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Telling Siblings

This post deals with the difficulty of talking with siblings about the death of his/her brother/sister.

by Debbie Gemmill

reprinted with permission

Dear Jenny,

I haven't responded to your request for help in telling your daughter about
her brother, but not because I have ignored your plea. Your situation, being
the parents of twins, is different from mine. I cannot offer you advice,
just share with you what our family experienced. You have been on my mind for
days. I have been reliving those minutes, hours, days, since our Tyler died
and we had to explain it to our 4 year old daughter.

Some people told us that she was too young to understand. Some told us that
she wouldn't even remember it, so why bother trying to explain something so
sad. Sadly, we took the advice of those who told us she shouldn't attend the
memorial service. Instead, we left her crying with a babysitter.

Someone told us that we shouldn't cry in front of her. It would upset her
and make her worry. I was simply unable to follow that advice since my tears
were uncontrollable. Of course, the whole time I worried about the affect it
was having on her. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom with the water
running. It was the only place I could hide my grief and my sobbing.

We tried hard to avoid those pat phrases--He's in Heaven because God needed
him, He's an angel now, He's sleeping peacefully with God. We used the words
death and dead, even though they were so difficult to say out loud. Even so,
she asked questions all the time. When we thought we'd answered them, she'd
ask them again. This went on for a long time. Yes, it was hard, but it was
part of all of us trying to assimilate what had happened to our family.

We stumbled and we fell, but we always tried to be honest. If we had not
cried in front of her, what message would be sending to her: that a dead
child is not worth crying about??

Children understand death in widely different ways depending on their ages.
I do think, however, that they understand love and caring when it's offered
from the heart. This is what you want for your daughter and I wish you the
very best as you struggle with your explanations. Keep in touch.

7/28/96

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