“Mama, why did Emmy die?”
The question came completely unprompted and entirely unexpected. We were on our way school last week, having the kind of conversation you have while driving with a toddler. I think just before that, we were talking about her “babies” at home, when she matter-of-factly mentioned that I had three babies. Then…that.
I caught my breath as the first tear fell down my cheek. I quickly wiped it away and told her… “Emmy’s body was really sick baby.”
And that was the end of it. It was over as quickly as it had begun. As if she totally understood my answer, and there was no need for further explanation.
This wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation.
In fact, quite often our little girl is inquisitive about death or has incredible insight about heaven or shares the sweetest sentiment about her sister that completely blows us away.
Here’s another exchange that happened while we were talking about baby sister a week or so before she was born…
L: Is my other sister in heaven?
M: You mean Emmy, baby?
M: Yes sweetie, Emmy is in heaven.
L: Can I give her lots of hugs when I get there, because I miss her?
M: Silence…dying inside.
October is Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month. In light of that, this week I’ve been thinking a lot about these conversations and why they happen so freely in our family. Our daughter is not quite three-and-a-half years old. And while I do truly believe that she has a implicit and eternal connection to her twin sister, I am also certain that she would not recognize or express those feelings if we had not made the conscious decision to make Emmy a very real and normal part of our lives. We don’t limit our conversations about infant loss to one month of the year. It is engrained in who we are as a family.
We openly acknowledge that death is painful. We honestly believe that heaven is real. And we truly think it is ok to talk about it. Even when…especially when…it hurts. With tears rolling down our cheeks, we answer the hard questions.
I know “our way” is not the only way. I know not every family who has experienced this type of loss wants to talk about it the way we do. But the number one thing I hear from my brothers and sisters in bereavement – whether their loss was suffered during the pregnancy or after birth – is that they want to feel seen. They want their loss to be acknowledged. They want their baby to be recognized – called by name. They want to hear from you. Not just during the first year. Not just on special occasions. And not just during a month that is set aside for this purpose. But always.
Yes, it can be uncomfortable. Yes, there might be some tears. But those tears, the ones you see when you ask a bereaved parent about their baby…those aren’t tears of sadness. At least in part, they are tears of respite. Tears of joy. Tears of appreciation for your courage in speaking about what many treat as unspeakable.
If you know a family who has suffered the loss of a child, don’t look away…see them. Ask the hard question. I promise, through the tears they will appreciatively answer.