I can remember it like it was yesterday; her bright blue eyes looking up at me through her overgrown blonde bangs that were falling on her sweet little three-year-old face.
She is my sunshine baby; born before the storm of her brother’s stillbirth. I sat on the edge of my unmade bed in a solid black dress doing everything in my power not to feel anything because it hurt too much.
I was getting ready to leave her with a friend to go to my son’s funeral; her baby brother’s funeral. And this sweet little face didn’t even know her brother had died. We hadn’t told her, but somehow she had known not to mention him over the three days since he had died. She knew something was different; something wasn’t right.
I knew I had to tell her, but for three days, it just hadn’t felt right.
Suddenly, the timing felt right and I explained to her that her brother was no longer in my belly and that he had gone on to heaven. Her wise little soul didn’t ask many questions in that moment, but it broke my heart when she just leaned over into my arms. It would be about a month and a half later that she would completely shatter my heart again.
We drove three hours to a remembrance event to honor her precious brother. At the end, she just started sobbing. She ran up to me and in between her sobs, her little three-year-old heart broke. “I want my brother,” she managed to say between tears over and over again. What do you say in a moment like that? “Me too, baby. Me too.”
A few weeks later we were on our way home and she called my name from the backseat.
“Are you gonna have another baby in your tummy?”
“I don’t know, baby.”
“If you do, will I get to see it and hold it this time?”
I could almost hear the sound of my heart hitting the floor of my car in that moment. “I hope so, baby.”
The death of a child doesn’t make sense to adults. And yet, here I found myself having to try to make it make sense to a child; a child who had been very excited about helping to care for her brother. I faced a dilemma: how do I continue to mother my sunshine while working through my own storm and helping her walk through it as well?
It took time, but I finally accepted that it didn’t make sense and it wasn’t my job to make it make sense. There was nothing wrong with looking at that little blonde haired girl and saying “I don’t know, baby.” I didn’t and still don’t have all of the answers and that is okay. We don’t have to try to be perfect at this journey; we just have to let it be whatever it is in that moment.
That’s hard to do; we want to fix everything and make their little worlds right again. But the thing is, the best thing you can do is be truthful.
Say “I don’t know” when you don’t know, don’t hide every tear from them, hug them when you don’t have words; show them that it’s okay and normal to grieve and that whatever you feel and they feel is normal.
Mothering my sunshine girl has been a learning process, but as the years have gone on it has gotten easier. Her understanding of his death has matured with her and because we were always open about his life and grieving him with her, she talks about him often; she makes sure that he is never left out of her sibling count and is the first to correct anyone who fails to add him in.
I’m quite sure we weren’t perfect; I’m sure there were times that we didn’t make the right choices.
But, there’s no easy way to explain the death of a baby to a child and continuing to parent when your world has been shattered is an incredibly difficult task. You’ve got this; trust your instincts and follow your heart.