How do you begin in telling your sunshine about the loss of their baby sibling?
Eleni had just turned 18 months when Holly died. As with most things in life, it was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing that she was too young to understand the pain but a curse that she would never remember meeting her baby sister.
I have always been in awe of Eleni. She seems wise beyond her years and can deliver such empathy at the exact point to which it is needed. Only the other day was I sat in tears missing Holly during a 'grief dip'. Eleni came up to me and in the most gentle way, put her hand to my cheek and said, 'You want Holly back? Holly is in the stars for you.'
It was at this point that I began to think about what I would tell Eleni next. I always knew that it was important for Eleni to grow up being aware of her sisters absence but knowing how to go about was proving difficult. Was she old enough to understand more? What words do I use so that I wouldn't scare her? But as hard as I could try, the reality of baby loss just can't be sugar coated.
It was on the way to our annual Christmas remembrance service at the Crematorium that I decided to divulge further. I told Eleni that Holly had a poorly heart which couldn't be fixed. It was because of this that Holly now lives safe in the stars and not with us. Eleni listened intently as if it was just some story I was telling and how I wished it was just that.
A few days later Eleni relayed the story back to my husband and I but this time finished with the question, 'Daddy fix Holly's heart?'. Argh. How my heart broke as I told her that no one could fix her heart and then I watched my husband walked away with silent tears in his eyes.
Understanding baby loss for an adult is hard enough, let alone for a toddler whose life should only be filled with smiles and laughter. It was as the reality of understanding sibling loss began to sink in that the new door to my grief was beckoning me in. I had been avoiding it since my son had been born 15 weeks prior and it was becoming increasingly difficult to ignore.
Seeing Eleni with her baby brother is just so special. I adore seeing the Eskimo kisses that she gives him and the pride in her voice as she declares him as 'her baby'. I laugh when she tells him off for pulling at her hair and when she rolls her eyes at him crying again. I love all of these things so much and I know I am so lucky to have the both of them but it still doesn't stop my heart from aching. From aching every time I see sisters together. From aching every time my mind wonders to how Eleni would have loved teaching her little sister to walk right about now. From aching at the thought of my two daughters never sharing clothes to make-up as they would get older. From aching at the reality that Eleni will never experience having a sister as she should have done.
Eleni will always have a special place in her heart for Holly but however many times that someone tells me Holly is still her sister and that Holly is still here, it is STILL not how it was suppose to be. Holly is still not here the way that baby sisters should be.
So while I worry over how to tell Eleni about Holly, I think that there must be no right away about it because it is all just so wrong. So I am left with depending on my instinct to tell me how to navigate through sibling loss and how to support her with my very grateful but empty, broken heart.
To my darling daughter,
Never in a million years did I think that I would be writing THIS sort of letter to you. I imagined, when we found out we were expecting your sister, that I would be blogging sometime after her birth about the struggle of looking after two babies. I am sorry that I am not struggling with looking after you and your living sister, I really, really am sorry for that.
Instead I am struggling between looking after you and keeping things 'normal' whilst trying so very hard to keep the memory of your sister alive within me and creating a 'new normal' for us. I am sorry that our 'normal' has changed and although you are small, I know you feel the shift too.
I am sorry that there is a dullness behind my eyes. My face knows how to smile for you and my body knows how to comfort you but I am sorry that part of me has gone. Know that it has gone somewhere very special and I hope one day that you will understand that.
I am sorry that sometimes I cry and it makes you come over and put a hand on my shoulder. I wish you never had to know the reason why I cry because it means that one day you will feel some of this pain too. Know that I would have done anything to protect you from a pain like this, as I would have done for your sister.
I am sorry that you wont remember meeting your baby sister. I have photographs of you pointing at her and calling her 'baby' (a memory which will last with me for a lifetime) but I am sorry that for you, it will only ever be memories from photographs. Know that when I had you both in the same room together, even though it was just for such a short time, in that moment, my life was complete and I felt whole again.
I am sorry that you will be known as 'the girl whose sister died.' I too now carry a title but know that I will show you to become proud of that title. I will show you to embrace the title for its better to have loved and lost than never have loved at all.
My darling, I am just sorry that your sister is not here. I am sorry that the sister you were suppose to have wont be here to play with you, to annoy you and to love you in person. Know that I will help you to create memories with her, even though she isn't here. Know that she will still be a part of your life, for you DO still have a sister. Know that she loves you and that love will become a very, very special part of you.
My Eleni, right now it might not seem clear why I am here but my mind is not. You might wonder where it has gone and when it will come back. It must seem strange that my heart is divided although you can't see the presence that has caused it. You are so little still. So know that we have a lifetime ahead of us to love, learn and be together. Know that I will help you as you are helping me each and every day to live.
Know that I love you with all my heart.
I always will.