Grieving Children

August 22, 2017

Our daughter’s stillbirth was difficult on my husband and me. The hurt we felt ran deep physically, mentally and emotionally. It didn’t make any sense at all to us that I carried a baby for over eight months and then we could not bring her home.

There were days when we cried together and other days when we cried apart, each feeling the weight of loss on our shoulders and the absence of our child in our home.

There were days when I felt like he felt too little and there were days when he felt that I felt too much. In essence we both reacted in much the same way to the loss of our daughter, we were shattered, but we each coped with it differently. We were shocked, numb, overwhelmed in no particular order. It felt like our world was falling apart at the seams and in a lot of ways, it was. None of it was anticipated. Nonetheless, I can say without a doubt that it was agonizing for the both of us.

There were expectations on both our ends; things that we both wanted to do for and with our new baby. Hopes and dreams that were important to us as individuals and as parents. I remember my husband buying a book called Bringing up Boys by James C Dobson as my son was growing up and when I was pregnant with Zia he brought the next book, Bringing Up Girls which stands gathering dust on a bookshelf now. So yes, there was great anticipation.

My son was just three going on four when Zia died in 2013. As with most children, he wasn’t keen on the idea of a sibling at first but as my tummy grew, so did his eagerness. He started sharing all these beautiful hopes and dreams of a life and friendship with his sister. He would tell me about all the things they would do together. My husband had the unthinkable task of telling him that his sister wasn’t coming home that day.  He cried and was inconsolable. At that young age, he had to learn about loss and although he may not have entirely understood the enormity of that loss, at that time, he grieved even so. He too felt the regret and sadness we felt.

Over the last four years we spoke about Zia a lot and we involved our son in these conversations and any acts of remembrance we performed together. But I realise that those conversations were very sheltered.

Two years ago when my father died and was cremated, we explained to our son that when Zia died, her body also turned to ashes, like his grandfathers had, and that we still kept her ashes with us. We let him see the urn and the clothing items we treasured all these years. He handled it all very well. He was strong and resilient, more so than we thought he would be.

I heard him talking to a cousin once, telling him that his sister hadn’t been born. It weighed heavily on my heart though, that at almost eight he didn’t know that his sister was stillborn and that we’d seen her and that she hadn’t just turned to dust miraculously. Before her birthday this year, I decided to share that she was born sleeping with him and I gave him a teddy bear I’d bought for Zia to remember her by. He was sad that he didn’t get to see her at all and for the first time since then, I wondered whether it was the right decision I’d made. It felt right at the time but still, I wonder.

I watch him with his new Zia Bear as he named the teddy bear and it breaks my heart.

He takes the bear everywhere with him and tells everyone proudly that it belonged to his sister. He sleeps with it, eats with it, has it next to his bath, he’s never seen without it since he got it.

There are times when my husband and I, have actually gotten annoyed because he never wants to put the bear down. But as I sit here I realise that it is time for some introspection. Who are we to judge the way in which he deals with all this new information and the loss of his sister? If we as adults find it unbearable at times, how much harder is it for a child? Here I am an advocate for this community and yet I can so easily forget that grieving is so diverse to each and every one of us and more importantly siblings grieve too. They grieve in ways that we may not even begin to comprehend, especially at such a young age.

There is such joy and sadness in watching him, it breaks my heart but heals it too. The fact that a little boy can also love and miss someone he has never met or spent time with, is so incredibly beautiful and a testament of what this community stands for.

Our babies and children who were gone too soon matter so much. It is so important to integrate them into our lives, to acknowledge their presence as well as their absence. There is a connection between our children and a bond that not even death can sever.


  • Jo-Anne Joseph

    Jo-Anne Joseph is a wife, mother to two beautiful children, one of whom lives in her heart. She is a career woman, author and freelance writer from South Africa. She blogs at and writes for


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