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!”
I told him I didn’t want to but it was the only way we could bring him home with us, and I want Elliott too. I told him I was so sorry and I wished it wasn’t like this.
Adam would take Ashton out to hit the boxing bag because he walked around with his fists clenched and kept hitting everything he could. In one of his fits of aggression he hit my belly. I told him off, he looked at me so angrily and said
“It doesn’t matter there’s no baby in there”
We had to keep saying to him that we know you are angry but just because you are angry, doesn’t mean you can hurt people. When he was angry and wanted to hit something he had to tell us and we’d take him out to the punching bag where he could let go of his frustration.
For weeks he would say to me every day “Elliott’s never going to wake up” I’d always answer with “No darling, he wont”. I think he’d ask me everyday hoping one day i’d change my answer. One day i felt my heart break even more when after my usual response he added,
“But maybe at Christmas he’ll wake up, because Santa is very magical, maybe Santa can make him wake up”
I burst into tears but had to say to him “no he’s never going to, nothing will ever be able to make that happen.” He said “because he died mummy” and I had to say “yes, Elliott died”. Saying these words feel like you’re being stabbed in the heart every time they come out, but it was so important to do for Ashton. Out of the blue he will say “Elliott died” and we have to say “yes that’s right”.
He clung to Emma and wanted to do everything she did, even dressing in her PJs to be like her. He became afraid of things like the dark, or parts in movies that were previously not an issue. It was like his sensitivity to things heightened overnight.
After a few weeks his aggression and anger subsided and he was just left with the love. For a 4 year old, his bond to his baby brother he only spent a few hours with astounds me. Its been two months on and everyday he says “I love you Elliott, we all love you” at some point through the day. If he comes into our room he kisses Elliott’s urn as he walks past it.
Emma’s behavior since his birth has at times been erratic with moments of uncontrollable and inconsolable crying not to mention a few teenage like explosions. She can be super sweet and caring one minute and then just plain nasty to her brother the next. In the first couple of weeks while Ashton was taking his anger out on me, she was taking her anger out on him. I told her right now her brother needs her and she needs him. She cried and said “but I want Elliott”. I could tell that when she looked at Ashton all she could see was the other brother she didn’t get to have.
I asked her one day how school was and she told me not good, her friend was sad. I asked her what was her friend was sad about and she told me she was sad for Emma and because of Elliott, she cried and told me “I just make people feel sad”. I had to explain to her that it’s not her fault and it’s OK if people feel sad for you, that friends and family feel sad for you when you are sad because they love you.
Her neediness has exploded needing constant attention from us. We do our best to give it to her but in a day where we’ve spent hours and hours and hours with her, a five minute block of needing just a moment, can set her off like we’ve ignored her for a month.
We sought out resources and counselling to help Emma, and I can encourage anyone to do the same if they feel they need it. SIDS and Kids NT, who provide bereavement services, gave us some great booklets explaining expected behaviors, all of which our children were exhibiting. Sometimes as parents we need a bit of help to parent, and sometimes children need a little outside help too.
One night she cried all the way home on a 20 minute trip and continued to cry as she laid in bed with me cuddling her for over an hour. She didn’t want to talk the whole time, but when she stopped crying she asked “can I talk to Aunty Ashlee?” So i called my sister straight away and they had a chat about Elliott. She just needed someone outside of her household to listen to her and feel like others cared too.
We’ve encouraged her to talk openly and honestly about her feelings and thoughts and tell her she can always come to us and say “I’m really sad right now can I have a hug”. We keep reiterating to the both of them that its OK to be sad or angry and to tell us when they are so we can try to help them when they are feeling like that. We also explain that its not OK in your sadness and anger to hurt other people in anyway whether it is with your words, or with your hands.
We’ve encouraged her to write her feelings down in her journals and every time she feels so much better after. What warms my heart is none of her entries are sad. Here are some beautiful things she’s written (click on image to zoom).
She chose to write about Elliott in her “happy book” which was so amazing to know that the memories she has of him, while fueling her sadness now, are so happy. Its heart warming and heart breaking at the same time. I read a quote that said “grief is just love with no place to go” and i felt it was spot on, especially when looking at Emma.
It’s a difficult task for us, while also grieving at the same time, to help our children keep Elliott closely and tenderly in their heart while not letting it be consuming. To help them hold him with happiness and not just pain, to work through all those big emotions that come with losing someone so loved. A couple of weeks ago after the suggestion by the counselor we saw for Emma to include “Elliott time”, we bought a candle holder with stars on it for Elliott. We now take turns lighting it every day which they love doing this so much that they use it as an opportunity to fight over-“it’s MY turn, YOU lit it last night”.
I think for our children it has been just as important to them as it is for us, to have their emotions recognized and accepted, and to give them an opportunity to grieve as well. We lost our son, but they lost their brother too.