Nora has become obsessed with her sister lately. It has taken me completely off guard. I don’t really know how to parent her in this situation since it’s all new to me. Nora wasn’t around when I was pregnant with Lucy and she wasn’t here when Lucy died or afterwards when I was paralyzed by my grief. I don’t think she has ever seen me cry over Lucy since I have more control over my tears now and when I lose control I can still hide it from her. Ever since Nora was born I’ve carried this terrible ache inside for her to know her sister Lucy. I have grieved for Nora’s loss many times, but I have been very intentional about not projecting that grief onto Nora. It’s not Nora’s grief, it’s mine. So I don’t ever say things like, “You would have a six year old sister now if Lucy were alive.” Or, “I wish your sister was here so you could play with her.” If anything I have tried to lessen the loss for Nora by avoiding the topic altogether and never showing her my grief over the loss of her relationship with her sister.
Something incredible has been happening though. As Nora grows and understands more about the world around her, she is becoming aware of her sister’s absence all on her own. I don’t know how or why but her grief over the loss of Lucy has been growing and intensifying. There’s something beautiful about the fact that a four year old can understand the magnitude of the loss of her sister who was stillborn before she even existed. It’s like she knows what she is missing. She often cries in bed at night for her sister Lucy. Sometimes she cries in the middle of the day and nothing I say can soothe her. Often, if she plays with an older girl around Lucy’s age she will come home and cry saying, “I miss my sista Lucy. When can I go play with her?” Nora sometimes asks what kind of toys Lucy has and she asks if she can play with her toys too.
I have tried telling her how happy Lucy is in heaven and that we can see her one day but that often leads to more anxiety because Nora knows she has to die in order to be with Lucy. I’ve tried telling her how fun Callum and her big brothers are and even though she does enjoy her brothers so much, it doesn’t make her loss any less painful. She says she just misses Lucy, not them. I’ve even tried asking her if she maybe wants a baby sister and she says, “No, I want my big sister Lucy.” The other day as I was trying to soothe Nora while she cried, I suddenly realized that I was using all of the typical “encouragements” that others used on me when I was in deep mourning, even though I know they don’t work. “Be thankful you have two healthy kids.” Yes, but they aren’t Lucy. “She is safe and happy in heaven.” Yes but I want my baby with me HERE. “Maybe you can have more kids.” Yes, but they won’t replace the one who is missing. No one can. Why do I think these weak reassurances will work on my daughter when they never work on anyone missing a person they love? I use these phrases because I don’t know what else to do and I want to fix it. I want to lessen Nora’s pain somehow. And this is exactly why other people have used these phrases on me in the past. They just wanted to comfort and lessen my pain.
Yesterday as we were driving Nora asked, “Where was I when you were a little girl?” and I said, “You weren’t alive yet. That was long before you were born.” “Oh, so I was stillborn?” she asks innocently. I catch my breath. How does she know that word? I have never told her what that word means. “No, you weren’t stillborn.” She furrows her brow, “But you said I wasn’t alive so that means I was stillborn.” Wow. She is incredible and I have no idea how to be her mother sometimes. I don’t know how to lessen her pain or fill the gap that her big sister left behind. No one can besides God. But I trust that He can redeem Nora’s losses just like He promises to redeem mine.
I am reminded of the many ripples of destruction that continue to crash through our lives and our family since Lucy died. How many other families are experiencing ripples from their own tragedies that I can’t see? Nora’s grief has humbled me and reminded me to be kind and loving to those around me. Just because their loss or their trauma was a long time ago it doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering from the ripples created by that event. Just because I can’t see the suffering on the surface it does’t mean they aren’t struggling. My heart has been softened towards those on the outside of grief too, who don’t know what to say but desperately want to lessen the pain of others. Maybe their phrases are empty words that don’t heal, but they are just trying their best like I am when Nora is crying for her sister and all I want is to take away her suffering.
So, my daughters have humbled me and challenged me to love others better and to forgive when the words aren’t perfect, to give others the benefit of the doubt and to remember that God alone can redeem our deepest losses.