I’m sharing our story about our children to highlight that children can grieve a tremendous amount too. This grief they’ve shown has been one of the biggest ‘shocks’ we’ve had in our journey so far. We had no idea how much they would truly love their brother. We didn’t realise that even though they will never watch him grow, they miss him and yearn for him like they had a lifetime with him. We’ve discovered that just because they are so young themselves doesn’t mean their emotions and feelings aren’t adult sized. Although they are both so new to the big world themselves, they have a true understanding and recognition of the existence of Elliott as a real person, a loved life taken from them and the realities of forever.
In the hospital we were given a lot of fantastic pamphlets and booklets, but all were (understandably so) focused on us, the parents. A couple of pamphlets mentioned the importance of being honest with children but none of them mentioned in detail what our children might experience, or say how much they might feel the loss. And even if they did, I don’t think anything could prepare us to watch our children mourn their baby brother.
The night before Elliott was born, we were preparing ourselves for what was to come, knowing he’d likely be born the next day, and knowing he was too early to make it. We asked a midwife, “What about our children, should they see him?” We were told it was a personal decision and everyone was different. Our 4 year old was most likely too young to understand. We were told that some children need to see to help grieve and let go while others get very frightened and we probably wont know how they are going to react. We were told to wait to make that decision after our baby was born.
Our children came up to our hospital room, we sat them on the bed and we told them the baby will be coming out soon, we can’t stop it. We told them because it’s too early our baby is too little to be able to survive. We told them we wont be able to take our baby home. Emma understood the gravity of the situation instantly.
Earlier this year we had good friends lose their precious son at 19 weeks. We went through this devastation with them, and explained to our children what had happened and answered their life questions that no one should ever have to experience. All through my pregnancy knowing that sometimes babies don’t stay, she would kiss my belly and say to the baby “I really hope we can keep you baby, I love you.” Upon hearing the news that now our baby, just like her Aunty’s baby, wouldn’t get to stay she instantly cried a mournful cry, hugging me, touching my belly. She asked me a few times,
“Can I see him when he’s out, I really want to see him, I really want to see his face”.
We told her we weren’t sure. We all hugged and cried and they lay on the bed feeling his kicks and movements one last time, telling him they loved him and said goodbye. I felt like I had just ripped something precious out of their hands.
When Elliott was born Adam turned to me and said,
“The kids both need to meet him, look at him, they should see how beautiful their brother is”
We called the kids up and they were given warning he might look different to what they were used to. We so carefully and gently wrapped Elliott up as much as we could leaving just a little of his face, worried they might get scared. Ashton ran into the room with so much excitement and jumped on the bed exclaiming,
“Oh your baby is out now mum! Let me see! Can I hold him?”
I showed him his face and he started trying to remove the wrap from him, with a huge smile, full of pride at his little brother, wanting to see him properly. He held him and kissed him putting his head on him gently cuddling him. He kept saying “he’s so cute mummy”. He wanted to see his feet, so we showed him. He wanted to see his hands and his belly, so we showed him. Looking at his tiny brother, he was in awe.
He asked “he’s sleeping mummy?” and I told him, “yes, he was born sleeping and he wont ever wake up”. He accepted that but didn’t understand completely what that actually meant. We found out later that one night while we were in hospital Ashton said to Adam’s mum,
“Do you know my mummy’s baby has come out now? He is very cute and his skin is all brown and red. Mummy is never going to come home….Our baby is never going to wake up”
At 4, our little boy understood that babies need their mummy and even though I talked to him that we will come home in a couple of days, in his mind because Elliott wasn’t going to wake up he had to stay in hospital, and that meant I would stay forever with him to look after him.
Searching later for more information on how to best support our children through their grief, we found the advice is to be completely honest and to use real concrete words. As horrible as they are to us, words like death/died enable them to understand properly, preventing confusion and anxiety around normal things like sleeping. But at the time, with no prior research, we couldn’t bring ourselves to say “he died”, which in hindsight we should have.
Emma was different to Ashton, she came up slowly but backed away and said she didn’t want to come close. She sat at the other end of the hospital room and Adam held her as she cried. She slowly stepped a bit closer but was hesitant. I could tell she wanted to see him and hold him but couldn’t bring herself to do so. I sat with her in the corner of the room and she asked me “why did this happen?”. I explained that sometimes no one knows, but he was too early and too small, and not strong enough to make it. She asked me angrily “Why did you want him out then?” I told her I didn’t, I couldn’t help it, and I wished I could have kept him in.
She told me she was scared, because she saw a bit of his face and it was dark and red and it didn’t look like babies she’d seen. I think she was expecting the worse as we mentioned he might look different. I asked if maybe she just wanted to see his feet and she said yes. She looked at his feet, gently touched them and smiled.
She said “He’s really cute Mum” and decided she wanted to see more of him and hold him. She stared at him silently, touched his face gently. I asked her “how do you feel?” and she told me “holding him makes me feel warm inside”.
Our children came up a few times over the next two days very excited to get to cuddle their baby brother again. They smiled and hugged and kissed him with love. They gently rocked him and sang songs to him. Emma cried a lot in between the loving smiles, knowing full well the reality. Ashton would cry when someone else cried, overwhelmed with everyone else’s emotions, but didn’t quite comprehend the situation just yet.
When we told them it was time to say a proper goodbye to Elliott because this was the last time they would get to see him our daughter broke down crying”WHY?”. I sat next to them on the bed and hugged them and told them,
“Elliott is never going to wake up, and we cant take him home like he is because his body wont last. He will always be with us in our hearts and we will love him forever and he will love us forever as well. Tomorrow we have to take him to a place where he will be in a special little cot, like a little box, keeping him safe and the family will say some things to him so he knows how much we all love him. Then he will go into a special machine which will turn his body into… a dust… like star dust. And then that star dust will be put into something special and we will take him home like that.”
Ashton finally understood that Elliott would be gone forever. He cried his little heart out saying “but I want my brother! I don’t want to say goodbye to him…I want him to wake up! I want him to grow up!”
Watching them added to the heartbreak. It made me so angry that they had to go through this as well, they they were being robbed too. That they wouldn’t take their brother home and be able to have the gift of watching him grow, cuddling him at home, watching him smile and laugh and interact with them one day. I felt bitter that all they get is a couple of days of still cuddles. Adam and I held the hurt for Elliott and what he wouldn’t have, the hurt for us and what we wouldn’t have, and now the hurt for our children and what they wouldn’t have.
In the days and weeks after Elliott’s funeral Ashton was so angry and aggressive. On the night of the funeral he started swinging his arms at me, trying to hit me. I picked him up and cuddled him and he cried
“Why did YOU turn him into star dust? I want my brother! I want Elliott!”
… Continued Next Post Part 2/2 discovering the grief that leads after and how we dealt with it