I’ve never been more aware of shared grief than in the last few months. When you lose someone so close to your heart sometimes it’s easy to forget how that loss effects the other people who are grieving. From the start of this grief journey I’ve felt most connected to my husband and our parents, especially our mothers. They are not only grieving the loss of their grandchildren but also the pain that their own children are feeling that they can’t fix and they can’t take away. Maybe that’s why it feels like their pain is equal to my own when others, although sad and hurting in their own way, can’t always relate to the depth of our sorrow. There are days that I’m thankful for that. Nobody should have to feel this type of hurt.
I’m so thankful for the moments that my mom and mother-in-law have taken to notice our pain or simply acknowledge the effort that we’ve taken to partake in life and joy when they realize it’s not an easy choice for us. Others might not see behind the simple words of support for another’s happy journey, but they do.
My siblings hurt in their own way as well. Sometimes I feel as if it’s almost harder for them. They lived that day (and the months before and after) as emotionally as we did and yet others might not always remember their hurt. They might not always see their hearts in the midst of every day moments. My sister-in-laws have been especially open to sharing my grief and have tried to walk their own children through this grief journey with care and a tender heart. How do you explain the death of cousins to 6-11 year olds? The kids younger than age of 5 don’t seem to really understand the loss, but the older kids very much feel that pain. I think they have been the ones I’ve most struggled to include in a tangible way. I try to remember that they might feel the way I do so often; it’s harder when it’s ignored than when it’s acknowledged. How do we allow them to grieve?
I’ve had some pretty special stories shared with me in the past months. My sis-in-law Melanie sent me these sweet pictures. My niece Emily had a school project about constellations and of all the things she could have done she chose to make hers about her baby cousin Alice.
My sis-in-law Amy made beautiful shadow boxes with/for her kids. She allowed the kids to take them to school to share the story of their cousins with their classmates and ultimately share the story of how Jesus has a place for us in Heaven. They’ve shared the Alice Mae children’s book with their friends. They’ve shed tears for them.
I’m so thankful that my sis-in-laws shared these special projects with me. It’s a moment for me to share in their pain after so many have shared in mine. It helps me realize that they do remember them and that brings equal joy and pain to my heart. Such young children shouldn’t have to feel this pain and loss. They shouldn’t have to know this at such a young age. Yet there is a glimmer of hope in my heart that maybe, just maybe, it will help shape their faith to know and love Jesus.
As their first birthday approaches tomorrow I have these children in my heart as well as they very much miss their cousins as much as I miss my sweet children. Although we’ve chosen to spend tomorrow with only our immediate family, my heart is thinking of all of my family who are missing them as well and pray that they can find a moment to celebrate the joy that we knew these beautiful babies and not just feel the grief of missing them. That has become my prayer for myself tomorrow; to find JOY and CELEBRATION in the day of their birth, in the fact that they were with us for 22 weeks and three hours in our arms (or the arms of their grandparents). I’ve spent a year grieving their loss and I want to spend a day celebrating their life no matter how short.
The conversation comes out of nowhere but it comes up often. Tonight of all things it stemmed from the TV show Undercover Boss. There aren’t many evening television shows that are safe for little ears but I can only handle so much PBS toddler TV before I need a switch. After Wheel of Fortune tonight Nate left for a night with the guys at church and flipped it to the show before he walked out the door. We weren’t paying much attention as Nora and I played with Barbies on the couch together. Suddenly her little ears caught something from the show (don’t think they aren’t listening, because they are).
The woman was discussing her life story which included her memories of her mother who died of kidney failure. Nora stops and stares at me and I could immediately tell her little mind was working through something.
“Mommy, why did she die?”
There it was. Well. How do I explain that to a 3-year old when I really don’t have the answers myself. In fact just this morning I was reading the book “Why? Trusting God When You Don’t Understand” by Anne Graham Lotz while Nora was doing her early childhood screening. We don’t have the answers why bad things happen to good people but we have faith that they’re in Heaven and that we’ll see them again through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. I still wrestle with the “why”.
I took a deep breath and told her that everyone dies and we don’t know why some people die when they’re very young and others die when they’re very old. I reminded her that even when we die we go to Heaven if we believe in Jesus and that we’ll be able to go there one day too.
“Just like the babies are with Jesus mommy? And then they’ll come back?!”
Another deep breath. I explained that the babies would not be coming back but that we would see them again some day in Heaven whenever God called us to be with Him. And then it began as it has far too often lately.
“But mommy God is going to send us a baby soon! Anytime now. Any minute God will send us a baby! I’m going to be the best big sister!”
I’m in silence – again. I can’t even tell you how many times my little girl has said these words to me. Countless times at this point. It started only a few weeks after the babies went to Heaven only it was followed by, “God says it will take a long time but we’re going to have another baby!” Now she insists that it’s any moment. Over and over she tells me this.
I don’t know how to respond. I’ve always been consistent that although we’d love for her to have a baby here in our home that she IS and will always BE a big sister. I reassure her that we’d love to have another baby in our home but that we don’t know if God will send us one and no matter what we love Him and thank Him for the babies we have in Heaven. I tell her that we can pray for God to send another baby into our home but we don’t know if He will answer that prayer. Regardless of my calm, consistent responses she insists that a baby is coming soon, “any minute mommy!” with the most excited and joyful little voice.
Tonight I asked her why she knew this thinking maybe she’d have some divine answer. Nope. She simply replied, “I don’t know mommy.”
I asked her if she missed the babies and she agreed that she did. And then the next question that always follows these conversations, “Are you sad now mommy?” – and my heart breaks. I tell her that although it makes me sad that we don’t have the babies with us I am also joyful that they are in Heaven and we’ll see them again. Regardless of how well I’ve carried my grief around her in the last 6 months, the prior months have made an impact on her heart. Part of me is saddened by that and part of me is glad that she will never forget her brother and sisters and she knows how fully we love them and miss them. I can now calmly talk to her about them and it brings my heart joy that God has given me that peace today.
When I remind her that she’ll always be a big sister she tells me, “But mommy, Faith has a little brother. I want a little brother too!” (Now trying explaining what faith is when her good friend is named Faith! haha)
So this time – I took yet another deep breath and I asked her if she wanted to see some pictures of her brother and sisters. She agrees.
I’ve been working on a special project in the last few weeks. A birth announcement for their first birthday. It’s taken me a year to sort through the pictures and be able to find some cropped images of each of my children while they were alive just after birth as well as when they were beautifully dressed the next day. Nora’s only seen one picture of them and hasn’t shown much interest in it beyond the first few weeks when she insisted that we keep it out so she could see them (when I tried to hide it away in their keepsake box).
I opened the image on my computer where she could safely see the pictures of her siblings without the horribly sad pictures of her mommy and daddy that are carefully cropped out. I felt she needed to know that they were real and I pray that she can understand that more fully each year as their birthday nears and we find ways to celebrate their life.
She counted them 1, 2, 3. She looked at their clothes and commented, “A hat, clothes and a ribbon!” for each one of them in the sweetest voice. I pointed to each one and said their name for her. She pointed out the colors of their names. “Pink for Alice, blue for Elliot and yellow for Alexis mommy!” Simple facts to her.
I told her how they were born alive and that we got to hold them, we got to wrap them in blankets, we got to kiss them, and I even got to sing the Sunshine song to them. None of it seemed to matter to her. They were just facts. I pray that some day those facts become real to her. I pray that she grows up knowing that she is a big sister no matter if God sends us another child “any minute” or “in a long long time”.
I never knew if it’d be ok to share some of these things with her but just as the year has gone so quickly since their birth, the year has gone quickly for my 3-year old to become a 4-year old with much more understanding. I’m happy that she could hear some of these things even if she doesn’t completely understand them just yet. They are simple facts for her. She has siblings. She is a sister. We love them. We will be with them again in Heaven with Jesus.
Something just as simple still moves her little heart though. She wants to be a sister here and now – and I can’t promise her that.