Being a big sister has meant some awesome changes in our house. For one, she randomly, and thankfully, abandoned her binkies one day, declaring them not appropriate for a big sister. She began picking her daily
But the big sister conversation comes with expected pitfalls and hurdles. For one, what the hell do you say to your little girl about a hopeful new baby and a dead one? When Beatrice says we are a family now with the new baby, it breaks my heart. And her sudden insistence that Thor makes her a big sister makes me feel protective of Lucy. Lucy made her a big sister. Lucy is her little sister. So, when I draw our family, I always include Lucy. Beatrice uses things around the house that I bought for Lucy--a butterfly towel, a chewy gnome--renamed Lucy's towel and Lucy's gnome. There, of course, is Lucy's candle. So, Lucy is present in our home, and it fills my heart with joy to hear Beatrice say, "Draw our whole family--with Lucy and the new baby and Jack too."
But when she declared yesterday as she held onto my belly that there were two babies in there: Thor and Lucy, coupled with her awareness of boy/girl twins, I knew we had to have a real conversation and set the record straight. I explained about Lucy again:
"Lucy isn't in Mama's belly. Lucy was born already. Do you remember celebrating her birthday?"
"Lucy is your sister, but she isn't ever going to live with us."
"Because Lucy died."
"Was Lucy sick, Mama?"
"We think so, but we don't really know, baby."
"I was sick."
"But you weren't sick in the same way that Lucy was sick, love."
"Where is Lucy now?"
"Lucy is dead, baby. She isn't anywhere, but our hearts."
"In our hearts?"
"Yes, because we love her and remember her. That is how people stay with us. Grandpa Harry is in our hearts, and Lucy is in our hearts."
"But our new baby is in your belly?"
"Is the new baby sick?"
"Is the new baby going to die, Mama?"
"I hope not, love."
"Yes, Lucy died, but you are still her big sister. You will always be her sister."
"I am a big sister now."
And so it has gone all week. The refrain behind everything having to do with being a big sister, and having a new baby and "Lucy died." And she ran out of the tub, wrapped in her new monster towel telling Sam that Lucy died. I watched him tear up, and look at me.
"Yes, Lucy died. That is why Mommy and Daddy cry a lot, Beatrice, because we miss her."
"Yeah. She was sick and she died."
I am afraid of talking about all this mortality with my almost three-year old. I don't want her to be afraid of dying or of my death, or of Thor's death, except that she already lost her sister. And she will have to reconcile that. Perhaps she will play "What if" with Lucy's life far more than me. It is not in my nature to imagine her different ages, but children, teenagers, young adults...they are different. I was different then. I said things like, "That could have been me" when things happened over my shadow.
Beatrice and I were playing doctor with her stuffed elephant and she said in a very serious tone, "Is he dead, doctor?" And I tried not to flinch, but I instinctively cringe when any toddler says the words "die" or "death" around me. I am just a person. I too am afraid of my own mortality some days. And I am afraid of the mortality of those I love every day. I cannot always comfort myself in the darkest hours of the night. When asked the questions of why, where, how and what of death, I can only shake my head and say, "I don't know, love," which is not comforting to me in the slightest. I just cannot lie to her, even as I know that I disappoint her with my fallibility. I am afraid. I am afraid of the death of my husband, and my daughter, and my son, and my sister, and my nieces and nephews, and my parents and my in-laws. I am afraid.
I talk of bravery often. Beatrice is brave when she goes to sleep in the dark alone, or visits the doctor for a shot. Bravery, we always say, is not the absence of fear, but being afraid of something and still doing it. That is true bravery. Sometimes this parenting thing is all about bravery. And this pregnancy after loss is about bravery too. And this living thing...sometimes it takes all the bravery in the world to admit that death makes life a terrifying experience.
I examined the broken pachyderm paw. "No, it is just a boo-boo. Your baby elephant is going to be juuuuuust fine."