Wednesday, July 2, 2014

With(out) An Older Sister

When you have an older sister that you've never held or touched, that's never cried or screamed or laughed in your presence, it's hard to understand that she was ever real.

When you have an older sister who will forever be younger than you, it's confusing to know how she fits in the family.  Or how you do.

When your older sister is just a small black and white picture next to an even smaller white box in your room that you say good night to every day, it's hard to understand she was a person.

And when you are two and your older sister is dead, all you really know is that Mommy keeps talking about this nebulous thing called "your sister Anna".    You know that baby Anna is that picture on the shelf.  And you know that for some reason that picture makes Mommy sad, because when you see Mommy cry and ask her why, she says, "Mommy is sad because she misses your sister Anna."


Having Cate understand who Anna is in our family is harder than I thought it would be.   I'm not very good at consistently saying good morning or good night to Anna's picture and ashes with Cate every day, and the other day when I asked her what her sister's name was, she couldn't tell me.  Didn't know.  Didn't truly associate the picture and any talk about Anna with Anna actually being her sister.
Yet Cate understands what it is to HAVE a sibling.   I know she does, because a few weeks ago I told her I was looking at papers that would hopefully get her a sibling (adoption paperwork).  I asked her if she'd like a brother or sister and she looked at me for several seconds, squinted her eyes just a little and then stated with confidence, "Broder!"

I hate that Anna is such a wispy, misunderstood figment for her.  My heart aches that she hasn't yet associated the name "Anna" with "sister".  I feel like I'm failing my role in making sure Anna is recognized as a valid, real member of our family.  Failing Anna, failing Cate.  Mostly I hate that Anna is such a wispy, severed part of our family.  I want Cate to claim Anna as her sister and yet don't want her to try and understand what "died" means.
Cate is a smart cookie, she grasps most concepts quickly.   If I say, "Anna died when she was a baby" or "…when she was born", I seriously think she may quickly understand the gross concept of 'dead' and become afraid she or any other baby she knows might die too.
So how do I promote the idea of having a sister who isn't physically here without introducing the concept of death?

I welcome input.

How are you other mamas doing this??


  1. I often have to remind myself that Lillian's understanding of who Ava is will grow and change with her. Right now, Lillian is convinced that Ava is what we call a picture that is in my wallet. And she will be very pronounced in her conviction that THAT is AVA! But Ava as her sister? She cannot put those together. Better yet, I do not think she has the concept of siblings.

    I once spoke with my counsellor about this issue and she said to me very clearly that she believed that Lillian will want a tree if we make a big deal about Ava's. Ooooo. Scary place to go, isn't it? It sent me spinning for some time but that has become my new benchmark. How do I include both girls equally. Just as I would if Ava had lived. I want Lillian to understand her sister was just as loved and wanted as she was. I want her to know that I miss Ava. But I also want her to know that sadness, grief and missing are okay too.

    I try and focus on the fact that Ava is part of our family, so i include her in our goodnight family song. I tell her that Ava is her sister. But right now, I feel like that is the most Lillian is able to understand so that is where I stop. In time the questions will come. And then I will call you...and we will cry and drink wine, together.

  2. Owen can't grasp Otis as his brother, either. He is simply a photograph that we keep in our bedroom, or a charm on my necklace. He is Baby Otis, but he is so nebulous, and Owen has never asked for a brudder or a sister....Owen has just started talking about death, but it is only in the context of superheros "He went pow and then I died..." or "he shot me and then I died" (ugh, I hate this conversation, but I'm also trying to not make too big a deal about it, either.) So.....ugh. I don't have any answers. NONE. Can I join you and Melissa for that glass of wine though? xoxox

  3. Bode knows the words (died, heaven, love, brother, miss) and repeats what we say but he doesn't grasp what it means to have a brother or anything about what death or heaven really means. I think/hope understanding will come as developmentally appropriate. I hate that it isn't what it should be.