Michael and I struggle through grief each and every day. So days are more bearable and we are able to find joy and hope through Ellie, Causby and the work we do with Charlie’s Foundation. Other days are so hard that we are thankful when the night comes and we can sleep and pray for some sunshine in the morning. As I have said before, the grief process does not involve stages as is stated in psychology 101, it’s cyclical. We cycle between anger, sadness, hope and but never acceptance. And through over a year and a half of therapy, we know that Michael and I will never find acceptance of Charlie’s death and the grief will never end. This concept is very hard to swallow. But dealing with the death of our child as adults is tolerable. Navigating the grief our children face in losing their sibling is gut-wrenching. I hate it. It pisses me off. No child should have to witness death this young.
When Charlie died, we had so many unthinkable choices to make. The most pivotal, I believe, was how we chose to “deal” with Ellie’s grief. We could have decided to take the easier path, not talking about Charlie, only bringing him up if Ellie did, in hopes that Ellie’s memories would fade. Maybe that would preserve her childhood innocence we feared would be crushed by the trauma of losing her brother? But we chose the harder path of celebrating, sharing and cherishing Charlie, his life and his relationship with his sister. I hope we can salvage some of her childhood innocence even as we make a conscience effort to have open, honest dialogue with her about her brother’s death. Maybe our integrity will strengthen her feeling of security in knowing that we will always be there to support her regardless of the childhood mishaps and growing pains she faces. At least this is what I pray is the case.
For Michael and I, choosing to have a celebration of life, specifically for Charlie’s friends, was the first of many instances of what we believe are healthy opportunities for our children to grieve. We did not want Ellie to sit through a memorial service in a church with somber organ music and a minister speaking about memories of Charlie with a morbid cadence in his voice. It was excruciatingly uncomfortable for us as adults, his parents, to sit through. I was not about to expose Ellie to that. However, Ellie and all of Charlie’s friends deserved an opportunity and safe space to remember him, in a healthy, age-appropriate way. So we had a carnival, put together by our amazing neighbors, our preschool family and my hospital childlife co-workers. To this day, I’m not sure how they were able to pull together a bounce house, face painters, crafts and all of Charlie’s favorite foods, in the 4 day time frame they were given. But it was perfect. It was honest and it was the way we chose to start our path of openness with Ellie.
Ellie’s questions have never been easy for us to answer. From the first time she asked “Charlie, ok?” the very moments following his death, to the most recent questions, “How can Charlie be happy in Heaven? He is a kid. He would miss his mommy and daddy.” We never know when the questions come and we are not armed with the “right” answers. But what we do know from Ellie’s therapist and so far in this journey, is that as she grows, so will her questions. Ellie can go from talking about whimsical fairies, super heroes, and poop, to asking if Charlie could come down from Heaven because she doesn’t want to die to have to see him again. It’s never easy when ask the “hard questions.” And truthfully, my heart drops when her mouth utters the same questions I ponder everyday as an adult. But when they come from a child, my child, in reference to her brother, it’s hard to fight back the tears and rage it provokes in me. But I do it, not because it’s the easy path, but the healthy one.
I’m not sure what the next questions will be, but I know they will only get harder. And though I don’t look forward to them, I do embrace them. Because it is my belief that how we chose to move forward with parenting our children through their loss, will shape their ability to cope and develop into mentally stable adults. And while I can’t give Ellie her brother back, maybe, just maybe I can help her cope and grow into a healthy adult who knows the love of her brother who is in Heaven.