December 8, 2011

We were supposed to watch a movie.

I suppose I shouldn’t regret that too much. It would have been some action flick that a student of his gave him – interesting and entertaining, but nothing I’d really wanted to watch.

Dot went to bed early, very early – before 8:00, which happens maybe once every three months. Dot went to bed early and we were going to touch base at 9:00 and watch a movie, and sit on the futon together, and hold hands, and maybe make popcorn. I do regret the loss of the handholding and popcorn.

But, as we were talking in the kitchen about what we’d do this weekend, I brought up the thing I’ve been dreading and needing to bring up, the question of when and how we talk to Dot about her brother. I want to do it now. I want to do it last year. I want his name to be part of the fabric of her life. He is her brother, too. She has some claims to him and to his story. She has claims to our honesty and openness.

N looked at me as though I were some alien creature, and I started to realize how very differently we feel about this, about Teddy. He thinks that telling her she had a brother would be traumatic and scar her for life, that she’s too young to have to know about death and loss. It’s clear, from his tone of voice and the way he looks at me, that he thinks I am an unstable person who will damage my child’s psychological development to serve my own needs to remember.

“When did you envision telling her?” I ask. “When she’s ten? When she’s twenty?” He thinks I’m mocking him, and certainly I could have put that more gently, but I want to know.

“I hadn’t envisioned it,” he says.

It’s clear, as I look at him, that he is an emotionally stunted person who will damage his child’s psychological development to serve his own needs to forget.

I can’t marshal the points of my case – that children have the ability to ask for and process the information they need, and while it may not be easy, it isn’t necessarily scarring; that it is important with me that we be honest with her and that hiding this part of who we are may make her fear death more, trust us less; that his birth and death have shaped us and that she’ll pick up on this even if we don’t tell her and maybe feel like she’s missing a piece of the puzzle; that he’s her brother, too.

I do tell him that I remember Teddy every day, think of him every day.

Later, after I quiet a restless Dot and N emerges from his basement office, he looks at me, shakes his head, and says “You think about Teddy every day?” as though it’s some terrible thing. As though I’m doing this wrong.

I see the chasm opening up between us, right there at my feet. It’s been there all along, even though I’ve only just now seen it, and the shock of it nearly knocks me to my knees. I catch the words, “You don’t?” before they leave my mouth and instead I tell him we don’t have to talk about it any more that night. I apologize for darkening the evening. I take out my contact lenses, curl myself around the sleeping baby in my bed and try to remember when it was, precisely, that we stopped talking to each other about anything real.

I won’t talk to Dot about Teddy behind her father’s back. I can’t do that to him. I feel like I have a choice of betrayals ahead of me – betray N’s trust and need to forget, to not dwell on hard memories, or to betray Dot’s need for honesty and trust, her right to know about her brother. Her right to not be traumatized by a “serious discussion” that comes out of the blue when she’s fifteen, or 25, or whenever N is ready.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if this is something we can bridge. I never expected that the person I’d be most reluctant to talk with about my son would be his father. I’m pretty angry about that, really. And, today, I hate N a little. In those few moments he looked at me and at what I thought was a reasonably healthy grieving process and I think what he saw was depression, abnormality, weakness.

He’d probably be horrified to know that I’ve seen myself as the strong one for a long time, now.

We need to talk more. I dread it, but we do. I need to see if he really does want to forget. I need to see if I can explain to him that when I remember it isn’t all bad, that, for me, there is beauty and love in those memories, too. That I will always think about and miss my boy, and that this isn’t a bad way to react to the loss of someone so dear.






  1. Oh, Erica. This is such a raw and difficult subject, and I’m sure it does feel like an unbridgeable chasm between two people who love two children and handle their grief so differently.

    I wish I had advice.

    One small thing I might suggest (at the risk of recommending a book to a librarian) is the children’s book Tear Soup. Have you read it? It’s for older kids (maybe 7-10 years?) but it discusses grief in a very real and yet not scary way. It’s about a grandmother who is making “tear soup” and the grandfather makes his in a very different way, because no one uses the same recipe. Very good friends will share our tear soup, and what goes into it is so much more than sadness, but also memories and love and heartache, and things that will make us happy, like chocolate. The book also mentions specifically a mother whose baby died, and how that mother spent a long time making tear soup. The death of a child isn’t the focus of the book, though. It’s just about the grief process, which is different for everyone. I’m not suggesting this is the best way to approach the subject with Dot, but it might be a way to start a gentler conversation with your husband.

    Here’s a link:


    • Thanks, Brooke. We have Tear Soup, or we did, and I love it. It was sent to us from the staff of the Ronald McDonald House we stayed in while waiting for Teddy to be born. It disappeared into N’s office – I may ask him to dig it up & see if we use it to approach this all more gently.

  2. Oh dear. If it helps, dh & I saw lots of examples of similar chasms between husbands & wives in the 10 years we facilitated a support group (when the husbands even came at all). And similarly, both parents often struggled with the question of what to tell other children & when.

    I understand the discomfort, but I must say that I’m on your side. ; ) I can tell you that many of my support group friends have both prior & subsequent children who have grown up knowing about their siblings. It’s just a fact of life to them (although there are, of course, lots of questions as they grow & begin to understand more). It’s really fascinating (& heartening) to me to see how well their parents have integrated the missing family member into their lives. There are pictures &/or other mementos displayed openly in the home, regular visits to the cemetery, participation in support group events & rituals, such as memorial butterfly releases & candlelighting ceremonies.

    I’ve overheard one friend’s children talking with another’s about their respective lost siblings, and had a six-year-old plunk down beside me and ask, very matter of factly, “So, who do YOU have in heaven??”

    One of the books I remember parents loving (for younger children): “We Were Gonna Have a Baby But We Got an Angel Instead.”

  3. Oh Erica.

    In those few moments he looked at me and at what I thought was a reasonably healthy grieving process and I think what he saw was depression, abnormality, weakness.

    This happens to me a lot too. Although we are both agreed that we think of her every single day. But the way I think about her and her death, the writing about it? I’m fairly he certain he thinks that is absolutely bat shit crazy, I’m afraid to ask.

    I know that, immediately after Georgina died, I contemplated simply never telling her about her sister. Just pretending she had been the only baby. Because I felt that, by telling her, I would be ruining her life. Now I feel differently, I agree with you, I think there is a lot of beauty and love there. It’s not the story I would like to tell her but it is a part of her life, a part I can’t deny, she had a sister, if she ever looked at her family records she’d find her, if she ever looked at her own birth certificate she’d find out she was born one of twins. Has N really thought through how Dot might feel if she found out about her big brother at a later date? If neither of her parents had told her?

    In a way, I feel quite lucky, as we received strong advice from the neonatologist and the psychotherapist on the ward to tell Jessica about her twin. So hubs could not argue over whether we were going to tell her or not. I’ve always spoken to Jessica about her, although she doesn’t understand what happened at all, she does know there is another baby as well as Reuben. Baby Georgie, we call her. And I try and explain when I think Jessica might be receptive. I don’t get upset, I just want to make it matter of fact with the hope of the integration that loribeth has written about so beautifully above. So it’s just something that she grows up knowing, I hope to make it ‘less’ of a shock or an upset. Something she can grow into the knowledge of? If that makes sense?

  4. Oh Erica. Although my husband and I are pretty much on the same page about telling George about Sam (I think), I can relate to the disconnect. I don’t talk about Sam with him even though he is the one person with whom I should. There is a chasm in our marriage over the greatest thing that ever happened to us and sometimes, I wonder what that will do to us over time.

    For what its worth, I still think of Sam every day and probably will for the rest of my life. Sounds normal to me.

    I hope your husband comes around. Sending love.

  5. Erica this is so hard on so many levels. You know how I feel about talking to children about their siblings, and I hope you are able to come to an agreement to talk about Teddy with Dot. I think it will be good for both of you, all of you. Hope you are able to find/build a bridge over you chasm. The missing is hard enough without that kind of divide.

  6. I lost a daughter 18 years ago. My surviving children were 3 and 7 at the time. While the younger one did not attend the services, my son did. But both children went to the cemetary with me regularly. We talked about the loss. At the time, I told my son he did not have to attend the service if he didn’t want to, He looked at me and said, “mommy, she was my sister…” Our children are resilient, they understand more than you know. When they don’t they will ask.

    As for your husbands disconnect, Men just do not show the loss as women do. He is greiving, but in a different way. He has put the loss in a little box and tucked it away, Women want to talk about the losses men just don’t.

    I has been a long time for me. And it is a distant memory. I think about her now and again. Her birthday and when there is something major going on with my daughter like when she graduated High School, I think about the baby and what she would be like. Time does heal all wounds…

  7. Oh man, this is such a hard topic, especially when you aren’t on the same page as N. I’ve been working on a post about this same topic; when and how to tell Clio about George. I just don’t know what the right answer really is. But I do know what the wrong answer is- keeping George a secret.

  8. I get this, I really do. I think we’re in the same boat as Monique. We both want to tell Angus and Juliet about Hope, and we’ve already sort of started that process, but we ourselves don’t talk about her or “it” enough. Living kids have done a number on our marriage, but they certainly haven’t ruined it. Just rocked the foundations I guess. But I suppose extreme sleep deprivation and exhaustion will do that. I know we can get through this though, as we got through those tremendously difficult early months without her. Though perhaps in a way, they were the easiest times. I guess time will tell.
    Lots to relate to in here. Stay strong for each other.

  9. “In those few moments he looked at me and at what I thought was a reasonably healthy grieving process and I think what he saw was depression, abnormality, weakness.” Oh Erica – I am sorry for the chasm between you both, that’s so hard. I agree with you about this openness, this missing being healthy.

    It wasn’t an option not to speak for us. We had older children and they held Emma, touched her, loved her. There was no hiding. I told Toby about Emma the night he was born. In the still of the night, whilst nursing, I whispered her story into his ear. Now he comes to the graveyard and kisses her headstone and say “Em-mah, … sis-tah”, without understanding quite but accepting and undamaged by it all. I hope you find a way to share Teddy with Dot, without betraying N.

  10. Just came across this blog entry, sorry I’m late to the party. Your post spoke directly to my soul, pardon the corniness of that statement. My husband and I are in nearly the same place as you and yours are. My husband’s brother died when he was 10 and his brother was 11. He feels like we’d be scaring and scarring our boys to tell them about Calla now. I wholeheartedly disagree—as does my therapist.

    Our situations are different, I know, but I’m right there with you.

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