Happy Birthday, Little Fox- Part One

by Lori Dwyer on August 2, 2012 · 3 comments

“Are you going to stay in the forest?
No, Dragonfly. I have to go away.”

Last weekend, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, I dressed my children in their party clothes and drove into the suburbs. We’re going to a party, I tell them. Like a birthday party, mum? Asks my son, all big blue eyes and excitement.

Kind of, I say. Sort of. A birthday, yes, but a sad one, because the birthday person isn’t here anymore. They’ve gone to Heaven.

I’ve become quite skilled at delicate, intricate explanations.

Last weekend my beautiful friend Kristie from Hespera’s Garden held a first birthday part in the memory of her baby boy, Avery, still born one year ago. A clear winters day filled with bright sunshine, in a pretty green park near their house. A gathering of friends and family and loved ones, adults and children. Lots of food and an amazing cake and, as Kristie herself put it, “a bit of ceremony. A bit of pomp. …the least I could for you.”

I’ve blogged before about the dignity Kristie holds herself with, the grace with which she grieves, and allows others the space and strength and respect to do the same. Again, at her son’s birthday, it was that contradiction that struck me, and the intense melancholy that comes with it. This woman, in her pain, is the epitome of beauty.

Kristie and I.

I watch Kristie stand with her daughter as the mouth the words of a literal Lullaby together, and I am in awe. Their pain– a mother for her child, a little girl for the big sister she isn’t yet and the baby she never got to show her room– seems to propel them together and bond them there, the simple sharing of it something powerful that brings them both solace and strength.

I gently compare that to my son and I and see the difference in the grain of the two relationships– where Kristie and her Dragonfly draw closer; my Chop and I seem to polarize, internalizing grief that would surely be healthier outside our heads, both terrified of showing each other we are hurting for fear of causing more pain.

And I know, I know– compare not, lest ye feel like a dick who always comes up short. But how many other grieving woman and mourning children do you meet in your day to day life…? Parenting can be a bitch. There’s about a hundred decisions to be made, each with a plethora of different options to be researched… and that’s just in your child’s first month. Then you come to the realisation that, unless they themselves are in the act of parenting small children right now, people either have no idea what’s going on, or have forgotten exactly how bullshit difficult and treacherous this mundane, everyday raining kids stuff can be. That’s when you begin to see the company of other parents as an invaluable asset. They will help you make those definitive choices between cradle and cot, solids a four months or solids at six months, toilet training now or waiting till summer… so on and so forth.

All those topics are (sadly) fundamental. But they’re also very, very common– everyone with little kids gets that stuff. But when you’re parenting kids who are grieving– and, to a much greater extent, kids with disabilities– there a questions you have that not many other parents deal with. Like– how you describe Heaven? What do you say when they ask if you’re going to die? Do you initiate conversation about the person who’s missing in your lives, or do you wait from to bring it up? How much regression is normal? And how in God’s name are you meant to deal with it when they get teased at school for being the only one of the ‘big boys’ who still likes ‘baby tv’?

Within all that come the comparisons. Only instead of what age they learn to crawl or tie their shoelaces, it’s the level of your child’s pain. How they express it. How often they cry. If they cry at all.

And how much you deal with all of it. Are you too disconnected, too involved, giving too much detail, not enough? Are you giving your child an adequate landscape with which to deal with such enormous, tremendous pain…?

Comparing your own parenting to others is natural, I think, to a point. It lets you challenge your own behaviors, learn new and different ways to approach things you may have completed avoided before. Of course, with shattered, decimated self esteem, it leads to beating yourself up no end.

But let’s focus on the positives.

I’ll be honest with you (and, in case you’re wondering, Kristie has read and OK’ed this post), in the Before I wouldn’t have even contemplated– not for a moment– taking my kids to a memorial service for… well… anyone, actually. They didn’t go to their fathers funeral or see him in the ICU– choices I made with solid, unyielding instinct and don’t regret. I only wonder trepidiously if my children, my son especially, will resent me for it, eventually.

So I watched with infinite understanding as the few people I casually informed as to where we going that weekend recoiled in horror. And then watched, with the same understanding, as they remembered… my children, like Kristie’s Dragonfly, are not exactly average anymore. They have this huge, sad, unfortunate and unfair understanding that where there is life, there is death.
With that in mind, I didn’t hesitate to accept the invite from Kristie. Nor did I shy, or not a lot at least, when I explained to my son and daughter where we are going and why.

The Bumpy Thing in party mode- I swear I brushed her hair before we left the house.

“It’s a party, like a birthday party”, I tell them. My daughter is too young for this– one mention of ‘party’ and she’s run, bandy legged and birds nest hair, to her bedroom to begin harvesting from an arr
ay of pink party frocks from her cupboard (which she will, of course, want to wear all at once). But my little man is, in his fashion, eager but earnest, and he becomes increasingly sincere and so heart–breakingly adult as the discussion continues.

“It’s a party for a little boy who has died. He’s in Heaven.”

The blue eyes grow wonder, some kind of wonderment at finding his familiar in every day banality shining through them, “Like my Daddy?”

“Yes baby, like your daddy. This little boy was named Avery, and it should have been his birthday this weekend. Now…” I pause, trying to lay this concept out in my mind just as flat as I can, in order to simplify it for such a tiny child’s understanding. “Remember when Daddy died and we we all very, very sad? But we are happy, sometimes, when we talk about Daddy, because we loved him very much and he made us happy, right?” Chop nods. Score one to Mum– so far, so good. “Well, this is a party for the happy things about Avery, because people were happy he was here. So it will mostly be happy. There’ll be other kids there to play with, too. But some people might be sad for a little bit, OK? Because they’re sad that Avery died. But it’s mostly a happy day. And…” again, I pause– where is the rule book for this? Where is the adult to weigh this up with, to help me view it from every facet and decide if I’m doing the right thing? “… Avery has a big sister. He name is Dragonfly.” Being at that testosterone-wielding age of four, this means little to the Chop– girls are, for the next eight years or so, totally boring. “She’s the same age as you. And she knows about Heaven, too.”

Again, that simple astonishment, and it bobs to the surface of my mind, one of those worries about my kids that I keep weighted, lest they send me into a screaming panic; how lonely this child must feel sometimes, with his sister just bit too young for the kind of conversation he needs, and his circumstances so different to the tiny selection of other children at his daycare.

To be continued…
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa August 2, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Oh you are amazing. Just amazing. Healing, one moment at a time.


Charmaine Campbell August 2, 2012 at 8:29 pm

You said "What do you say when they ask if you're going to die?" I have had this conversation many times with my kids who are 8 and (just turned)5. My husband has cancer, and won't be cured. But it is me that they seem to ask about when I will die. It is hard to answer, in all honesty, none of us knows. We can't promise them never, but we don't want to freak them out either. When my kids bring it up, I just tell them that none of us knows, but we all hope to live until we are very old like my Nana who died aged 88 last year, but sometimes it isn't possible, that some people get sick or have an accident. I am not overly emotional about it, I just tell it how it is. My son had some counselling with the school social worker last year when my husband was diagnosed, as we weren't sure how he was dealing with everything. He definitely got something worthwhile out of it.
Your friend Kristie sounds amazing (like you)! To lose a child is something I have tried not to imagine for myself, there could not be anything more painful in my opinion.
I have only recently found you and your blog. Love to you and your little ones. XXXX


Anonymous August 2, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Wow, reading that has me in tears. My four year old woke up one morning to be told his grandma (who he was very close with) had gone to heaven while he was sleeping, the loss of innocence is heartbreaking in our children. I think you explained things so well to your son (enough but not too much) and living with the shadow of death is just plain hard, painful and miserable. Your son will be okay, he really will!


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