Those were the words out of my daughter’s mouth as I browsed through the produce aisle of the grocery store last week.
I was looking for beets. Ever since I had this salad with beets on it a couple weeks ago I find myself dreaming of them. I put beets on everything now. Seriously, try beets if they are not part of your usual vegetable routine, you won’t regret it. As I walked back to the cart, beets in hand, I heard this wee voice say the words I have been dreading for a very long time,
“Mama, I want a sister.”
Not a baby sister. But just a sister. She said it in the softest, sweetest voice possible. A simple statement. Like she was asking for an extra scoop of ice cream or confessing something that she has thought about for hours and hours on end and had now summoned the courage to ask for.
“Mama, I want a sister.”
It was like an anvil fell on my heart. I felt my legs turn into jello as I gripped the cart to stand. Those big, wide blue eyes of hers stared up at me, her heart open and earnest.
I do not doubt that Lillian knows Ava is her sister and that her sister is not here. On some level, I know that is a truth she has absorbed. I also never thrust the truth in her face because I believe that although Lillian will know of her sisters loss, it will be impossible for her to grasp fully as a child.
And I would never expect her to.
We talk about Ava freely. We tell her that Ava is her sister, her sister has died and that we miss her very much. We tell her that one day, we will all be together again. Ava was Lillian’s 3 word. Ava is present but to Lillian she is not a sister. A sister you play with, a sister is your built in life friend. To Lillian, she does not have a sister. In fact, in that moment, of hearing those words, there was an element of me that was relieved that she is “normal.” Most 2 year old single children ask for siblings. And I want as close to normal as I can give her. Ava’s loss is too big, too all encompassing, too complex to place on a child and expect her to understand that “why yes, you do have a sister, she died and that is why Mama cries sometimes.” To her, in that grocery cart, she does not have a sister. And she probably won’t get the full picture of it all until she is an adult and holding her own child, if she so chooses. However much I want to normalize grief for her, normalize that we grieve and yet we are okay I do not think it is fair to make her understand something she doesn’t. I do not think it is fair for me to put our family’s truth ahead of her 2 year old understanding and demand she meet me there.
So instead of going over top of her 2 year old head and saying what I really wanted to I looked down at those blue eyes and said,
“I know you do, my love.”
Because I did not know what else to say. I did not know what else could be said, holding beets in the middle of the produce section to adequately address the monstrosity of that statement.
I wish you had a sister, too, wee girl. I wish you had her bossing you around and keeping you in line like my sister did. I wish you two were thick as thieves and the best of friends.
I wish so much more than you know.