As an adult, the connotations of death are real. You understand the enormity of it, not being able to see, hear, touch or talk to a loved one again. Ahead of you is potentially a long time with a large hole in it. The grief is overwhelming, the questions are endless and there are so many ‘what ifs’.
Because I understand death as it is, I was so apprehensive of telling Poppy that Gabriel had died. Would she understand? Would she be upset? Would she be scared? How would she react? And how on earth do I even begin that conversation? There were so many questions and I wasn’t sure that I was prepared for the possible outcomes. I knew that at some point I would need to tell her that her brother had died, he couldn’t be in ‘the special place for babies whose hearts didn’t work’ forever and perhaps by using the term dead, this could help her understand that her baby wouldn’t be coming home. Although she wouldn’t really know what death was anyway-so would it really help? The questions were impossible and I found myself being very mindful of the language I used around Poppy when talking with other people. I didn’t want her to overhear something or just hear part of a conversation and try to make some sense of it by herself.
A few weeks after Gabriel was born, and a few weeks before his funeral, I call the Candle Light Charity for some support with how I could support my eldest son. I don’t share much about him on social media, he is nearly 17 and I would have been mortified if my parents had posted about my shenanigans at that age, so I tend to respect his privacy and only now and again share a picture, which he probably doesn’t know I’ve taken.
When his little brother died, it obviously had a massive impact on him and I needed to know how I could support him, help him navigate his own grief and be a strength for him when he needed it. As well as knowing that it was fine for us both to cry together-for him to see me in pieces but show him that from that place, I was able to (just about) pull myself back together. We have had many moments where we either quite quietly reflect on the things which have happened, words aren’t needed and sometimes there aren’t any; we have also had moments where we have cried and spoken about the injustice, the pain and the confusion which has been brought to our family. He has been the most amazing big brother to both of his siblings and I know he will always carry Gabriel in his heart and make choices to make his little brother proud. When he questioned life, what was the point of it all, why did it have to happen to us, why didn’t Gabriel get a chance, I had no answers. But, just as Jordan was always my reason and never my excuse as a 17 year old mum, Gabriel will always be Jordan’s reason to do well and never an excuse not to. He wants to make his little brother proud and make the very most of all the opportunities he has ahead of him.
During the conversation I had with a lady from the charity, I also spoke about Poppy. I shared my concerns about how I could tell her that her brother had died, how I could take that next step in helping her make sense of what had happened to us. We were all so prepared to have a baby at home, everything was ready, we were just waiting. And there is a part of me which feels as though I am still waiting. But now I have no idea what I am waiting for. However, the feeling of anticipation is still there and I still have to stop myself in thoughts about saving things or remembering things to show or tell Gabriel when he’s older. The reality is, he won’t ever get older. And I knew that at some point I would have to try to explain this to Poppy.
The lovely lady gave me so much useful advise on the phone, we spoke about the positives and negatives of Poppy being at Gabriel’s funeral (I didn’t plan on having her there), we spoke about books I could use to support both my children, along with how I could have the conversation about death with Poppy.
A few days later, Poppy and I were in the car together. It had been raining so the windows were wet and on her window, a leaf was stuck to it. She asked me what it was, not recognising it immediately as it had turned brown and lost some of it’s shape. I told her it was a leaf, to which she replied it couldn’t be a leaf as leaves are green.
I saw this as my opportunity to use ‘the D word’. I explained to Poppy that when leaves die, they fall off the tree and turn brown; they can’t ever be put back on the tree and they won’t be green anymore. They had died. I then likened this to people; when people die they can’t hear, see, speak, breath, laugh or cry anymore. They aren’t able to go home anymore, like our baby Gabriel. Our baby Gabriel had died.
I had no idea what her response was going to be.
But from the mouths of babes, she simply said, ‘Yep, our baby died.’
Of course she didn’t understand the gravity of the words she had just said, but we had said them. We were another step along.
When Poppy now asks if Gabriel will be coming home soon, as she does still ask, I explain again about the leaf, about when things die and the not being able to come home. And sometimes, out of nowhere, Poppy will tell me that Gabriel can’t come home because he has died. I’m sure it won’t be for some time until she really understands and can process everything, and knows what those words actually mean.
Whilst death is difficult to talk about, it is often shied away from because of course it is a painful subject, it sadly does happen and it happened to us. I couldn’t call it anything else, I called it what it was, and in Poppy’s childlike, innocent understanding of the words she said, I think it has helped her to at least have a ‘reason’ why her brother isn’t at home. He couldn’t come home because he died. The reasons why he died are much more painful and they are reasons I have chosen to keep from my children for now as I do not believe that they will help them understand or grieve.
I have learnt how resilient young children really are, how much they perceive and how much they take in without a word being said. And when some words are said, even though for adults they hold a lot of emotion and pain, for Poppy that scary word was actually just a verb about what had happened to her brother. It didn’t scare her or upset her and I hope that I have helped her to try to put together some of the pieces that must be floating around in her little head.