“Lillian why are you sad?”
“I miss my sister Ava.”
This routine has been going on for months now. Perhaps she loses a toy or is told “no” for too many times in a row and then I will find her sitting down by herself somewhere and sad.
“I miss my sister Ava.”
At first I thought it was legitimate. At first I crumpled to my knees and we would sit and talk about missing. I tried different techniques of recognizing her grief when these moments would come and she would never say more than “I miss my sister Ava.”
It was then that I began to wonder if it wasn’t her sister that she was missing but rather this was her way of getting my full and undivided attention to talk for a moment. That it was her cue to tell me she needed my attention and it was to hit the biggest emotional button we have. Kids they can be jerks sometimes, they realize your weaknesses and hone in on them. So the next time she did the whole “I miss my sister Ava” thing I redirected her and once she was redirected her and I would sit and play together.
And the “I miss my sister Ava” stopped for a couple of weeks, much to my relief in many ways.
Several weeks later I was dropping Lillian off at school and I was chatting with her friends there. One of the girls bounded up to me and said,
“We are playing big sister and little sister! I am the big sister and she is the little sister.”
“That is nice girls,” I replied, before kissing Lillian and I went about my day without much further thought. That is until I picked Lillian up from school that day.
I arrived and I saw her playing from across the classroom and she was not her smiley self. When she spotted me instead of running across the class shrieking my name and talking as fast as the flash about her day she ran over and wrapped her arms around my neck and said very sternly,
“Mama. Can we go home now?”
We went about our usual routine. We walked home and we chatted quietly about her day, she wasn’t very forthcoming but she often isn’t. I am the mother that pelts her with questions about her day and I am lucky if I get one story or detail. I brought her snack to the table when we got home and she sat and stared at it.
“I am sad because I miss my sister Ava”
“No!” She shouted at the top of her voice and knocked over her snack bowl, staring at me fiercely and angrily. “I have a sister Ava!”
At this point I was confused as to what she was even trying to convey. I had dismissed her, was she now upping the ante?
“You do have a sister” was all I could think to reply.
“Yes! I do!” She was still yelling and tears brimmed in her eyes.
“Why are you angry Lillian?”
“I do have a sister! I do! I have a sister.”
I suddenly remembered the girls this morning, playing Sisters at school, was this part of this puzzle?
“Yes. You have a sister. Her name is Ava and she died.”
“Becky and Michelle said I did not have a sister. Anna has a sister and Michelle has a sister. Becky has a brother. I said I have a sister and Becky and Michelle said I do not have a REAL sister!” She put her head down on the table and cried the hardest, saddest cry I think I have ever heard.
“Oh my darling girl” I pulled her onto my lap.
“You do have a sister. You do. I am so sad that they said you don’t have a sister. Ava is hard for some people because we don’t see her with our eyes, we only have pictures and love in our heart.” I couldn’t think of any way to explain things to her. How do you explain to a three year old why other kids would see her sister as illegitimate? How is it that we are already having this conversation? Already having to explain her sister to others in this way?
“Why did she have to die Mama?”
Here comes the question I have been dreading. It is question I do not have an answer for. I do not know why Ava had to die. I have read thousands of HELLP stories where the babies live and their Mama’s were as sick as me. I know she died from placental abruption, if we want to get technical but that abruption is caused by many things and I do not want to fall into that wormhole. I figured the best way to answer her was complete honesty,
“I do not know darling. Some babies just die and we do not know why.”
We sat curled up on the kitchen floor for the better part of an hour. At three years old I am having to have complicated conversations about death far before I ever imagined. I could explain to a seven year old why other kids would say that she does not have a “real” sister. At seven I could talk to her a bit about HELLP and that sometimes bad things happen no matter what you do to stop them or even if you are a really good person. But at three, at three all I could do was reflect her pain and sorrow to be rejected in that way, her pain that she wishes Ava was here (something she also says damned near daily) and help her through the confusion of it all. I do not know the best way to help her through this.
Naturally that night I bought 4 books on amazon about talking to kids about death and supporting through crisis. Because, what else can I do?
Parenting after loss is no freaking joke.