Each time, I nodded my encouragement. Then one caught me off – guard.
“I’m gonna draw Esther’s bave (grave)”
Perhaps one of the more painful things to navigate after losing a child is helping siblings understand and process. Since Kyla was only 18 months old when Esther died, she did not understand what was going on. She only perceived that something was wrong in our family, and responded emotionally as a toddler.
From the beginning, we have not concealed our grief and struggle from Kyla. Obviously, we have protected her from the depth of the emotions. She could not possible understand, nor would it be healthy for her to try. Yet we have felt it important to not hide reality from her. Esther is our daughter, and she is Kyla’s sister. We all hurt that she is not here. We remember her, miss her, and honor her life each day in our family. We feel it is important for Kyla to grow up knowing she has a little sister in heaven. Really, there is only so much explaining you have to do with a child. Children absorb so much from what they hear, and they pick up on surprising things. Kyla has started connecting the dots, and has a lot of questions.
Here is where the problem lies…how do you explain something to a child that is almost impossible to understand as an adult? Sometimes I find myself in tears, trying to find the answers to little Kyla’s questions. Sometimes I feel my heart whispering the same longing questions to my heavenly Father. Some of the things she says are adorably cute, yet deeply painful to hear.
As Kyla is growing, she is starting to make more and more connections. Christmas day was one such time. I saw a new understanding and curiosity as we pulled into the cemetery. “Baby Esther,” she exclaimed as soon as she saw the entrance. Within moments, I found myself trying to answer Kyla’s questions. I attempted to explain that Esther’s body died, but her spirit was alive with Jesus. Suddenly, that day, just saying “Esther was with Jesus” wasn’t satisfying anymore. She wondered why did we come often to see Esther, when she was clearly not here.
So many times I have felt inadequate to rightly teach my daughter about these concepts. Yet we have continued to pray and ask God to direct our words and actions in these situations.
When we told Kyla that we were going to have another baby, we found ourselves at a whole new level of curiosity. Her immediate reaction was, “Oh, baby Esther is in momma’s mummy!” (We found her!) She seemed delighted to finally have this issue resolved. We tried to explain, but every time we talked about this baby in momma’s tummy, she would say, “yeah, baby Esther.” Adam brought in some of our baby gear for a few days, and every day, Kyla would squeal with delight, “For baby Esther!” And every day, my heart would sink as I continued to say that Esther was still in heaven and she wouldn’t get to ride in the stroller. But our new baby would.
The questions continued and we kept giving the same answers, hoping that once again, something would start to sink in. I remember the day I heard Kyla list out our family members in her bedtime prayers – “Mommy, Daddy, Me, Esther, Baby in momma’s mummy.” I smiled as I realized that she was getting it, yet cried inside that she had to.
Still, we have some interesting moments.
Like when I asked Kyla what this baby’s name should be, and she calmly replied “Esther!”
Or the day when we were rocking in the chair and she suddenly said, “Be careful, baby momma’s mummy! And Esther died. We can’t see her…Esther went to heaven…be careful. Why Esther in heaven?”
Or when we watch clips of babies growing in the womb (which Kyla loves!) and she happily says, “See? Baby your mummy! And baby Esther!”
Just the other day we went to visit the grave as a family. As soon as we drove up, the wheels started turning as usual. Kyla said she wanted to go see Esther, then started whining, “can’t see her, can’t see her mom!” We went through the whole explanation again. We have 3 kids in our family – Kyla here, Esther in heaven, and new baby in momma’s tummy. We come to the cemetery to remember Esther and put flowers there because we love her and we are looking forward to seeing her in heaven…Kyla nodded as if understanding, then looked over at Esther’s grave again and said, “Uhhhhh…..” Adam and I chuckled at the giveaway reaction that she clearly didn’t get it. We enjoyed some time of solace as a family walking around the cemetery and letting Kyla ride her tricycle. When we were ready to leave, we asked her if she wanted to ride some more at home. She replied, “I want to ride my bike at Esther’s bave.”
The truth is, I don’t get it either. I wish my girls were playing together on this Saturday morning, instead of big sister drawing little sister’s grave. Yet I am learning that there is also a place of contentment for me…And just like Kyla, it comes through trusting my Daddy.
What an amazing concept. Sometimes my girls seem to be the ones teaching me…