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Encouraging Open Emotions With Our Children as They Cope With Their Brother's Loss

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In the days immediately following the loss of our 6-year-old son, Christian, there were many difficult situations to face. One of the scariest was having to tell his 3-year-old brother, Anthony, that his hero was gone. We were still reeling from shock ourselves. Looking back now, it is clear that Anthony had no idea what we were talking about. He took the news in a matter of fact and continued playing with his 1-year-old brother, Nicky. In Anthony’s short three years of life, he had not experienced loss, nor could he comprehend loss of this magnitude. It was only with time, when Christian did not return, that he began to understand what death meant.

Even in the early days we spoke freely about Christian. We shared our memories and his name was on our tongues daily. We allowed the boys to speak about him and ask questions. We did our best to answer them. We even had a standard answer for our family to give Anthony when he asked where Christian was, so as not to confuse him. We said Christian is in heaven, our hearts and our memories. Over time, Anthony began to understand what this meant. Today, he still points to his heart sometimes when he talks about Christian.

As a mom, I didn’t always allow my boys to see me breaking down. Sometimes when they did see me, they would ask why I was crying. I would respond, “I miss Christian.” It was important to me that they saw my emotions, but not too raw. I can remember reading something shortly after losing Christian about another grieving mom. She always shielded her living children from her emotions. One day something happened, and her daughter said something like, “You never cry about our brother being gone, so I don’t think it would upset you if something happened to me.” This always stuck in my mind.

I didn’t want my two youngest boys to feel overshadowed, but I also had a need to keep Christian alive in our home. This ranged from making sure he was a part of daily conversation, to placing photos of him around the house, to holding celebrations of his life on birthdays and heaven anniversaries. At times it was forced for my living children. It was the only way I knew how to continue mothering an angel. Eventually, as our new normal unfolded, it became clear this wasn’t always the best way. Not only that, but there was no way he would be forgotten. Certainly not by his brothers.

Things have changed in the past three and a half years. We don’t always acknowledge his birthday or angelversary the same. We go by what feels right to our family, at the time. Our boys play a large role in this. We continuously monitor their emotional temperature. It can be easy to be overbearing with this, but we aim to stand back and monitor from a little bit of a distance. The one thing we always have, and always will do, is encourage our children to talk and to feel their feelings. We will always be here for them, and as a family, we will get through this together. No matter what happens, we will keep communicating. We will allow and encourage our boys to be Anthony and Nicky, not just Christian’s brothers. This tragedy has forever changed us. The pain we have experienced will make us stronger, and Christian’s spirit will continue to pave our way.

Getty image by BravissimoS

Originally published: July 2, 2018
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