I wonder what our children will make of their brothers. They are too young to really understand but that will change when they are old enough to ask about the wooden box and the baby photos.
There was a heartbreaking moment yesterday when my daughter was playing in the cupboard where we keep the ultrasound pictures. My wife was holding onto the photo as my daughter sorted pennies for school. I walked in as she was finishing and heard her say “all gone now”. I thought she meant the boys.
For me I always picture the boys as they were. I don’t see them as toddlers or the children they didn’t get to be. I can’t see them in the stories we created for them. It’s as though they’ve been edited from those mental pictures.
I do see them in the mirror. I see them in our children. I see them in baby photos. I’ve never been haunted by them but I see glimpses of them in the everyday. Sometimes that can be a comfort, that in some way they live on as part of their siblings. Other times it can be a blow to the chest, a reminder of all that could have been.
I don’t want to hide their brothers from them and I don’t want them to be scared by them. I’ve found quite a good selection of children’s books on the subject but we’re a long way from that yet but I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the stories. Some use blunt humour, others have beautiful metaphors and striking artwork. They don’t seek to deny or minimise anything. They are open and honest.
One that really got me was The Colour Thief. It’s not about grief so much as depression. It’s a good visual representation and description of how a terrible sadness can suck the light from your eyes and the colour from life. More importantly it shows that it can get better.
Michael Rosen’s Sad Book is another excellent book with simple images to illustrate what sad looks like. It’s not always a down turned face or tears. Sometimes it can be behind the smiles and cheers of celebration too.
There are those that are wary of our attempts to even think about presenting books like this to our children. Far better that they retain their innocence.
I’ll leave Neil Gaiman to tackle that one.
“I think if you are protected from dark things then you have no protection of, knowledge of, or understanding of dark things when they show up. I think it is really important to show dark things to kids — and, in the showing, to also show that dark things can be beaten, that you have power. Tell them you can fight back, tell them you can win. Because you can — but you have to know that.
And for me, the thing that is so big and so important about the darkness is [that] it’s like in an innoculation… You are giving somebody darkness in a form that is not overwhelming — it’s understandable, they can envelop it, they can take it into themselves, they can cope with it.
And, it’s okay, it’s safe to tell you that story — as long as you tell them that you can be smart, and you can be brave, and you can be tricky, and you can be plucky, and you can keep going.”
Grief may not be able to be beaten but I think it’s important to show that it can be part of our lives without consuming us with sadness all the time.