Death, expressly a sibling’s death, is never an easy concept to grasp. It is especially traumatizing for young children. One day someone who has been an integral part of their life from birth disappears, never to be seen again. Their entire understanding of life as they knew it changed by this event. Fortunately I never dealt with this when I was a child. Unfortunately, I have to watch my two sons live it.
My childhood was a charmed one. I had one younger sister and we played dolls, house, store and many other common childhood games. My children also do this, with one major difference. Their play commonly includes an aspect of heaven or death. Being that their brother lives in heaven, this is extremely relevant to them. It’s all they know. When playing with other children, however, it is obvious that many of them do not normally bring heaven and death into their play.
My boys’ realm of knowledge of heaven and death does not hold the same emotional weight as an adult’s. Teachers and others who have since interacted with my children are quick to comment on how matter of fact they are about heaven and death. From the beginning of my grieving process I have been brutally aware of what my other two children are missing out on. They are not because this is all they have ever known. It is their reality.
In one sense their reality is brutal but in another it is beautiful. Their spirituality is a beautiful thing. They are aware that love transcends all. They are aware that their brother is always with them. They are aware that he is always sending signs. It has definitely changed the lens through which they see the world. It has changed the lens through which we all see the world. Sometimes I wonder what our family would look like if we never had to endure this pain. I think we would be beautiful. It’s something I mourn every day. Beautiful is not our reality so we will be brutally beautiful. Love to heaven…
Your classmates moved up to middle school yesterday. They reached a major milestone in their lives. It is one they will remember forever. You weren’t there in the flesh. Yet floating right next to the row of seats was a single red balloon. A powerful reminder that you were there in spirit. Your friends’ faces lit up with smiles as their names were called to receive certificates and awards. Under those smiles some of them saw the balloon and it touched their wound. You will forever be remembered as the boy who died right before first grade started. Over the past few weeks of seeing your friends it has become clear that this event has touched all of their lives. Those who were closer to you struggling with the idea that one day they can be on a playdate with their six year old buddy, saying they will see him on the first day of school, and the next day he can be gone. The uncertainty and fragility of life plaguing their six year old selves.
Your own brothers are obviously not immune from this either. While we openly discuss you and our emotions surrounding losing you, I often question how they truly are feeling. Sometimes they are transparent in their feelings and other times it is a mystery. Leading up to yesterday’s moving up ceremony many emotions coursed through me. As the mother of the family, I believe this means that many emotions coursed through the entire family. Unfortunately when children are younger their emotions often manifest behaviorally. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) states that children under 5 may, “cling to a parent, return to behaviors common to being younger and show signs of fear”, among other symptoms. These are behaviors that I have seen present themselves in my youngest son. The NIH states that children 6-11 may, “have nightmares or problems sleeping, have outbursts of anger and start fights”, among other symptoms. Again, I have seen these in my 7 year old. These behaviors are also common in children who have not seen and experienced what they did. The uncertainty and fragility of this situation plagues me as a mother.
Child loss sets a ripple in motion that affects many people, some for a lifetime. Your brothers are forever at risk to falling prey to their emotions. The fear this ignites in me is raging. What if one day they turn to drugs or alcohol to escape the pain they experienced when they were younger? We will always give them unconditional love and support but what if that’s not enough? This is where my trauma manifests itself. In knowing that nothing can be controlled, my fears arise. Uncertainty, fragility.
There is no telling where time will take any of us. We have learned that nothing is guaranteed. Life is precious and each moment truly counts. We can’t control anything. We simply are not that powerful. All we can do is use the past to guide us in the present. We can let the visual of that single red balloon remind us to do our best to stay present and appreciate life. We can carry on your spirit by spreading kindness and love. We can recognize that the uncertainty and fragility of life is truth, but not let it take over. Love to heaven…