Recently I’ve been in several discussions with loss parents about navigating healing in the entire family. The process of healing after loss is layered, nuanced, and varied. You’re dealing with 1) your own healing, 2) any potential partner’s healing, 3) reintegration into family & friend-life, 4) and figuring out how to talk to any living children or subsequent children about your llo (lost little one).
I’ll save 1-3 for another post, and focus this entry on talking to the sibs.
So… what do you say? Your older kid(s) asks why their younger sibling isn’t coming home/didn’t stay home/or wasn’t born in the way they were. Now what? Your younger kid(s) have older angel-siblings and maybe they see pictures or start to ask questions about who came before them. What do you say?
The truth is, just like most other things, what you end up saying is entirely up to you. Having said that, I’ll offer a few things you should consider when having that (potentially) nail-biting conversation(s):
- What is YOUR belief system about what happens to us after we die?
- Knowing your own familial and personal belief system around death is crucial to your healing. This can evolve and change over time, and honestly, it may even change day to day after you’ve experienced the death of your child. What you believe can bring a sense of peace, comfort, and/or solace.
- How do you/does your family talk about loved ones who have died?
- The language we use, “passed”, “went home”, “rest”, “angel”, “ancestor”, “gone”, “lost”, etc. all have meaning and connotation. Consider what is said, how it is said, and when it is discussed. Is it secretive? Only brought up on special occasions? Do y’all regularly reminisce & share stories?
- What do YOU think about YOUR connection to your llo after they passed?
- Our families and intimate circles condition us over the years into beliefs and practices that sometimes aren’t even conscious. You don’t know your slipping into believing this or that; you just know the belief somehow… IS. A lot of adulthood is determining what YOU actually believe & value versus what you’ve been taught or conditioned to believe and value. Examine what your own belief system is and whether it holds true when you think about your llo. Warning: this a big point of struggle for a lot folx who have experienced perinatal loss. Faith is TESTED!
- How old are your living children?
- Consider what is developmentally appropriate. Children handle information differently depending on how old they are, and certain things may not be appropriate to share with younger kids. A good rule of thumb is to follow our kids lead. Do whatever you would normally do regarding your own processing of your grief, and if your child(ren) asks questions, answer them. If they walk away or change the subject, follow that lead.
- What is your comfort level with children being exposed to death?
- Examine what your own level of comfort is and how much feels ok for YOU to share. Children pick up on energy much better than adults so it’s really easy to negatively influence their relationship to death & loss unintentionally. Identify what your boundaries are (e.g., we can tell a story about what happened, but no funerals; we can draw pictures for or of the deceased, but they can’t see actual photos of your baby after they died). Only you get to determine what’s going to work for your family, but the first step is always going to be checking in with you.
In my home, my son (his sisters would be older than him by about 6 months or so) is very aware of his older sisters. So much so, he actually went to school and told his teacher about his sisters. She was confused AF and that was a fun conversation to have *insert eyeroll*. There is a picture of the girls on display in my home in addition to their urn & other mementos. Occasionally if he’s awake, my son participates in their weekly candle-lighting with me at 9:04pm & 9:23pm (their birth times). Our conversations over the years (he’s almost 4) have evolved to include more detail as HE ASKS more questions. I don’t use frilly language like, “your sisters are sleeping” or “they’re in the clouds looking down on us”. I think it’s important to be as honest as possible (they’re not sleeping; they died), and I honestly don’t know where their souls are for sure, but I DO know that I feel them sometimes, I’m always connected to them and I believe our souls will meet again when I shed this earthly body. I’m sure his understanding will continue to evolve, and I never push anything related to the girls on him. It’s always his choice. It’s always in response to his curiosity. It’s also simply a part of my everyday life. I’m his mother AND I’m their mother so for me, it would be odd to exclude him or hide my mothering in it’s entirety.
There’s more than 5 considerations, but you’ll have to keep an eye out for my upcoming webinar for those deets ;-).
Let me know in the comments how you talk to your kids about their angel-sibling. How do people around you react to it, and more importantly, does it change what you do? Remember that HOW you talk about it is just as important as WHAT you say about it.
As always, sending good energy your way!