November 20, 2014

Heavy Conversations with Little Kids

I recently had a really nice conversation with a new friend here in Savannah who shared with me that her mother had lost a child (a two year old) before she was born and she always felt like she was an inadequate replacement for that child. It really struck me to hear her say that. She went on to compliment the way I parent Mary and Finn despite losing Cale, which really meant a lot, but it really had me thinking about the importance of parenting after loss and how hard it can be.

A big concern of mine is that I do not project my emotions on to my (living) children any more than I normally would, had we not lost Cale. What I mean is that I don't want Finn (and Mary, though I'm starting to see it more with Finn since he's older) to mistake my feelings for their feeling, but at the same time I do think it's important for children to learn empathy and I think part of the way you do that is you have to teach kids how you feel and hope it helps them better understand how they feel.

Our kids will always grow up knowing who Cale is, and helping us celebrate and remember him. When Finn asks to see his pictures, I show him. I don't want Cale to be forbidden or off limits for Finn, but at the same time I don't want to push him to talk about Cale or love Cale in any way that isn't his own.

We have a book, Someone Came Before You, which is a short children's book about a couple losing their baby and going on to have another baby. Finn occasionally will pick it out to read and is becoming more aware at the emotions and the story - "Oh, are they sad?" "Did they miss their baby like you did?" things like that. He will ask me if we were sad when baby Cale died and I will tell him yes, we were very sad and once when my friend Amy asked him how he was he said he was "sad because we lost baby Cale." Which, don't get me wrong, I think is very sweet, but I honestly think that was more a reflection of a recent conversation and not really him being sad or feeling like he was missing Cale.

About a week ago Finn was flipping through a book we used to read a lot when he was just a new toddler called, What's Up, Duck? A Book of Opposites, and he came in the room to ask me "is that duck sad?"

I said, "yes, he's sad."
"Why is he sad?"
"I don't know. Maybe he's sad because he was naughty or maybe he's sad because he was in time out."
"I think he's sad because he lost his baby duck."

When that occurred we had not been talking about Cale recently so I found it interesting that he associated the duck's sadness with losing a baby. Again, I think it's sweet, but I also want to ensure that he understands that being sad  can be associated with lots of things. And I do I think he grasps that - he will tell me he's sad when he misses mommy or daddy or when he's in time out or that he's sad for other logical (and illogical) reasons.

I recently hung up the sketch of Cale and Finn came over and said, "ohhh, is that baby Cale?"
"It sure is, buddy."
"Is Cale my broder? Did he died"
"He is you brother, honey and yes, he died."
"He's so little."
"He was. He was just a little baby."
"He will grow bigger so he can't die"
"No, sweetie. I wish, but when you die you go bye bye and you do not come back."
"Sometimes you do"
"No, honey, you can't"
"Do you want to go downstairs with me?"

And so we went downstairs and left it at that.

I want to talk about Cale, but don't want to force a conversation on him. I wish so badly Cale could grow bigger so he won't die and I love that Finn asked that question, as heartbreaking as it was.

I just hope that Finn (and Mary) never, ever feel like an inadequate replacement for Cale. But I also don't want them to feel like an adequate replacement either. I want them to know how special Cale was and is and how special each one of them are simply for who they are.



  1. Wow. My mind went in so many directions while reading this. So much of this is important for us loss parents to consider when we work through our own emotions and help our children understand the meaning behind our sadness.

    Sad comes in so many forms. Missing someone is a huge piece, but yes... sadness can happen in many ways.

  2. I hate that we have to have these conversations but I am also thankful to be honest with our littles. Not replacements in any way, but wonderful additions!

  3. Wow. What a tough thing. It's interesting because I had a friend recently tell me the same thing because a stillborn brother came before her, and she never felt the same as her siblings who came before him. I immediately thought of you and wanted to say 'no it's not like that!' but perception is often reality, isn't it? You are doing such an incredible job being sensitive to all of it though.

    I wonder if applying the same emotions equally might help sort of even the playing field? Like saying "I'm sad because Baby Cale isn't here and I miss him. I'm sad when I miss you because I'm not with you." "I love you because you're my son. I love baby Cale because he's my son." "I'm happy that I'm you're mom. I'm happy that I get to be your mom. I'm happy that I get to be baby Cale's mom." Maybe it would help show that different emotions can be assigned to the same people? Or who knows, maybe it would project more.

    Mostly I just wish we could all be licensed child psychologists when some things come up...

  4. Wonderful piece my friend. I marvel at your awareness of your feelings and how you navigate such poignant moments with grace.