Monday, March 18, 2013

How Do You Tell Your Toddler His Baby Sibling Has Died?

God, give me just the right words...           

           On Thursday evening Chris and Parker arrived to escort me home. Parker hadn’t returned to visit me since Easter Sunday—four days earlier—after his agitated reaction to seeing me tethered to machines, tubes running helter-skelter into and from my body.
            Parker had longed for a sibling, a playmate to share his life and Lego creations, and was thrilled to learn a sibling was expected. He’d tenderly rub my tummy to detect protruding feet and hands, and press his ear to it in hopes of hearing a heartbeat. One day he opened the drawer where his bibs were kept, patted them with his chubby, toddler hand, and proudly announced, “You can give these to the new baby. I don’t need them anymore.” A triumphant look ignited his cornflower blue eyes. Then he added, “The baby can have my high chair too. I don’t need that either.” Decision made, instructions given, he confidently ascended the stairs and returned to creating Lego masterpieces.
            He also announced that we had to have a “girl baby.” Boys weren’t considered. Parker seemed to relish the idea of having a younger sister to lead and protect.
            Now he was standing in my room, demanding to know where his girl baby was and why she couldn’t come home with us. God, give me just the right words, my heart begged.
            Looking into his imploring eyes and carefully selecting my words, I tried to explain death to a three-year old. I avoided the word “dead” since he wouldn’t comprehend its finality. I also didn’t use the word “lost” out of fear that he’d wonder if he could just as easily be lost too. I held his little hands, looked into his beseeching eyes, combatted tears and explained that our baby Victoria didn’t grow to be big enough to live outside of my tummy, that she wouldn’t be coming home to live with us. He studied me silently, tears filling his eyes. Then he threw himself into my arms.
            “Why can’t she come home? I want her to come home now!” he wailed and choked as he buried his head on my chest. Baby Vicki wasn’t coming home to occupy the empty room especially reserved for her. The proudly relinquished bibs and high chair would remain unused and empty.  
            Then Parker lifted his head, faint sparks of hope fluttering across his eyes. “Can we come back and get her when she’s bigger?”
            “Sweetheart, Mommy and Daddy wanted her to come home too. But she can’t. We won’t be able to come back and pick her up later. She’s living with God now.”
            That explanation appeared to suffice. Parker stood up straight, wiped his eyes, stared thoughtfully into mine for several more minutes, and then quietly helped Chris take me to the car.
            Chris made several trips from the room to the car, filling it with plants, flowers and my personal belongings. I bundled my Bible, Polaroid pictures, the pink, white and blue receiving blanket and the small cards displaying Victoria’s tiny footprints into my bag and then reluctantly accepted the mandatory wheelchair ride to the car.
            Quietly, the three of us made the short journey home, where the unusual and palpable silence of our large house greeted us like a great, vacuous cavern.

NEXT WEEK: Home, and alone…

NOTE: Although the explanation I gave Parker initially appeared to suffice, we learned later that it had not. Continue with me in my story to learn the emotional suffering our toddler experienced and our ultimate recovery, together.

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!