The struggles of dealing with a small child after the death of a sibling

A grieving mother trying to cope with other small children who do not understand the death of their siblingAs we were driving home today, my five-year-old asked, “Who is going to blow out the candles on Gabriel’s birthday?”

I just looked in the rear-view mirror, faked a smile, and said, “you are.” 

While her intentions were sweet and I hope to one day be able to face those questions with more grace, having to explain and re-explain has been difficult.

Not too long ago, she asked me about the crib. When I told her that Gabriel lived in heaven now, she asked me why we couldn’t send the crib there. I am sure that one day, I will look back and smile at the thought of her being so caring, but for now, it is hard.

After he passed away, I told her that his soul was going to be with Jesus now, but that his body would be staying at the hospital for a bit–until we could bury him under his special tree at the cemetery. The other day, she asked me if we could go visit him at the hospital. When I told her we’d have to visit with him in our dreams now, she was confused. She said I had told her that we were leaving him at the hospital, so she wanted to back to see him.

Then on Father’s Day, she drew a sweet picture of our family in a card for my husband. She carefully crafted herself, her sister, my husband and then me–with “baby” still in my belly.

Despite the constant reminders of my loss, being a mother to two absolutely wonderful little girls has been my saving grace throughout all of this. When I have felt like giving up, they were my reminder that quitting wasn’t an option. And yet, having to continue to be a mother throughout all of this has been an enormous challenge.

Waking up each day and facing reality has been hard enough, but having to care for other people when you can barely care for yourself is rough. Helping other people get dressed and to and from their schools and activities seems so frustrating. How can life just go on around me when mine just came to a halt? Perhaps even more difficult is being responsible for explaining the death of a sibling to a child, and having to continuously remind them of what happened.

Then again, having to carry on as a parent, even through the tough conversations, forces me to remember how much love and goodness there still is in the world and that I have so much to be thankful for. As this article in Parents Magazine touches on, having those difficult conversations also allows me to be in control of how they receive the information about their sibling’s death, rather than letting them find out in other ways. At least these repeated conversations ensure that I am the person that is telling them, and as a result, can also be the the one to comfort them.

Later in the day, I thought back on the question she had asked about birthday candles. Maybe it wasn’t so much a lack of understanding on her part, but perhaps it was a more positive approach towards coping. Maybe one day, we will get to the point where we have “birthday” parties for their brother when we will celebrate the gift of love that he brought us rather than the void we’ve felt since his passing. Maybe she really will be the one blowing out his candles, not so much in his absence, but in his honor.



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What are your thoughts?