So many people worry or show concern for parents, especially mothers, after the death of a child. I worry that siblings can get lost at times. We’ve made a huge effort within our family to stay vigilant kwith regards to the grief of our five kiddos, as well as their friends. They all grieve very differently. It’s important for others to understand the ways siblings, or children in general, grieve.
I recently had the opportunity to lecture a Death and Dying class in the School of Social Work at the University of Iowa. They were such a wonderful group with many insightful questions. I spoke about Caleb’s life, him being an organ donor, and what a blessing and comfort organ donation has been for our family. Through the course of the subsequent Q&A, I was able to expound more on how Bub’s death has affected our family as a whole and individually. So, I thought I’d get back to highlighting some of the different ways I’ve seen our kiddos grieve. I hope this helps others support grieving children.
I briefly shared some of L2’s struggles in this post. Given how she’s handling his upcoming birthday and death date, I believe there’s more to share now.
My lovie, L2, is still adjusting to this new life without her “Bubby”. It’s an extra big adjustment for her because she doesn’t remember life before him. They are 19 months apart and shared a room from the time he was five months old. No one could get him to laugh as a baby like her. He was the rowdy to her calm, the loud to her quiet, the feisty to her sweet. Their love is deep and boundless.
She continues to notice all things yellow. She has started kindergarten and officially colored her “favorite color” crayon on a get to know me page yellow. She used to be completely obsessed with purple. She isn’t as talkative as she used to be. She also occasionally declares herself incapable of doing something she used to do and asks for help. This is all her processing his death, her grief, her adapting to her new normal. As her parents, Brig and I have to stay mindful of who she is and ensure that she doesn’t lose herself in his memory.
I took a very deep breath and recently arranged our annual family picture session. We took Caleb’s chair, a picture of him from last year’s family session, and three yellow balloons to represent how old he would be now.
L2 clung to Bub’s chair and picture. She had a meltdown during the kiddo group shot because she didn’t feel like she was touching enough of the picture. She wanted to sit in his chair and hold his picture for all of her individuals. I eventually got her to take some pictures without his picture. Then, I got her to stand without his chair for a few snaps. She made it a handful of shutter clicks before this…
Finding the balance between supporting her grief and trying to help her secure her own identity that isn’t consumed in his can be so difficult.
She mentions that it’s almost Caleb’s birthday quite often. I assured her two days ago that we would still have cake. His death date is the day before. With that approaching, she’s had four potty accidents in the last two weeks. We watched for this just after he died, but never saw it. Now, almost a year later, this extra bit of regression shows.
Today, after school, she was very excited to see me waiting with fingernail polish at the kitchen table. She loves to have her nails painted. So did Caleb. The local university’s main color is purple. Caleb often had purple toes and green or blue fingernails. He loved to be included when L2 and E got their nails painted.
So, in honor of Caleb’s Alive In Me Foundation, she requested yellow and green nails (green represents organ donation and is our secondary color for the foundation). She was very anxious for them to dry. Just when they were almost there and she was clear to go play, she came running to me crying. She climbed back up onto the kitchen chair and, with tears streaming down her cheeks, demanded that I remove all of the nail polish. She said it was too sad and she didn’t want it on anymore. She wouldn’t let me touch her. She fought me trying to hold her. It even took a few minutes before she’d give me her hands to remove the polish. She just needed to sit there and feel her sadness…and my heart broke for her. This is her life. It’s not always like this. She’s not always sad, but it happens.
Many people talk about how resilient children are. How quickly they adapt. I worry that this notion often minimizes or even demeans their pain, their grief. It is our job as adults to look out for them, to pay attention and care for them. It is not uncommon for children to stifle their own grief and pain to protect their parents or the adults in their life. Imagine that. A child will naturally do what so many adults need to put forth so much effort to do…put another’s pain before their own.
We need to acknowledge their pain and help them process it. We need to give them safe places to let it out. Death, or loss of any kind, are difficult concepts for even adults to deal with. I’ve talked about the waves of grief. If they can smack me hard and make me feel as though I may drown, even with my level of maturity and comprehension, I can only imagine how terrifying these feelings are for children. Let us be mindful. Let us be vigilant. Let us be there for them. Let us shore up their sense of security when it’s crumbling around them.
Sadly, for some, their childhood monsters are death, loss, and grief. Let us be their light in dark places. After all, it is our job to check for monsters under the bed.