“What’s wrong, Madeline? Why do you look so sad?”
“I miss my brother,” she says, leaning forward in the shopping cart to lay her head on my chest as she begins to cry softly.
“I know, baby girl. I miss him too.” I hug her close and slowly push the shopping cart down the aisle as I gently rub her back.
Well, this was not how I expected this quick trip to Trader Joe’s to go. However, this has become a familiar scene lately.
My daughter is now nearly four-and-a-half and has become very aware that there is someone missing from our home. We have always talked about her big brother. We have photos around and have always tried to mention his name when discussing our family. When we go on a special family outing or celebrate a holiday, we try to include him in some way.
But how do we really teach our daughter about the brother that she will never get to meet?
At four years old, many of her friends have brothers and sisters. At school, they’re supposed to bring a family photo so they can talk about their parents and siblings.
There are no photos of Madeline with her big brother.
At soccer and dance class many of her friends have brothers and sisters that come to watch and cheer them on. Madeline asks why her brother can’t come and watch her play. It is hard to be a little sister with no big brother there to protect you.
She asks why she can’t go visit her brother. Because Heaven is just too far away, my darling girl. I’ve told her that sometimes her brother visits me in dreams and that when she is really missing him she can pray and maybe he will visit her too.
We talk about how mom and dad look for him, in cardinals that come and land in our path, in feathers that float from the sky, and in butterflies that come and dance around us. We tell her to look for him too. That he will send her signs that he is with her. Watching out for her, protecting her, and loving her just like a big brother should.
I tell her I’m so sorry that he isn’t here to play with her. And that I’m sure he would love to play soccer with her and build Legos.
I tell her when she gets really sad to just put her hand on her heart and close her eyes and think about him.
I tell her that’s how she can send him special messages and wishes.
So she stops in the middle of Target and does this.
“What is she doing?” my husband asks.
“Just talking to Joshua, honey. It’s their thing.”
Oh, how I wish they had more than this. To watch your rainbow child cry and long for someone they never even got the chance to meet is devastating.
I’ve said that this fifth year without him has been the hardest. I thought that was because of all of the milestone moments that come with five. Watching the kindergartners line up for the bus and knowing he should be with them, but I realize that this year is also hard because this is the year that his rainbow sister has begun to understand that he is missing.
Related: A Day in the Life of a Rainbow Mom
I’m certain that as she grows her questions will too.
I’m prepared to tell her the story of her big brother, the one who came first, time and time again. I’ll add more details as she gets older and can understand the bigger reasons for what happened to her big brother.
Watching her miss him will always be one of the most bittersweet things in my life. Knowing that even though Heaven and Earth separate them, they are still connected. They still share a special bond that only a brother and sister can share. I will continue to remind her of that everytime that missing gets too big for her to understand.
Feature Photo by Victoria L. Denney