I’ve finally finished reading Empty Cradle, Broken Heart, after almost three months. It’s not a book I always felt like reading, but I’ve been glad to have it around. Funnily enough, just during E’s crankiest sick days last month, I got to the part about parenting your previous and subsequent children after experiencing a loss. It talks about how lots of parents feel bad that they still get frustrated and angry with their children, as if they should somehow be immune to this, because they know more than most how precious children are, and how fragile their lives can be. The author reminds us that we are still entitled to feel anger and frustration, and to express it (in reasonable ways, of course). They don’t mention blogging as an outlet, but I figure that counts.
Anyway, after my recent gripe-fest, I’m going to tell you about the ways E has saved the day (as opposed to making it gratuitously difficult). Really, he does it all the time, and was especially good at it this summer. I won’t go as far as saying he saved us – but there were days when it felt like he did.
- He fills our home. When we came home from the hospital with no baby brother, there was still a lively, noisy child in our house. Unlike Hemingway’s legendary six-word story (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”), virtually all the baby stuff in our house has been well used. A hollow house that’s ready for a baby… would be so much worse.
- He fills our arms. Many bereaved parents talk about the way your arms ache with emptiness when you lose a baby. I’ve felt that feeling. But for the most part, I don’t let my arms stay empty. E has always been a very snuggly child (probably because everyone snuggles him as often as possible). Whenever I’ve needed a hug or a kiss from my little boy, I could get one. Even when he’s ornery, he usually comes through.
- In fact, he’s gotten even more affectionate this summer. During the first week or two after Sebastian died, there were several occasions when someone would say to E, “Go give Mommy a hug. She needs a hug,” and he would always do it. And he took that hint – and probably his own sense of heightened emotion in the atmosphere – and for the first time started spontaneously hugging our knees whenever he felt like it. He began to say “I love you” on a regular basis, unprompted. It still bowls me over every time… he’ll be sitting on his little blue chair, having a snack, and I’ll come over and crouch down to give him a kiss, and he’ll grab my arm and stroke it and say “I love you, Mommy.” It’s perfectly appropriate and yet still miraculous to me that we never have to explain this notion to our kids – they just get it. (He also assiduously gives kisses to make it better when I hurt myself, or when he accidentally bonks into me.)
- He fills our time. As aggravating as twoyearoldism can be, it’s never boring, and it doesn’t leave time for too much introspection about other things on the part of caregivers. Trying to figure out the puzzle of parenting when it’s basically impossible to get a straight answer from your child… it is its own kind of brain gym, a challenge that must be taken.
- He makes us laugh. Just listening to him talk is entertainment; then he hams it up on top of that. One of his favourite sayings is “Watch this trick, Mommy!” (or Daddy, or Emi, or Grammie, etc.) – then he’ll blink his eyes in a funny way, or do a “dance move”, or say a word he made up that he particularly likes, such as “PaTAH!” It works.
- He’s cute. Just look at this face.
- He is living proof that we can do this. If Sebastian had been our first viable child, especially since we’d already had one miscarriage, we would now be in serious doubt as to whether we could have a living child at all. I’ve read blog posts from women who have suffered a stillbirth after months or years of fertility treatment – which is quite enough of an ordeal in itself – and I don’t know how anyone survives that. We are hopeful about eventually trying again, thanks to our sturdy, irrepressible little E.
- He is here. I don’t know how often most moms think about their losing their living children, but I had thought about it countless times before all this happened… and now, of course, I think about it all the more. Friends of ours lost their firstborn when he was five months old; my sister-in-law’s third child died at sixteen months. Both of these tragedies occurred due to congenital abnormalities that no-one had reason to suspect until it was too late. And there are so many other ways in which a child, that embodiment of your very heart, can become injured or die. Do parents ever stop worrying about this? I have thought about those “what ifs” ever since E was born… and traitorous though it feels to say this, we know for sure that if E had died somehow instead of Sebastian, it would have been much harder. I can’t deny it breaks my heart that I didn’t ever get to look into Sebastian’s eyes or hear his voice or feel his breathing… but the fact that he had so little chance to influence our lives is partly a blessing. If E were suddenly gone, there would be nothing left in the world that didn’t make us cry – from the sticks and rocks on the ground, to the cars on the street, to the construction vehicles cluttering the city, to the food we eat, to the music we listen to… not to mention all the toys and small-sized clothes and drawings and photos and footage… I have no idea how I would even begin to face that kind of sorrow. I thank God every day that I don’t have to, every day that he’s here, every day that I get to hug and kiss him and hear his voice. I know this must seem morbid… sorry… but on the other hand, it reminds me to treasure ALL the moments, including the ones where he’s being a pain in the derrière.
We are still figuring out how to talk about Sebastian with him. It is easier now that I know we’re not upsetting him; at first, I didn’t ever want to bring it up for fear that he’d suddenly understand he’d lost something. Now we mention it casually when we get the chance; E will say something about our necklaces and we’ll say, “Yes, those are to remember Sebastian, because he died.” We never know if it makes sense to him, but I’m sure it will over time.
I had a little talk with him once about our babysitter’s dad, G, who died this past spring. He used to chat and play with the kids, but eventually he died of illness. I talked a little bit about heaven (my personal idea of it, at least), and how G and Sebastian both went there, and that seemed to go over okay. Then later that day I heard E say something like “Sebastogen went to Kevin.” Oops.
But clearly, something is going in. Today he opened a gift from a friend: an angel teddy bear with a necklace around its neck, with the inscription “I will always watch over you. Your brother Sebastian.” He liked the bear – it’s really soft. And then he was standing there, calmly looking at it, and said, “Sebastogen’s in my belly. He died in my belly, and he’s gone.” He wasn’t upset at all – which was both heartwrenching and reassuring. We just gave him hugs – didn’t try to correct him about whose belly it was.
I’m glad he still knows his brother’s name, and remembers what we’ve told him. That way, he will always know. We will never have to “break the news” to him… I’ve been warned that he will probably grieve later, as he begins to understand, but at least it will be gradual. For now, it’ll just be a reason for more hugs and kisses.
Sorry, readers. This was supposed to be a happier post. At least y’all got some cute photos!
Thanks again for reading.