Monday, March 22, 2010

Big sister

Beatrice has decided that, suddenly, "I am a BIG SISTER now!" She never really said that with Lucy, or put two and two together that with Lucy's birth and death, she became a big sister. And to be fair, how would she? She never met Lucy and she was under 20 months during Lucy's pregnancy. Oh, she liked hearing the books about having a new baby, but didn't really connect the dots that Mama's squirmy belly meant she was a big sister. Now, she is incredibly happy about this fact. She often says that she is going to invite all the big sisters over for a parade around the house. Or her birthday party will be just big sisters all named Beatrice that all look exactly like her.

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 insane outfits, laying them carefully out on the floor of her room, replete with socks in each pant leg, and a little itty bitty purse placed where her hand will go, and dressing herself.  She now carries her dishes from the table to the sink. I am a fan of big sisters. They really are quite helpful around the house.

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."
"Why, Mama?"
"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?"
"Yes, baby."
"Is the new baby sick?"
"No, love."
"Is the new baby going to die, Mama?"
"I hope not, love."

"Lucy died?"
"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."


  1. Such sad conversations to have to have, but you handle it so well.

    Thinking of you.


  2. Hugs to all of you, the elephant included ... such is the life in one of our homes - my heart to you! k-

  3. such a beautiful post. Those conversations must make you ache. No one should have to have them. You handle them so well though. I admire your honesty and think you are a beautiful momma to Beatrice, Thor, and Lucy.

  4. Beatrice is a lovely big sister. Being a sister to Lucy may be a little more abstract to her right now, but she'll grow into understanding.

  5. Although my situation is different I just wanted to give you my perspective. My older brother died when I was 5 and at the time I really didn't understand what it meant to die. He was the first person I knew that died. As I got older, I began to understand what it meant to die and by the time I was 12 I understood what I had lost. I missed out on having one of my older brothers around and to this day I wonder what our relationship would have been like.
    Bea will come to understand that she is a big sister to both Lucy and Thor. And sadly, she will come to understand what she missed by not having her little sister around.
    You are being honest with her and that is good. My parents tried to hide the pain from me and I think that contributed to my not understanding what happened for so long.
    I hope that some of this makes sense - I guess I'm just trying to say don't worry, she will get it.

    Sorry for the long comment.

  6. beautiful and heartbreaking post ange

  7. Such a familiar conversation for me, Ang. I often forget how precisely our situations parallel each other. Same aged living children, same gaps between babies.

    You handled it beautifully, to my mind. I hope I manage to do it with the same grace, although I'm sure I get it wrong a lot of the time.


  8. What a beautiful yet heartbreaking conversation. Man, you are brave beyond words. A strong mommy of three. Glad my niece hasn't touched the subject yet. Wouldn't help if auntie was bawling out the whole time. Eventually it'll happen and I hope to manage as good as you.

    Big loves!

  9. Sweet little Beatrice.

    'I said things like, "That could have been me" when things happened over my shadow.' I think I've been worrying about this ever since G died. Because it could have been, so easily, that it is hard to avoid. Sigh.

    Thinking of you and your beautiful family, all five of you. xo

  10. All too familiar. Little C 'gets' this new baby in a way that she never did with Rose and its all she talks about now.

    Little C also imagines two little babies in my belly...her baby Rose and baby wah-wah. There is a weird 3 y/o logic that says - well baby Rose was in the belly, but didn't come home is baby wah-wah coming home?

    The gardens, flowers and rainbows we see are from baby Rose.

    But those toys to be shared? Diapers? The little baby gifts? The itty bitty clothes? Those are for baby wah-wah. I can see her confusion as she tries to process. Two babies, one in abstract, one to soon be a reality. She told me this weekend that baby Rose AND baby wah-wah are coming after Easter.


    Love to you Angie, these are difficult conversations, both for our girls and for us. Many hugs to you, my beautiful friend.

    And love to all your beautiful children....Bea, Lucy & Thor.

  11. I can't comment coherently here- I am too heartbroken and in awe of what you've had to do to parent Bea, Lucy, and Thor so beautifully and lovingly. And since I can't even write about it, I am even more in awe of you for living it.

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  13. ah the conversations we never want to have. I remember having so many of these conversations after my starbaby died - with my son, with his little school friends, with other children in general.
    I think children are far more accepting of death as a part of life. It is just something that happens. Our children are lucky in a way, that they will never take life for granted.
    Love to you, thor, sam, lucy and beatrice

  14. oh wow, I know these conversations. Just know that in a year what Lucy means to Bea will change. Bea is making sense of the world and 3-5 is a time that mortality and death questions seem to naturally come up. Sadly, our babes know it more personally than they should.

    Lil Mama had also been scared that this baby will also "get sick and fly away". We talk through it and I let her express her anxiety and fears, which are the same as mine.

    Lil Mama now says things that make my heart heal. She has integrated Lil One into our family life and talks of him often. She now never fails to include him when talking about our family. So much so, She will often correct me (you know, when you don't want to tell the cashier at Walgreens that no this is not your second pregnancy and your last baby is dead) and lets people know that she also has a brother.

    PS the Big Sister role totally has benefits! I get laundry folded ;-)

    Thinking of you Angie during these last weeks. Hugs.

  15. What an amazing post Angie- I have always figured that being a parent took being brave. Your honesty with Beatrice is wonderful and she is going to be a SUPER big sister.
    Sending you guys love and good vibes everyday!!!

  16. Beautiful post - Beatrice is amazing. And you are so very right about bravery.

  17. Pregnancy after loss certainly is about bravery (or trying to become pregnant after loss without success). Doing that one thing that went so horribly wrong last time. We must be gluttons for punishment or something.
    Bea is such a wonderful big sister already. Can't wait to see how she evolves as a big sister when Thor finally arrives.

  18. Those conversations are so, so tough. And the one about you dying is going to come, and I found that just being up front about it is the best way to go: "I will die someday. Every living thing dies. Hopefully I'll live a very long life, like grandma." And it will be teary but it will pass. I've already met a few "Hey mom, when you die, can I . . . " comments. I also think the play acting is good. Bella did the same thing -- it reinforces that when something is dead, there is no magic to bring it back.

    Interestingly, even though Bella's older, she really waffles on the Big Sister thing. One relative said something stupid to her like "Oh, you're going to be a sister!" and she responded without skipping a beat, "I am already." And then sometimes with me, she confesses that she's really excited to finally be a big sister. When I remind her she is, and that she's had a tough big sister job, she looks at me amazed -- why? Because you have to remember without seeing her, you have to see Mom and Dad be sad without seeing her, and you've done an amazing job remembering her and missing her. I'm usually greeted with an "oh." And a look that says "this will be much, much more fun if this one lives, mom. Work on that."

    It's hard to be a mom to all -- living, ethereal, and in utero.

  19. ((hugs)) beautiful mama.
    I'm thinking of you.

  20. I can't imagine having these conversations. I am still not sure how I will explain Hannah to Denis. I still get so damn mad that our other children have to learn about death at such a young age. I always wonder how this will affect them.


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