Annie brings up Madeline’s name several times a day. Sometimes she’ll come into the living room holding pictures she grabbed off my desk.
“Mama, dis is me! I was a tiny baby. And dis is my baby sister Maddie! She’s so cute!”
I always correct her and say that Maddie is actually her big sister, especially after it became clear that she was confused about it. “Oh yes, Mama,” she always replies, “I want to be a big sister, just like Maddie!”
Lately, she’s been asking me questions about her, albeit very simple and basic ones based entirely off of what she is currently experiencing at that very moment.
“Mama, are you going to put my shirt on? Did Maddie have a shirt?”
“Mama, you’re wearing a bra! Did Maddie wear bras?”
I don’t mind those questions. They are easy and I really like seeing how her mind is working. Plus, they are usually so out of left field that they make me giggle.
Except sometimes, she talks about Maddie like she’s still here.
“Mama, dis baby is Maddie’s. I’m sharing it with her.”
“Mama, I have a blue lollipop and dis red lollipop is for Maddie!”
“Mama, when is Maddie gonna come play with me?”
It’s so hard when she says these things, because all I want to do is cry at the unfairness that they aren’t sharing toys, or treats, or playing together. In fact, one time tears did come to my eyes, but Annie got upset because she thought she’d done something wrong.
So I take a deep breath and I hug her, and I tell her Maddie would have been happy to share, that she loved red lollipops, and that I know they would have had so much fun playing together.
Annie accepts these answers and moves on, but I brace myself, waiting for the harder questions.
Aaaah, I just don’t know what to say about this, except that I think you are handling the questions perfectly. Your honesty with Annie, without going into too much detail is admirable, and I believe that if you continue in the same way, Annie will just accept who Maddie is, and as she gets older, will understand the situation better. Hang in there, it must be so hard for you at times. “hugs”
Untypically Jia says:
I rarely have a coherent thought come into my mind when I’m flipping through my Google Reader so I’m terrible at commenting, but somehow this one struck home with me.
Heather I know you already know this, and thousands of your readers have already said it and will echo my thoughts, but you are such a good mother! I really hope you REALLY know that.
I didn’t grow up with a big sister that had passed on, but I was a little girl who grew up without a mother. I didn’t understand the concepts of death early on, and I’m sure I had lots of questions and confusing moments. But I got through it. I learned to understand who my mother was, how she could still be apart of my life and how it affected my family and my own identity.
And Annie will understand too. She’ll have her questions and confusing moments, but you’ll be there to answer and guide her, and she’ll grow up knowing what place her big sister has in her life and in her heart. You are doing great at raising Annie and keeping Maddie alive in spirit and memory.
Hello i saw your blog on eden riley’s blogroll. That’s really tough. And those hard questions seem to cut in like a knife sometimes. I’m not experiencing the loss like you are but I have experienced loss in my life and some of it i’ve had to endure around my child, who, like your little poppet asks innocent but blunt questions. And then wants to know why I’m crying. I wonder sometimes if tears ever really make things feel better. Love to your family.
Oh I love your blog title too – it was that which lured me over – Secret Garden?
I just want to let you know that even while reading through the funniest posts that you guys write, Heather & Mike; I’m still thinking of your precious, precious Maddie each and every time. Huge hugs to all of you……You are the best parents ever
Our little one, Cora, is 3 1/2. The past couple of months she has been asking when Emma will come back from Heaven to play with her. She has been asking almost every day now. She, like Annie, also refers to her older sister as her baby sister. I wish you and I didn’t have to try to explain the hard questions and hold back the tears. I’m so sorry.
It does seem so terribly unfair. I am so sorry that on top of all your pain, you have this to worry about as well. Sounds lie you are handling it beautifully so far. Hugs to you today and everyday.
I can only imagine how much those questions much break your heart. It is completely unfair that they aren’t sharing lollipops and toys.
I echo what someone else said–you and Mike are such wonderful parents. I’m in awe of the love and grace with which you handle these issues.
Oh, hugs, Heather. It is so sweet that Annie thinks about and talks about Maddie, but it has to be so hard. It is incredible the way a little mind works. The oth day, out of the blue, Maya said “mommy, uncle stu can be your dad since don’t have one” I was completely taken off guard. They are so young and though their questions are simple they can be so tough to answer.
I wish I had the answer for those hard questions for you.
Some parents would steer the conversation away, which would give her the idea that it’s not okay to ask the questions, which would probably be traumatizing in and of itself. The fact that she feels free to ask questions tells you that you’re doing great by her.
It’s okay for her to feel confused. I promise. It will take a few years for her to be ready to understand without confusion. The important thing is that no matter how you answer them, you are answering all the questions with love and empathy, Annie will be able to process them.
As she gets older, you could start sharing with her that you know the answers may be confusing, and may seem unfair, and that sometimes you share that feeling when you’re trying to answer (mind you, I don’t believe in maintaining the fiction that adults know all the answers all the time… I think demonstrating effort rather than faking perfection teaches kids honesty much better than any other way).
I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have Annie ask about Maddie all the time. As others have said, I think you are doing a wonderful job of keeping Maddie in Annie’s life and explaining everything to her at her current level of understanding. I think that when she is old enough to understand more, she will be grateful for the way you have handled it.
Annie will always feel comfortable coming to you with questions, because you don’t steer her away and you tell her the answers age appropriate. That’s all you can do for now. As she gets older she will understand more and more, and I pray that someday Annie will be a “big sister”
Best to you, Mike and Annie always!
I cannot imagine how hard those questions hit you sometimes! Sending you hugs and hopes for lots of strength as they get harder.
***HUGS*** to you & Mike as you face Annie’s questions. I think you’re doing a wonderful job answering her on her level. As I’ve said many, MANY times – lucky little girl to have such loving & devoted parents! xo
I have read your blog for a long time and have grieved with you over your losses…you all feel like family to me. I don’t know exactly what your belief system is regarding life after death but Annie may sense or feel the presence of Maddie. Some may bristle at the idea and as a Christian I have struggled with it myself but think for a moment…when we tell people, “he/she will always be with you”…or “the spirit never dies”. I believe (and have seen) that children recognize and see/feel things that as adults we just don’t see/feel/hear/pay attention to. When Annie tells you that she and Maddie are sharing something that may be exactly what is happening…Annie’s spirit is connected to you and she is with you always.
You are a great mom.
I think you are doing such an amazing thing, raising Annie with Maddie’s presence so strong in her life.
This must me so hard for you, to hear Annie imagine a relationship with Maddie. Someday maybe you can let her see your tears too and understand that you are sad that Maddie isn’t here anymore. I remember after my little nephew died and everyone was crying, and one of my sisters reassured his preschool-aged brother: “I know it’s scary when adults cry, but it’s okay to cry. It’s a sad time.” I liked how she approached that, helping him not be afraid of grief. And grief and remembering has been an important part of his and our whole family’s life for a long time now.
You might want to check out thegreatumbrellaheist.blogspot.com. Sarah, the blogger, is in a similar position raising her (super cute!) identical triplet girls after losing her first baby Abigail at birth. Abigail would have been a year older than the triplets (age 5). She’s been writing for a while, so it might be a good idea to go over to her site and search for posts about “Abigail” or “abbey”. I remember reading how she tells her girls about “big sister Abigail” when referring to Abigail to help clear the confusion.
I am bracing myself with you. I wish I had the right answers but I think at every stage there will just be more questions. I spent most of bedtime last night trying to explain to our 5 year old twins why their older brother Jake and their younger brother Sawyer do not grow. I wish all of our children were still growing.
Sending you hugs and hope. Take care.
I’m glad you talk to her about Maddie. Right now you can be a bit vague because she wouldn’t understand. Mostly, just be honest as she gets older.
About a month ago, I was changing my youngest daughter’s diaper & she looked up at me & said, “Your brother is gone, but he still loves you.” I’ve never really talked to her about my brother because we don’t have a lot of pictures of him. He died when I was 6, long before digital cameras. It took my by surprise. She’s said similar things to my MIL about her father. “He’s your angel.” And then walks off like nothing happened, but everyone who overheard is stunned. Makes you wonder if they’ve got some sort of connection that we no longer have.
If you believe…….people with a gift always say that children who have talked about their brothers or sisters who have passed seem to have a special connection with them. They say that they can communicate with them and as they get older it seems to subside….. I wish we as adults would have that ability. I would have so many questions for them…Love you ….
Expat Mom says:
Here in Guatemala we have All Saints Day today. We take the boys to the cemetery and remember everyone who has gone before. It can be a difficult day because they have some huge questions about death and why people aren’t here anymore. This year, my 6 year old asked about his brothers and sister in Heaven and I explained that they’d died when they were still in my belly. He frowned and said, “Why didn’t you want them anymore? I would have played with them.” I had to explain that we DID want them very much, but they weren’t meant to stay.
Answering those questions is hard, no doubt. But I love that you have included Maddie in your every day life and that Annie is confident in being able to talk about her.
I don’t know, but it seems like maybe kiddos are more in touch than we are spiritually, and maybe she really is sharing her toys and candy with Maddie?
Obviously this is different, but my husband’s brother died before our boys were born. Now that they’re 3 and 2, they’ve started talking about all the things they do with Uncle John, and that Uncle John visits them and plays Legos with them. It’s always without prompting from anyone, and totally randomly timed.
Without any religious or spiritual beliefs of my own to influence how I feel on the subject, it makes me think maybe they’re seeing things we’re not…
Gulp! Oh Heather! Of course you tear up! Bless your sweet mama’s heart.
I do love, though, how much a part of Annie’s life Maddie is. That is so precious to me…Maddie is very real to her…it’s so incredible. This is the age where kids start having imaginary friends. I know it’s painful for you, but it must be rather satisfying to Annie to be able to “play with” Maddie in her own way.
You are incredible, the way you handle this. I know it never gets easier, but you wear this cloak of grief & hope with such grace. (I don’t know if that makes sense–it’s just that it’s as if you’re robed with this grace that you have during these times–I think I would turn to mush–except that I wouldn’t want to scare or hurt Annie if she were mine…you just…mother…so incredibly well…)