Going through a miscarriage or stillbirth is traumatizing for parents. Who often aren’t thought about in this situation are the deceased baby’s older siblings. The loss of what would’ve been a sibling can be very hard on them, especially when they are too young to understand it properly. For this little boy, who was just two when his baby sister was stillborn, the grief was overwhelming. Still, two years later, he asks to go to heaven to see his baby sister. (1)
Little Boy Asks To Go To Heaven To See His Stillborn Baby Sister
Angela and her husband were very excited when they became pregnant for the second time. Not wanting to jump the gun too early, they waited until 12 weeks gestation to tell their two-year-old son that he was going to be a big brother. When they finally told him, he was very excited. They even did a special photoshoot with him to make the announcement.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck shortly after. Angela couldn’t feel her baby move and went to the hospital to find out why. The doctors mistook the lack of movement for sleeping. Sadly, her 25-week scan revealed that the real reason was that there were knots in the umbilical cord. The issue wasn’t addressed in time and the baby had died.
They Didn’t Tell Their Son Until After
They waited to tell their son until after she gave birth to their stillborn daughter when he came to meet her at the hospital. The couple was so overwhelmed by their grief that they didn’t think about the potential problems with this.
“As much as we think he had every right to be part of it, we now do feel guilty when we listen to him cry and ask for her and question why she had to die,” Angela said.
Now, two years later, he still cries. He asks to go to heaven so he can see her. At four years old, he still doesn’t understand why they left her at the hospital and why she can’t be with them at home. He asks to visit her grave often and when they do, he doesn’t understand why they can’t just dig her up and bring her home.
“I explained she was in heaven and he told me he wanted to go too to be with her. My heart, what was left of it, felt like it was going to break into a million pieces.” she explained.
Helping Your Children Deal With Grief
As much as every parent wants to protect their child from pain and sadness, these things are inevitable facts of life. At some point, a grandparent or family member will pass away or a beloved family pet. Loss is something that everyone has to learn how to cope with eventually, some younger than others. The goal should be to help them feel safe and protected while they are dealing with their grief and understand that children do so differently than adults. (2)
Remember that loss and death is a confusing experience for children. They are not just trying to cope with it, they are trying to understand it. The younger they are, the harder this will be. For this reason, they can be crying one minute and then happily playing the next. Parents need to be aware that this doesn’t mean their grieving is over. A grieving child might:
- Be depressed
- Feel guilt or anxiety
- Be angry at the person who died or at someone else
- Regress, for example begin using baby talk again or wetting the bed
This can be challenging for parents. Do your best to have patience and recognize that your child is not trying to be difficult on purpose. They are simply experiencing something traumatic that they don’t understand.
Encourage Emotional Expression
Talk to your child regularly about how they are feeling and encourage them to express those emotions. A good way to do that is by reading children’s books together about death, loss, and grief. These will help guide both you and them to express their emotions without you putting too many suggestions in their head. Remember, there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way your child should be feeling at any given moment. Grief is complex with twists, turns, hills, and valleys.
Talking isn’t the only activity that helps. Children can express their feelings through drawing, scrapbooking, going through old photos, and even sharing stories of the person who died.
Don’t Use Euphemisms Or Metaphors
As hard as it is to accept death, children are very literal. If you tell them someone “went to sleep”, this may simply make them afraid of sleep. It is important that you tell your children “so-and-so died” so they can begin to understand death and develop healthy coping mechanisms around it.
Answer Their Questions As Simply As Possible
Children, especially younger children, have trouble grasping the permanence of death. They will ask questions, so be honest without giving too much information. You will need to monitor how much you tell them according to their age. Keep in mind the previous point about being literal. For example, if a loved one dies of cancer, saying “so-and-so got sick and died” may terrify a child when someone has a cold or flu. So make sure you do your best to clarify and talk with them about the illness that the deceased person had in a way that they can understand.
It is up to you and your child to decide whether or not they will attend the funeral. For young children, this may be too intense an experience and another one that they don’t quite understand. If they do want to go or you choose to have them attend, make sure that you walk them through everything that will happen, including that some people will be crying, the casket, and everything. Finally, don’t forget about yourself. Depending on the situation, having your child at the funeral may help you but it also may be difficult for you to focus on your own grief and the closure that a funeral can bring. Make sure you have a plan in place for yourself as well as your children.