Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Sibling's Grief

When our daughter learned that we would not be bringing a baby home – after months of talking about the baby, taking books out of the library, telling her she was going to be a big sister and help with the baby, getting a “Baby Alive” doll for Christmas from Grandma and all kinds of preparation – she was distraught. When she had woken up that morning, I had said to her, “I think the baby is coming today!” She was very excited as she bounded off to daycare. Then when Daddy came to pick her up at the end of the day, he told her on the walk home what had happened to baby. Suddenly we were changing the story. She screamed and cried. She didn’t understand. She yelled, “I want our baby!” She pointed to my belly and asked if he was still in there because I still looked pregnant. I said, “No, there’s no baby in there. He is gone.” It was the first time she’s ever seen me cry and cry HARD. This was about half an hour after we got back from the hospital.  She screamed, "He wanted to meet us! He will be sad!", "Where is he?", "I want him!" It was like someone was ripping my guts out.

We hadn’t had a chance to discuss much about what we would tell her, how we would “present” it, how we would help her through it. And so began one of the most important jobs of our lives – nurturing a sibling relationship when one of the siblings has died. It took me many months to figure out a healthy way to grieve, let alone how I could help her with her grief. It’s been one of the most painful aspects of losing a child – the grief of the living sibling. Three and a half years old is pretty young to learn to live with loss.

Eight months on, she seems comfortable in her role as Toren’s big sister. The other day she said very firmly, “He is still my brother even though he died.” She is very proud to be his big sister. He would have loved her and been enthralled by her. He did get to hear her voice because she spoke to him often when he was inside the belly. She would say, “We’re going to the library now, baby!” and “Good night, baby!” and of course, “I love you, baby!” He would have heard her sing and scream and squeal and get frustrated and laugh. Something to be grateful for. When we went for his 3D ultrasound at 30 weeks, they played (kind of cheesy) music during the session, which she danced around to while he danced away on the inside. I was really looking forward to seeing them together.

He will not be waving – and missing her – when she goes off to her first day of kindergarten. He will not tease her good-naturedly when she goes on her first date. He will not be a sweet nuisance as she packs up for university. He will not be an usher at her wedding or dance with her at the reception. When her children look at photos of Uncle Toren, they will be looking at exactly two baby photos. I will never be ok with any of that. But she is teaching me how to live with it. It’s not her job, it’s not her responsibility, but that’s what’s happening. I am learning from both my children. And it makes me feel terrible for both of them.