Wednesday, January 16, 2008

'Tis the season

Monkey is no fool. A statement I should perhaps have tattooed on the insides of my eyelids or record for continuous broadcast in our bedroom while I sleep. Because while I am generally not one to sell my child short when it comes to any of her endeavors, I apparently underestimate her time and time again in this grieving thing.

When the artwork started showing up, about ten days ago, in quantities not seen since the early days, I didn't, at first, catch on. The first was a card, with letters A on the front and Z on the back (I didn't see the Zs until later), a labeled self-portrait on the inside left and a picture of a bundled up baby on the other, labeled with "little brother." She came downstairs with it, presented it to me, and said she was sad. We cuddled for a bit, she showed her handywork to JD, we cuddled some more, and then she said she wanted to draw something else. Something else turned out to be a large format drawing of a heart with a bundled baby inside of it, signed across the top "Little brother in my heart." It would be too saccharine if it wasn't so heartbreakingly genuine.

A few days later she made a book in school, with the same bundled baby on the front. Inside, on the first page, above the picture of A's skeleton underground (I guessed that's what it was, but asked for clarification), in the Old Country language, it says "Chapter 1. Once my brother showed up. But he died." The rest of the pages is blank. She said she will finish the book at home, but she hasn't so far.

There have been at least three more cards, made at home. Decorated with the stuff of babies-- prams, rattles, stuffed teddy bears, stuffed bunnies. Things, she says, she wanted to give her brother. Inside one of the cards, in the Old Country language, it says "Dear parents. I am sad because of the little brother." In another card she signed the picture of the bundled baby with A's name instead of the usual little brother.

I found out gradually that she has told many if not all kids in school. This is why I met with the teachers before the school started-- I thought she would talk about it at some point, and I wanted her supported when that happened. On Friday we had Hannah and her family over again-- the girls cornered me after school one day and pretty much demanded I make that happen. While there, Hannah's mom (btw, I was either wrong about her being pregnant this summer, or it didn't end well) noticed the book on the counter and asked whether it was a drawing of Moses in the basket. No, I said, but you can look. Oh, she said, as she read Chapter 1. She asked me some questions. Hannah told her, but she didn't realize it was almost at term that A died. She assumed, I think, that it was an earlyish loss, and was wondering, I am guessing, why we had told Monkey because she asked me whether I was showing when it happened. Almost 35 weeks I said.

This weekend, too, Monkey told me a kid in her class, Aaron, told her A didn't count since he died. What did you say, I asked. I said he counted. Apparently they went in circles for a while, and I think it hurt her to hear him insist on it. Why do you think he counts, I asked. Because he was born, even though he died was her thought. I think she meant because he existed. But we came up with because we love him. That worked for her, I could tell. It's not helping my good will towards this kid any that he is the son of the people I know from college, the universe revolves around us people. I am trying to talk myself into giving him a break, but I am realizing it would be easier had it been any other kid in the class. Though it seems Monkey was greatly relieved that one of the girls in the class, Rachel, stuck up for her and told Aaron that A counted. This all must've happened at recess because the teachers didn't know about this, but have now promised me to follow up on it.

At some point I started to suspect that Monkey remembers the time of year, but I wasn't sure. Last winter was so snowless that it barely felt like winter at all. Sunday afternoon we were at Irene's house and I was telling her about all the artwork and her first guess was that Monkey is feeling the year come to a close. But the winter looks so different this year, I said. I don't know whether she heard me then, but on Monday morning, after the overnight snowstorm closed down the city and we were enjoying the view from inside our warm house, Monkey walked up to the porch door and said that she likes snow, and it's very pretty, and that last winter there was almost none of it. I don't think I can pretend any more. The upcoming anniversary isn't just mine, and it's not just mine and JD's. Monkey knows, and she hurts.

She loves to play with babies. At Irene's house, and then on Monday at ours, when they came to seek refuge from their own house which had lost all power and heat, she played with the youngest, the baby who was supposed to be A's best buddy, gently, lovingly, with care and wonder. She longs to care for a living sibling, and I worry about what the ultrasound will show not the least bit because I am afraid of having her dream pushed back, again.

I can perhaps be forgiven for wishing she didn't remember, for wishing this season would be gentler on her. And maybe, a little, for wishing that I could concentrate on sorting through my own complicated feelings in the here and now instead of needing to spend so much of this energy helping her. But the fact of the matter is that she does remember, and it is my job, perhaps my greatest responsibility, and my honor to help her navigate this strange universe she finds herself in, now and any other time she needs me. I knew way back when she would be the best big sister anyone could ever ask for. And she is. And if we don't screw it up, she will continue to be, for the brother she lost and any siblings she may yet have.

***************************

A's yahrzeit is this Sunday, meaning it starts, like all things Jewish, the night before, on Saturday. JD is only getting in Saturday afternoon. I may have to meet him at the synagogue, for the second to last time we say kaddish in this first year. Next to last will be Sunday morning, and last-- next Friday night, when kaddish is said for all whose yahrzeits had occurred in the previous week. I wasn't planning on bringing Monkey to any of these events, but I am considering it now. It might be good for her.

26 comments:

niobe said...

I think M's reactions show how well you've integrated her little brother into her life. Give yourself a (figurative) pat on the back.

As for talking yourself into giving Dim Sun a break, would it help to know that I often feel exactly the same way about my twins (though *not* about others' children), that in every way that truly matters, they didn't count.

Julia said...

See, Niobe, for me it's not about what he thinks. It's about not having empathy to let Monkey be "right" on this thing that is both subjective and clearly so important to her. So the break he is getting is on the grounds of the general cluelessness about empathy I assume many six year old boys exhibit. Yet, I have also seen counterexamples galore, and combined with what I remember of the parents from way back when, I am guessing this particular trait is not strongly cultivated in that household.

Julia said...

And ooops-- I just noticed and fixed that typo (sun vs son). How embarrassing.

Mandy said...

In your grief, you've given your daughter a precious gift. She's got the space and freedom to grieve, to talk about her grief, and she doesn't have to pretend it's ok, that she's over it, that his loss no longer matters. Together, as a family, you're grieving and that can only help in the healing process.

I think you're right to include her, and I think ultimately it will mean a lot to all of you to have done so. Big, big hugs.

Karen said...

You are most assuredly not screwing up - and she is doing what she needs to and you are letting her. She is amazing and will continue to be so.

niobe said...

I actually thought the "sun" was on purpose. As in, they think the earth revolves around him.

Amelie said...

Monkey is a wonderful big sister. I wish you strength for the coming weeks, to take care of youself, JD, and Monkey.

Tash said...

I am awestruck with M's maturity and grace, and equally impressed with your ability to have instilled her with this sense of sisterhood and need/ability to grieve. I would include her, if it were me. She clearly understands the broad outlines, and may find the ritual not only interesting but soothing, and later may be able to help friends (lil fkn snot) going through similar. I have not told anyone at Bella's school, and they have a segment on family coming up, so I'm just going to play it by ear. I'm not sure if she's going to bring up her sister, nor am I sure if I will reminder her if she doesn't. It's a very fine line between integrating and pushing this on her. I certainly know where to come for advice. I'll think of you this weekend, and through the week.

meg said...

I too thought the sun was on purpose, thought it fit very well.

Miss Monkey, is an inspiration. I could learn a thing or two or three on grieving from her. And yes, you are doing a wonderful job of guiding her. I hope you do include her.

Julia said...

Niobe and Meg, I think my fingers must've been thinking the same thing. :)

Phantom Scribbler said...

She is an amazing little girl, your Monkey.

My Reality said...

Monkey is an incredible child. I wonder if maybe she is helping you to focus on what was important. A mattered, he was loved and he is missed.

I think you should include her at the synagogue, it might make her feel as if she is doing something for her little brother.

christina(apronstrings) said...

that monkey's a sweet pea. what amazing depth of thought for a little one.
i agree with you, i would take her this weekend. she is clearly old enough to get it. to know that A did matter.

Birdies Mama said...

Wow...children are so amazing. Your allowing her to grieve and guiding her is beautiful. For her to know that it is ok, is so important.

Thinking of you, and wishing you strength, peace and love.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you. I'm crying really hard right now mine was a miscarriage, not a stillbirth, and nobody (not just 5 year olds) seems to understand why it counted. Because we loved it. Because we were so happy after trying for so long. I have all my hopes and wishes going out for your u/s results.

Bon said...

oh Julia, this post. my heart.

i once thought, back in the early days of my own grief, that people whose losses were not of first children had it easier...because they still "counted" as parents in the eyes of others, were not excluded from conversations, had other paths by which they could talk about their kids. i've long since learned that there is no comparing, just a thousand ways to break your heart. and Monkey, with her sweet and unselfconscious grief, breaks mine.

i think she sounds like the inclusion would be healthy and helpful for her.

Christyna said...

some children are simply amazing, Monkey is one of them. It also directly shows wonderful parenting. My A is such an empathetic child who feels hurt so deeply that I have had to change the way I react to him and he's a 7 year old boy. I kept my 7 week loss a secret, yet he saw and felt me hurting so badly he automatically thought he did or said something wrong. I had to tell him, and even tho he doesn't understand what happened he understands Mommy is hurting and it is not his fault. He also is very verbal about a sibling now. He wants one and makes no hiding of that fact. But never brought it up much before I explained what happened.

I feel bad for children who have no empathy and don't even know what it is to share their real feelings but that too seems to be associated with their parents.

You broke my heart with this post and also put it back together. She is the definition of a beautiful, loving, empathetic child which makes you a most wonderful mother. My thoughts are with all of you.

Beth said...

Monkey will be grieving her entire life- as will you I know, but a child's grief is different. She will grieve anew as she reaches developmental milestones; it's almost as if the loss occurs over and over again for a child, as they reach new levels of understanding. Take it from one who's been there, I lost my baby brother 33 years ago, when I was 6.

Snickollet said...

Sounds like Monkey is ready for any and all parts of the yahrzeit. Her (and your) wisdom and grace about all of these complex emotions are astonishing and inspiring.

Thinking about you often and very fondly, and thinking about how very much A. mattered, and still matters.

Aurelia said...

I think that you should take Monkey and that it just might do her a world of good.

She seems to be handling it very very well, and it sounds like you've done a wonderful job at helping her to deal with her feelings.

kate said...

Wow, i am impressed with M. Yes, i think you should take her to the synagogue.

Lori said...

I think your description of your conversation with Hannah's mother almost bothered me more than poor Monkey's exchange (although my heart broke for her). Because Hannah's mother is an adult and yet she dismissed your loss, having already decided in her own mind that it was "early" and your telling of Monkey "unnecessary." At least that is how it sounded to me. But that is my own insecurities coming through.

That Monkey is quite a girl.

slouching mom said...

What a beautiful post.

And oh! My heart aches for Monkey.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow. I was just a little older than Monkey when my much-older brother killed himself, and I remember very clearly getting into a fight with a boy at school who told me that my brother couldn't go to heaven. "But it's in the Bible," he kept telling me (this has since become one of my least-favorite phrases). I knew nothing about what the Bible said, but I knew that my brother was a good person, just sad and troubled, and it made no sense to me that heaven would keep him out.

I think you (and the school) are doing such an amazing job with your daughter and her grief. After my brother died, so many people said, right in front of me, "Oh, she's so lucky that she won't remember this." I was 7! I remember all of it. And Monkey will, too, and it will color her life in so many ways. I've found what Beth said to be absolutely true: I have grieved in different ways as I've grown up and been able to parse my feelings a little better.

But along the way, your reactions and patience and wisdom will make her a stronger person. And yes, I think it would be good to include her.

I'm sending you best wishes and strength for the next few weeks.

--Eve

Julia said...

Lori, you know, that made me uncomfortable too. I am almost sorry I didn't press her to get the subtext out. But if my intuition is correct, they have had a loss or losses that they managed to keep from Hannah, and if that's the case, I think that was coloring her view. I gave her a break on that assumption-- that her own loss experiences are the limit of what she could see and imagine, or that they were what immediately came to mind for her and colored her perception.

Beth and Eve, I am so sorry. And thank you for letting me know this is a long road for all of us as we work to maintain Monkey's ability to feel and think through her emotions and to talk to us when she needs to.

Christyna, I am so sorry. It's all so unfair, especially the part where it hurts our other children.

Christyna said...

julia I know it seems unfair but as we know parenting is trial and error and at least our children are brave and smart enough to say what they need and point out they get it on some level. They will be stronger and more empathetic to others because of it. I have no doubt, I am sorry we ever feel doubt in our parenting. You're wonderful with her, no worries.