Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Respecting Children's Instincts & Awareness

Respecting Children's Instincts & Awareness
Written by Joann O'Leary

When families experience a perinatal loss older siblings suffer two losses: the baby they were expecting and the parents they knew before the loss. They live with parents whose behaviors are altered by intense grief, often at an age when they are too young to understand what's happening. It is common for parents to think their other children are too young to understand. Also, they do not want their children to feel the same grief the parents do. Even very young children are tuned in to the emotions of the significant adults in their lives. A child's grieve and resiliency in coping, however, can be trusted and shared to the benefit of the entire family. Many children seem to have a spiritual connection and wisdom we adults often overlook. While I interviewed bereaved parents raising children I have been struck by stories of children who seem to possess this knowledge and I share two stores.

Grace was three when her mother's pregnancy ended in an early miscarriage. She had known about the pregnancy, said right away it was a boy and called him Baby Cabbage. She said good morning to him every day and continues to refer to him as her brother in heaven. When her mother became pregnant again, they decided not to tell Grace until after the twenty week ultrasound. They felt Grace grieved so painfully and deeply for Baby Cabbage that they wanted to spare her another trauma. It was painful for the parents to watch and they feared another loss for them all. The day they were preparing to go in for their ultrasound Grace walked up to her mother and said, "There's another baby in your tummy. I'm going to have a baby sister!" Her mother shared they were going to the doctor that day and maybe we'll find out it's a boy. When she came home she told Grace it was a girl and that she could now tell her friends at school. Grace replied, "Well I already told them. I knew I was having a sister." So in spite of her parents thinking Grace was unaware they were pregnant she had already made a connection with her new sibling's presence in the family. Four months later her little sister was born! 

Keeping the memory alive of a deceased child in the family is important not only for the children alive at the time but for the children who follow. The Smith family was very open about the death of their son Kevin to his siblings who were 18 months and three years old when he died. Although they did not bring the children to the hospital to see Kevin (something they now regret) his death was an open topic in the family. The parents allowed them to see their deceased brother's baby things: a little hat, his footprints, and some of his hair. The family also had pictures of him in the upstairs hallway and ornaments for the Christmas tree with his name and birth date. Along with these things, the siblings became memory keepers for Kevin as an important member of their family. This helped the baby who followed, Tony, to become a separate individual. They told Tony about his older brother, held Kevin's picture in front of his face before he was old enough to sit up. Understanding at a young age that not all babies live, these siblings at age three and five had a deeper relationship with their new baby brother. Their mother explains, "Tony's life was so real to them. They knew what it meant to not have a brother living. They were truly thankful for Tony." 

Protecting young children from the pain of loss is an understandable desire. Yet these stories illustrate the wisdom children have that we often overlook. Parents who are able to communicate their thoughts and emotions teach their children that they can trust their parents to be honest and that they will be cared for no matter what happens in the family. It is a valuable gift that builds strong families.

"The more we
shelter children
from every
the more
devastating future
will be."
Fred G. Gosman

1 comment:

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