Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | August 21, 2009

The elephant in the room

This coming January will mark eleven years since we lost our first son, and while the brunt of this tragic episode is long behind us, I suspect that the repercussions will last forever. There will always be little reminders, times when I will be taken by surprise, moments that will cause me to hesitate, to pause before reacting. I am at a loss as to how to respond when a Facebook quiz asks about the birth of my first child, and innocuous, innocent questions leave me lost in thought. Sometimes, it is simply easier to maintain a certain degree of levity through denial than to complicate things with the truth.

That’s not to say, of course, that the birth and subsequent death of our first child is a secret. It just means that I often find myself having to decide whether or not disclosure is appropriate in different situations. It means that some of my friends are aware of the difficult, painful path we traveled while other friends are not. Again, it isn’t a secret, just a story that has yet to be told. There is a time and a place for everything. And last week, we decided it was time to tell the Little One about the brother he’ll never have the chance to meet. It was something we’d talked about several months ago, something we felt needed to be done. We wanted to do it during the summer in order to give him time to get used to the idea before heading back to school. One day last week, it just seemed right.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, either from him or from us, though it was a scene I’d envisioned many times. He was curious, taking in what we told him and processing it as much as his age would allow. We told him stories and showed him a photograph, answering his questions as best we could. He enjoyed looking at the photo, and when he asked me who was cuter, him or Elad, I told him that both of them are beautiful. When he asked if our home was also Elad’s home, I told him that it was, but that Elad had been very sick and had stayed in the hospital. Later on, he asked me if I loved Elad, and told me he knew that Elad was in heaven. I answered that I did love Elad, just as I loved him, and then told him that Elad was somewhere else as well. I told him that Elad would always be in my heart, just as his grandfather and his dog would always be in his heart. The Little One became quiet as he processed this, and then changed the subject.

He has since been to the cemetery as well, though he I think we succeeded in making him believe that it is simply a special place where we can go when we want to remember Elad. He asked me why our dog’s stone (we’ve marked the burial spot) doesn’t have writing on it like Elad’s does. I reminded him that there are lots of other stones there, and the writing makes it easier for us to find the right one. When I pointed out that there are no other stones near his dog’s stone, he responded by asking what would happen when his uncle’s dog died, concerned that we wouldn’t know which stone was which.

Death is not a new idea for the Little One. He knows that his dog died (and even told my parents’ neighbors that he “had a dog, but he’s dead”) and he remembers his paternal grandfather, who died nearly two years ago. He never had the opportunity to meet his paternal grandmother, but we’ve made sure that he knows her name and can recognize her in pictures. With Elad though, it’s the first time he’s been old enough to even partially grasp the idea of death and dying. He’s not there yet, but it was important to us that he grow up with this knowledge, that it not be a secret, discovered accidentally or shared at a later age when he might resent us for keeping it. I’ve experienced a range of emotions during this period – relief that he finally knows, fascination with the ideas that are clearly forming in his mind and the questions borne from those ideas. Perhaps there’s also been a bit of disappointment that he hasn’t shown more interest, even though I know that this may come as he matures and begins to understand more. After all, it’s hardly fair to expect a five year-old to show emotion for the brother he never knew, or to have a wisdom and understanding of these things that goes beyond his years. Most of all, though, this process of removing the burden of an untold story has been intensely cathartic. We have finally begun to banish the elephant from the room.

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Responses

  1. Wow.

    Having a hard time trying to articulate a multitude of thoughts….

    A very hard thing to have had to do — extraordinarily generous and brave to have shared with all of us.

    It is exceptionally hard to create memories and relationships between our kids and those whose lives ended before they were born or old enough to develop their own relationships — but with love, patience, and creativity it can be done. Clearly, you have the three main ingredients!

    I suspect that as Little One grows and matures that you will find that he will be able to develop a special relationship with Elad (z”l), and that by extension, it will deepen his relationship with you and his father.

    Shabbat Shalom!

  2. That must be so hard. You know, my Dan who’s 5.5 told me today, out of the blue: “Mom, when I have a kid of my own, I won’t ever tell him that people eventually die. It’s best to think that we can go on living forever.”
    It’s not that we emphasized the topic in anyway – just the usual dealings of any child with death.

  3. xox

  4. I don’t know what to say, exactly, but you expressed that so well.

  5. Very moving, Liza.

  6. Very moving. So beautifully written!


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