When we told her she had a sister who’d died, I did not expect her to grieve. The loss had occurred two years previously, when she’d been just a baby herself, and my husband and I hadn’t said anything to her at the time, knowing there was no way she could understand the death of a sibling.
But at three, we decided she was ready to hear the news.
In recent months, we’d welcomed a new baby sister born alive and healthy, but we wanted her to know about her other sister too.
For some reason, I expected that she would listen to our words, nod, and then run off to play, unaffected. Since she had a living baby sister and since she was still so young, I didn’t think she would understand what she’d lost.
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But I was wrong.
We told her, and immediately, she was overcome by a deep and genuine sadness. She cried. She wanted to know why the baby had died. She wanted there to be a way to make her heart start beating again. She even demanded that we all die so that we could go to heaven and meet her.
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We cried with her and held her close, grieving together the baby that none of us would ever meet.
Later that afternoon, we played outside, and she seemed herself again, happy and free.
But in the days and weeks that followed, she often talked about the baby who’d died, the baby we’d named Avaleen.
She still wanted to meet her somehow, still mourned the loss of that opportunity. And when people asked how many children were in our family, she never hesitated. “Three,” she would say. “There are three kids in our family.”
She was young, but she understood what had happened, and she understood what she’d lost. Her grief was – and is – both real and deep.
Photo by Chinh Le Duc on Unsplash