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December, 2012

  1. How Does a 2-year-old Understand Death?

    December 23, 2012 by Michelle

    My bunny came into our room in the middle of the night to nurse last night, as she has for more than 2 months now. After she was done, I asked her if she was ready to go back to her room. No response. I asked again and got a sigh in response. “Are you ok, honey?” I asked her.

    “I just don’t feel so good,” she paused, “because I’m sad about my baby sister. I miss my baby sister.”

    In August, I delivered a stillborn baby girl, Lorelai, a day shy of 6 months pregnant. It’s been 4 months.

    I responded, “I miss your baby sister, too. You know her name was Lorelai?” No response. “Do you miss her because you wish you could play with her?”

    “My baby sister died. She’s not coming home.”

    I think I said something along the lines of that’s right and hugged her. Then she asked me if she could walk back to her bed. So I kissed her and lifted her down off the bed.

    She’s repeating the words we’ve said to her, trying to explain what happened. It doesn’t make it any easier to hear them back.

    My husband had been half awake. We just held each other. She was back 20 minutes later to nurse some more, this time when she was done I let her sleep between us until I had to get up and moved her to her bed so she’d sleep longer. I didn’t even ask her if she wanted to leave.

    We were warned this would happen. We’d asked advice on how to talk to her about it and been told to be honest but simple, discuss it when she wants to, and be prepared for her to seem fine then bring it up again out of the blue as she continues to grasp the concept and think about it differently as she gets older. But I’m still not prepared.

    She’s used “I’m sad about my baby sister” to distract us and get attention at times. Within a couple of weeks I had to take deep breathes and learn to say calmly, “I’m sad about your baby sister, too. But you still have to eat your lunch.” This was not like that. This is even harder.

    My poor bunny has been through so much in the last few months. The loss of my pregnancy, her baby sister, changes in our work schedules, day care, and much more. I barely know how to deal with it sometimes. How can a 2-and-a-half-year-old? As she gets older and her ability to think about the world changes, so does her perception of this loss. That seems like an awful lot of work and burden on such a young child.

    I remember the day we came home from the hospital and told her. She had such a sad face. Nothing like a “I fell down and hurt myself” sad, or a “I wanted that toy” sad. This was one of grief that does not belong on such a small child. Looking from mommy to daddy crying as if to say, “no, this can’t be true.” Then switching immediately to avoidance, asking to play with toys, and for a day or two fighting sleep harder then any normal child does. (Think of your toughest nap time fight times 10.) I think it was the second night, we asked her why she didn’t want to go to bed. As she tried to fling herself from the bed she screamed and cried that she was sad about her baby sister. And we all cried. My milk had just come in so I offered to let her nurse. Her small body calmed so quickly as she nursed and she fell asleep. (She’d nearly self weaned until then, unhappy with the taste of colostrum while I was pregnant.) Honestly, I was grateful to have her nursing, because it calmed me, too.

    And now life continues, though it felt like it should have stopped. So much has changed and it doesn’t get better – I just get stronger. But I won’t let myself get hard. I don’t want to be that type of strong. When bunny wants to talk, I will talk honestly.

    She was supposed to have a baby sister for Christmas. She won’t. But she’s getting toys from Santa and time with family that loves her. I hope that’ll be enough for her. That she will feel loved. I don’t wish that she will forget her Lorelai, but that she will continue to love others for her whole life, the way she loves her baby sister.