There is a fine line that every loss parent must learn to walk—how to keep the memory of the child you have lost alive, without allowing your grief to cast a shadow over their siblings’ childhoods.
When my twins were first born, I tried to tell them about their big sister, the one who came before them but was no longer here, and I choked up. I was a blubbering fool and these two wide-eyed little creatures looked up at me curiously mewing as newborns do, completely unsure of what to make of it.
“Oh,” I thought. “This isn’t good.”
I knew I
would never could never stop thinking about, loving, or missing Peyton, and my children would need to be raised knowing about their sister, so I realized in that early, sleep-deprived moment, that I was going to have to find a way to incorporate Peyton’s memory into their lives in a way that felt natural and full of peace, rather than a way that triggered sadness. After some trial and error, we have now struck a balance that I feel comfortable with, and mention of Peyton is as normal for my twins as hearing about their grandparents, or cousins.
Some days it is as simple as building her into the stories we are reading, or adding a verse about her to our nightly lullabies. An example of this is that when I read my children Dr. Seuss’s classic, Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You, I have made a habit of changing a few words toward the end of the book to include her.
“Mr. Brown can whisper, very soft, very high, like the soft , soft whisper of Peyton floating by as a butterfly.”
I know that the day will come when it will click for my children that the Peyton in the story is the same as their sister Peyton, and if this peaceful image is what first comes to their minds when they think of her, I will be very happy.
I approach visits to Peyton’s grave with the twins much in the same way I would approach a trip to the park, or out for a picnic. I tell them about the fun things we can do up there, like putting out decorations, or checking on her flowers, and our visits are full of them laughing and clapping at her picture. It is my hope that by the time they are old enough to know what a cemetery is, the stigma and fear that usually surround them will not exist for them.
We’ve scattered a few of Peyton’s toys throughout the playroom for her siblings to enjoy because if she was alive, her younger brother and sister would have gotten some of her hand-me-downs, so having them share her toys feels oddly comforting and “normal”.
I don’t keep Peyton’s things all on one special shelf or in a certain cabinet. I certainly don’t knock the idea, it just didn’t feel the right answer for me. Peyton’s pictures, like those of her younger siblings, are on display around the house, mixed in with snapshots of my husband and I when we were dating, and the twins wearing Princess Leia and Yoda hats. I know that many of you may not have any pictures of your little ones, or might not feel comfortable for various reasons displaying the ones that you do have, but I would still encourage you to place an item or picture that reminds you of your child somewhere that you will see it regularly. Let the light shine on the memory of the child you have lost. Your love for them is something to be proud of, and hiding it away doesn’t help anyone to heal–most especially you.
Peyton’s death was tragic, and one day her little brother and sister are going to realize that she was more than a butterfly or a girl in a picture, and they will have questions, but it is my hope that when that day comes, any sadness that they feel is from having missed out on the opportunity to know her, as opposed to feeling that they somehow missed out on having all of me present for them.