– by Kate Polley
Recently we returned from a great family break on the coast. Towards the end of the holiday, walking hand in hand along the beach with Finn, my five-year-old surviving twin son, he turned to me unexpectedly and said: “Mom, I miss my brother, Sam. I feel lonely without him and sad that he does not live with us.”
I caught my breath and squeezed his little hand in mine.
This was the first time in which Finn had expressed a longing for, rather than just a passing, curious interest in his twin.
I knelt in front of him and told him that I felt sad too. I reminded him that Sam ‘lives’ all around us – in the sand and the wind and the sea. I echoed the sentiments I had used in the book which I had written a few years ago, in an attempt to honour Sam’s short life and explain his physical absence to our other children.
The moment between Finn and I passed as quickly as it had begun and he raced ahead to join his siblings at the lagoon.
It has always been important to me that our children are aware of their brother’s brief existence on earth and my belief in his continued presence with us. As such, I have made a conscious and sometimes painful effort, from the start to answer and discuss any questions they have had about his death, as openly and honestly as I can.
That day on the beach my aching heart sang a little. Whilst I will never be able to give Finn back the thing I imagine he’d value most – his twin brother, I have I believe, through my willingness to discuss death, given him the ability to comfortably verbalise his feelings about Sam. This is a skill, I have learned from personal experience, that many adults sorely lack.
Later I reflected on my conversation with Finn. I was reminded of an online article I had read recently on a closed baby loss forum, debating the merits of disclosing early sibling loss to other children in the family. I remember being struck by some of the opinions expressed, particularly by those who had lost a baby in the first year of life. Seemingly, many parents feel the need to ‘protect’ their living children by not mentioning death, nor the child who died, to other children at all.
When Sam died twelve hours after our twins were born, we were shocked, devastated and traumatised, all rolled up into one messy tangle of grief. My daughters, aged five and seven at the time, were confused and sad. For a few days, they grilled us relentlessly with questions, ranging from practical to the obscure. We spoke about what had happened and answered all their questions over again until they were satisfied.
Then, content with our explanations, they simply moved on. They resumed their daily routine and got on with the things little girls do, seamlessly, all as if nothing had happened at all. I remember at the time, thinking it was all rather callous. Children, I have learned since, have a particularly egotistical view on life.
Almost six years later, I am cognisant of the fact that I walked away from the cruel hand our family was dealt with a valuable lesson. You can’t protect children from death, no matter how inconvenient or uncomfortable the topic may seem. At some point, someone close to them will die.
Equip them with the information they need to view death as part of the fabric of a beautiful thing – Life.
Kate Polley is the author of ‘Sam and Finn’ and has subsequently created a whole range of personalised child and adult loss books.
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