response, and honestly, I am hopeful for the that–but not too hopeful. There is a fine line to walk when raising the only child of yours to live–and especially when he or she is younger. Filtering how much he needs to know or can even process when it comes to the death of his brothers is just tricky.
Because the reality is…
He is a little brother.
He is a big brother.
And he is an only child.
A picture may speak a thousand words, or so it’s been said.
But there are no appropriate words for the family picture that will never be.
I’m small, but scrappy! I have a fierce passion for my family, friends and life in general…I’m a military spouse who has battled infertility for over 13 years, as well as the loss of two babies gone too soon. I love to laugh, and am grateful for every second I celebrate with the ones I love. You can find me at my blog Lori Does Maryland or on Facebook Lori Mullins Ennis or on The Twitter here Lori M. Ennis