“Your big brother loves you,” I often tell my other children, though I question if they understand. They were not here when he was stillborn. He was our first. He is the big brother, they are his little brother and sister. Talking to what many call my “rainbow” children about their big brother is something that has always been important to me. I want them to know about him, but parenting after loss offers challenges.
I want them to know the love we still carry in our hearts for their big brother, the brother they will never meet.
My kids are still young. They are 4 and almost 2; he would have been 5. I’m not sure that they know what it means to have a big brother in heaven. But I say it anyway. I often hear others question when and how to talk to their children about the siblings that came before them. I wish I had some concrete answers. But the truth is, there is no right or wrong. Parenting after loss is a never black or white.
You should do what feels right for you and your family.
Every family is different. Each holds different beliefs about life, death, spirituality, and everything in between. There is no handbook for how to cope with parenting children who come after the devastating loss of a child. So, my advice is always to do what feels right in your heart. This is just my choice and my experience so far, but again, there is no right or wrong.
I started talking about their big brother right from birth. Actually, I did this while they were still in-utero. For the first few years, I would just show pictures of him and say “this is baby Parker.” They were too little to ask questions, but I wanted them to grow up knowing who this sweet little boy was that came before them.
As they have grown older, I began telling them Parker is their big brother. My oldest has asked where he is. At first, this caught me off guard. My first response was that he’s in heaven. Other times when he’s asked, I just say that he’s not here anymore but he’s always with us.
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Sometimes I say that he’s in our hearts.
I haven’t come out and said that he’s died. But my son knows about death, as much as a 4-year-old can. He knows that Parker is a part of our family, and is starting to grasp that there is a missing piece.
One day as we were getting ready to go somewhere, my oldest started talking about all the different family members that were going with us. As he listed people off, my heart sank a little, like it always does when I realize Parker may be forgotten. But then casually, without missing a beat, he said, “And Parker, will he come?” My heart skipped and my eyes welled up with tears as I whispered, “Yes, Parker will come too. He is always in our hearts.”
THAT. That right there is why I choose to talk about my first born to his younger siblings who never got to know him.
While there are some details that I will not share with his siblings, they will always know that they have a big brother. While parenting after loss is heart-work, they will know how much he is loved. How much they are loved. That a life, no matter how brief, matters. And that they have a big brother who loves them.
Kelly is owner and therapist at Evolve Counseling, LLC and proud mother to three children, including her son, Parker who was stillborn at 24 weeks gestation. At Evolve Counseling, LLC she provides counseling services to individuals and families healing after infant and pregnancy loss.