Walking With You was created to help support those who have lost a child. Together we share our stories, helpful information, scriptures, encouraging words, prayer requests, and more. Thank you to those of you who have joined us over the years, for courageously sharing your stories. If you haven’t joined us our private Walking With You Facebook support group, and would like to, you are more than welcome. This week, we are sharing about sibling grief and the effect our loss(es) had on our children. If you did not have children at the time of your loss, please share about your own experience and the added layer of difficulty of not having other living children. Next week, will share about subsequent pregnancies (after the loss).
Timothy was two years old when we were expecting Faith and Grace. His little life was turned upside down by my extreme illness and constant vomiting. Then there was a long hospital stay and little contact from me. Of course, he was doted on by his grandmas (my mom and Tim’s). So much so that when I finally returned from the hospital, I had to peel him off my mom. He was getting used to the “spoiling!”
When Faith and Grace passed away, I told him as simply as I could, in language he could understand. He has always been a very perceptive person and a deep thinker. I told him that Faith and Grace were very sick and too sick to stay, that God took them to heaven to heal them. I shared that He gave them new bodies in heaven, bodies that were perfect and they would never be sick again. He seemed intrigued about the fact that they would have new eyes to see differently than we do.
In the weeks following their passing, Timothy drew pictures of his sisters (stick figures with really big heads!). He would sometimes give me a picture when he saw me crying – to “make me feel better.” He knew instinctively how much I missed them. I ran a home daycare at the time and during the early weeks of my grief, I was not working. For Timothy that meant no children filling our house with life. Lonely and sad, sometimes he would stand at the window and say, in the saddest little voice – “no kids coming today”.
Timothy loved to talk about his sisters and look at their pictures. He didn’t seem to notice their brokenness. That was so refreshing to me. Because I didn’t see their brokenness either. As time went on, others grew uncomfortable or tired of hearing about Faith and Grace. But he never did. We would talk about what heaven was like and what they would be doing in heaven. On their first (and subsequent birthdays), we would celebrate together (with my friend Ginny sometimes) with cookies and cupcakes – pink, of course for our little girls. He would blow out the candle. We would talk about them playing in heaven and Timothy decided they would be wearing Barbie pajamas! I loved his child-like faith, and I loved his openness in sharing about his sisters.
Sometimes he would even run to get their picture when a visitor came, making others uncomfortable. I loved his lack of inhibition. Truth be told, I think we could learn a little from the way children experience grief. They live their lives and let out their feelings as they happen, with unapologetic honesty.
With Thomas, Timothy had already experienced loss. So, he knew that pregnancy did not guarantee a baby. It broke my heart that he knew that at the tender age of four years. He prayed for this baby to stay. He prayed for a brother. A brother, he was given. But we soon found out that this baby would not stay either. We told him that Thomas was very sick, and the doctors say he probably will not stay. He will go to heaven when he is born. It was so confusing, because Thomas was still alive in my growing belly.
He shook his head and his little voice sounded strangled as he choked out the words.
“So, I won’t get to hold this baby either. He will not come home.”
We told him that we could pray for God to heal Thomas and let him stay – that God could do anything. And we needed to trust Him. I hugged him. He was heartbroken but trying to be tough.
When Thomas was born, it seemed like such a whirlwind. As long as I walk this earth, I will regret not bringing Timothy to meet his brother when he was alive – not letting him hold him. Tim was in so much turmoil, and I didn’t want to add to it. I did not know if it would be more painful or confusing to Timothy to meet his brother. However, that decision caused Timothy great sorrow, and I’m so sorry for it.
Not meeting his brother and holding him was very hard for Timothy, and he talked about that for a long time. I did bring him, privately, to the funeral home, and he touched Thomas’ cheek. But, his skin felt different than a baby usually feels. The experience was not a comfort.
We talked often about Thomas and what he would do in heaven also, and we shared pictures. Timothy kept praying for a brother. We started traditions, like giving a shoebox filled with presents every Christmas to the Good Samaritan organization in memory of each child. In the early years, we bought Christmas ornaments to remember the babies. We had birthday celebrations – sometimes just Timothy and I – for many years. I read “Mommy, Please Don’t Cry” and “Someday Heaven” to him. We loved to talk about heaven. And those talks were a comfort to my heart as well as his.
In the fall of 2000, God answered Timothy’s prayers and blessed us with another pregnancy. Timothy spent the time praying that this baby would stay.
He would often ask me, “Mom, do you think this baby will stay?”
I could never say yes for sure. I would say that I hoped the baby would stay – and that I was praying, too. We almost lost James. There were complications in the first and second trimester. I don’t think I shared those with Timothy. His prayers for his brother to stay were so heart-wrenching. He was six years old by this time. So young to have faced such serious truths of life and death.
His brother, James, was born on May 3, 2001. And, this time, he came to the hospital. He held his brother, with a sigh of relief. James came home, Timothy doted on him lovingly (for the first couple years, at least!).
When my mom passed away in October 2006, Timothy walked the path of grief once more. This time, as a young man. My mom was sort of “his place” where he was always adored…loved…accepted, just how he is. She was his person, you know. He would talk to her when he didn’t feel he could talk to me (and yes, I wish he never felt that way…but, sadly he does).
His grief now is more like a man, and he doesn’t share it with me as much. But, I know that it was heart-breaking and life changing to say good-bye to his grandmother. And, I know all of the loss he has experienced has shaped his heart and his life. He had to learn very young what most of us don’t know until we are much older. Sometimes, we do still talk about what life would be like with all five children here in our little house, and what they would be doing now. Even years after I originally wrote this post, as he prepares to get married, Timothy mentions them from time to time. They are part of our family, part of our story.
We have always focused on the hope of heaven…that we will see our loved ones again someday. And there will be no more good-byes. No more tears. Bodies will not ever be sick or broken.
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them, and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” ~ Revelation 21:3-4
I just want to encourage you to talk to your children. Include them as much as possible in the process. Share moments and make memories with them that include your babies in heaven. Realize that siblings are grieving as well. Be available to talk and listen. Answer their questions simply and age-appropriately. Shower them with love and reassurance. Keep their schedules stable and structured. Routine can be reassuring. Share comforting scripture about the promise of heaven. Pray with them and encourage them to pray. There are things, as I have shared, that I regret. It is difficult sometimes to make the best decisions in our own grief. Know that God’s grace can cover our mistakes.
Recommended Resources for Sibling Grief
The Story of Hope: Helping Kids Express Feelings of Grief and Loss
Someday We’ll Play in Heaven ~ Strannigan (Standard Publishing)