Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Children Never Forget

I am obediently sharing this on my blog, as requested:
Children never forget. 

You know, as much as we think that things don’t affect children like they do adults, we are dead wrong. They understand way more than we give them credit for. They are very in tune to things.

Elianna showed the affects of losing Samuel in many ways. They were very different than the rest of us, but they were obvious reactions to the loss of her brother.

For example: Elianna loved being in Samuel’s room. It’s where all the action happened. We were in there all the time and she adored her brother. He was hers. Talk about a little nurse in training. Elianna had her routine down pat. If she wanted to get up on the bed to play with brother, she knew she needed to use Germ-X. She’d get a pump of sanitizer and then away she would go with a hand washing motion, rubbing it all in.

The morning after Samuel’s death, Elianna went looking for him in his room. Who knows what was going through her little mind. She might have already had her day planned out. First he was going to need a kiss. She loved giving him kisses. Often she would give him multiple kisses at a time. Then she might help us or Sheila do his range. She loved helping with range. Of course, after range his dribble rags would no longer be positioned properly. She was very particular, in her 3 year old way, about his dribble rags being just so. But what she found was no brother.

This wasn’t all that out of the ordinary. After all, Samuel had made extended visits back to the hospital before. But something was different. Something was wrong. Samuel was gone, and Mommy and Daddy were not with him. They were both home, and everyone was sad. This was a day of confusion. The next day did not change. Mommy and Daddy were still home; Samuel was not.

That night Elianna went into Samuels’ room. She signed that she wanted up onto his bed. We lifted her up and she sat there for a little bit, stroking his blankets. After a while she laid down, kissing the bed. For several days she continued to look for her brother and watch the door for our nurses to come. They never did, and she never found him. In a short amount of time Elianna no longer went into Samuel’s room. The room she loved to be in, the one that housed so many wonderful toys, was no longer a place of solace. For almost a year she did not step foot into Samuel’s room.

Over time my parents decided that we needed to help Elianna along in her grieving process, same as the rest of us. We began to encourage her to go into the bedroom with us. It took awhile, but eventually she grew used to the idea of entering the room with one of us.

Because she is so young it is automatically assumed her grief is short lived. After all, children, we are told, do not suffer from loss the way we do. To some extent I think that is true, and yet, how difficult to endure loss and not understand it?
I am here to tell you that the loss of someone you love does have an impact on children, especially when that person was such an all-consuming part of your life.

The other day Sheila came over to our house for a visit. You all remember Sheila, right? She was Samuel’s primary home nurse, and she loved Samuel fiercely. Sheila quickly became a close friend of the family, one of those nurses we talked about having the eyes to see. But more that, Sheila became family over the year she was with us.

This is not the first time Sheila has visited. We keep in contact frequently, sometimes even going out for breakfast. But something was different this time. See, Sheila was coming to pick up some extra supplies that my Mom had cleaned out of Samuel’s closet. The idea is that we don’t want Samuel’s room to become some sort of untouched shrine. We want it to be a room full of memories and reminders of Samuel, but we want to be able to live in it. For some of us, this idea has not been an easy one to stomach and many tears have fallen.

So amidst going through the room and moving things, Sheila comes. Elianna has no trouble recognizing her favorite Sheila. For hours we talked, Elianna happily playing with Sheila’s hair and doing all the things she used to do with/to Sheila.

Then came the goodbye.

Elianna lost it; totally and completely lost it. When Sheila picked Elianna back up, she clung to her, snuffling, but regaining her composure. She held back tears long enough to return to my arms and allow Sheila to walk out the door, but once that door closed, we began a two-hour, nonstop, hysterical crying session that resulted in a couple of vomiting sessions. Eventually Elianna cried herself to sleep.

Anyone who knows Elianna knows this is out of character. It was in those moments of holding her and trying to console her that I realized something. She hasn’t forgotten. Her heart still hurts too. Even though she is young and doesn’t fully understand, she knows that Sheila is a link to Samuel. When Samuel was home, Sheila came and stayed with us.

Children don’t forget. They don’t make it through loss unscathed like we are led to believe. They too mourn the loss. They hurt. And they draw comfort from tangible object just like we do.

Once Elianna woke up from her self induced sleep, the tears returned. The pain couldn’t vanish with sleep. I’ve had to learn that unfortunate truth the hard way. I asked a litany of questions, trying to figure out some way to soothe her, with little success at elevating her distress. But then I thought of my own pain and needs, and I asked the right question. “Do you want to go get one of Samuel’s friends to hug?”

Sometimes what I need the most when my heart is breaking is a snuggle with Mr. Philmore Better. For those of you who do not know, Philmore is one of the very special stuffed buddies Samuel left behind. Philmore may only be filled of fiberfill and covered in soft fabric, but he embodies so much more than that.

So Elianna and I went into Samuel’s room. There, on the shelf, sit that wonderful little band of friends. These guys didn’t just habitate in Samuel’s bed with him; they also acted out their friendship in many practical ways, doubling as trach buddies, positioners, tube holders, and pillows.

Reaching towards the shelf, Elianna grabbed Quacker Jack, the little yellow duck who enjoys lazing around on his belly. With the duck tucked firmly into the crook of her arm, Elianna then laid down with me in the room, taking in the changes. Accepting. And once again sleep mercifully overtook the tears.

They don’t forget. Just like us, they don’t understand. But perhaps it is harder on them, because they can’t rationalize away the emptiness they feel.


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