Children are incredibly perceptive about their parents’ emotions. My five year old can pinpoint sadness on my face even when I am not aware it is showing. Emotions run freely in our home since we lost our six year old son, Christian. My two younger boys are always encouraged to share their feelings. As a mom, I do the same, most of the time. I allow them to see me sad and crying. It’s important that they see me bend but not break.
My first experience with child loss was when my childhood friend lost her eight year old cousin. The vivid memories consist of the inability to breathe as soon as I entered the funeral home. The dark fog of unnatural death descended unlike anything I had ever felt before. It was palpable. The sight of a small child lying in a coffin was physically and emotionally jarring. There I stood alone in the midst of a crowd of mourners. Many thoughts ran through my mind. Of course my heart was filled with empathy for the family members, especially the parents. Anger coursed through my body at the thought of this small child no longer being filled with vitality. My heart was crushed for the other two children in the family. Although Christian was only two years old at the time, and had no siblings, it was the final thought that stuck with me. How would the parents have the strength to go on for the other two children? How would the children survive the death of their sibling? These thoughts consumed me as I drove home.
After losing Christian these questions and emotions immediately resurfaced. At the time my other two boys were three and one. They needed their parents. My husband and I were completely incapacitated. We were fortunate to have many friends and family surrounding us and providing my children with love and comfort. My boys still needed us. In my heart I knew my children deserved as much as I could give. Just days after we laid my oldest son to rest, Anthony, my middle son, began preschool. It is customary for the parents to attend the first day of school with their children so they can get situated. Anthony was at the same preschool Christian had attended. It was not an easy task to accompany him. Family and friends offered to stand in for us, but my husband and I felt strongly that we needed to be there for Anthony. We were determined to shape our new normal around our two living children. This is what has kept us going for the past four years. At the time of Christian’s death our sons were babies. Now, at five and seven, they have grown into beautiful little people.
As my children continue to grow, and their understanding of the tragedy we have experienced continues to grow, I shield them less and less. At one time their perception was that mom only cried when she was sad about Christian. Now they realize I cry for them too, in a different way. My five year old son knows that the song he is sung at preschool graduation makes me cry because it means he will no longer be little. My seven year old son knows that when he unexpectedly thanks me for “encouraging him to do something difficult” it brings tears to my eyes. Our emotional connection as a family had been undeniably changed. The tragedy we have endured and continue to survive as a family, allows us to be more emotionally vulnerable with each other. This vulnerability creates extremely close relationships.
Maintaining emotional transparency has opened the doors of communication about topics that typically would be considered above their level of understanding. Spirituality is a common conversation topic in our home. I do the best to explain heaven, souls, love after death and the forever connections we have with Christian. I am also entirely honest with them, letting them know that these are my beliefs. Following in my beliefs, they consider hearts and pennies signs from their brother. It fosters communication with our beautiful angel. My boys also know that I am actively engaged and involved in their lives. They know my emotions are affected by not only what has happened in the past, but also by things that happen in the present. The closeness we have gained as a family is a beautiful gift from our angel. Love to heaven…