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Saturday, January 31, 2009

A child's grief

The other night, I sat down with my SHARE newsletter, which is for parents who have lost a child through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death. It had a special article focusing on a sibling's grief, which was really fitting because I had been thinking of Tessa's grief lately.

When we found out Jenna was sick, I worried and wondered how Tessa would take it. She had already lost so much in the year before when Granny died and her preschool friend was killed in a fire. I'm a worrier anyway, and I was afraid of how she would react.

She cried when I told her and asked a few questions. In some ways, she seemed a little relieved, but I found out a little later it was because her older cousin had overheard us talking and thought I was sick, so Tessa thought I was the one who was ill. But, later, when she realized Jenna wasn't going to be born, she was really sad. Everytime we saw a sick baby on television, she asked if that baby had what Jenna had. I've tried to explain Trisomy 18 to her, but chromosomal disorders are hard enough for adults to understand, so it's next to impossible for a child of five.

After the disastrous trip to Atlanta and the two nights in the hospital when Jenna was born, Tessa was a little clingy and the whining started back. I thought it would get better with time, but it really hasn't. She also has been throwing a fit every morning before school and wants to sleep in our bed instead of hers.

The other night, we were laying in the bed, and I asked her why she wanted me to lay down with her. She said she was afraid. I asked her what she was afraid of. She got really quiet for a minute and then said with tears in her eyes, "I don't want you to die. I want you to live to be a 100."

I realized that after losing so many people this year, Tessa is scared to death I'm going to die. It's the reason she wants to be with me at night, and it's the reason she throws a fit about going to school. She wants to be with me as much as possible because she doesn't know how much longer I'm going to be here. I assured her I wasn't going anywhere anytime soon and me dying was the last thing she had to worry about.

She stayed in her bed all night that night, and she didn't cry about going to school the next day. Now, I can't honestly say this is going to be the fix for all of it (she didn't go to school Thursday or Friday due to a really bad ear infection and upper respiratory infection), but I think it's a step in the right direction.

I'm just wondering if I focused so much on my own grief that I forgot about hers. Grief and loss causes a lot of fears, even in adults, so how can it be any different for children?


Brenna's Mom said...

My son had a very hard time when we lost Brenna. He was 10 turning 11, and it was VERY difficult on him. He was old enough to understand that I almost died myself. We ended up taking him to a counsoler to help him work through it. It made a big difference. The results were almost immediate. But he still won't talk about her. I don't think he's ever said her name, and he hasn't visited her gravesite yet. So it's still a work in progress.

Niff said...

It's difficult to get a grasp on how much a child comprehends of death - and I'm certain the level of understanding depends on how "active" the idea of death is in their life (eg: has the child experienced a close friend/relative dying). So with that thought in mind, there's a lot of gray area in getting an idea of how much a child is grieving and to what extent death has affected them. I don't feel you've forgotten about Tessa's grief. Instead perhaps it just wasn't as apparent and the pieces didn't fit together until now. The fact that you were able to see that Tessa, too, is grieving is great.

I hope Tessa is able to be comforted by what you've told her, and I also hope that this is yet another step in overcoming such a heart wrenching tragedy.