Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Big Sister

I was pregnant with Hudson at a boom time among my friends and neighbors. I had more friends than I can count who were pregnant with me in 2008 or thereabouts, let alone all the moms I met here in the neighborhood after Hudson was born. It’s a little over two years later, and naturally, many of those same friends have already welcomed their second children or are currently pregnant with them. As one after another of Hudson’s contemporaries welcomes a younger sibling, my heart breaks again and again at every picture of them kissing their newborn brothers and sisters on the foreheads or holding them gingerly in their laps under the watchful eyes of mom and dad. This is a picture we will never take with Hudson and Jackson. How is that possible? How did we get here?

I already struggle mightily with how we will help Jackson and our future children have a relationship with an amazing sister they never got a chance to know. I have been heartened by the stories people have shared with me here and elsewhere about grown adults who still actively remember and embrace their siblings who died before they were born. I fervently hope that we will know the right things to do to cultivate that kind of relationship without risking our younger children feeling overshadowed by Hudson’s life and death, and the enormous impact both will have on our family and our lives forever.

One of the things I grapple most with is how we will talk about Hudson with Jackson and our other children when they are very young. This is still so far off, but it is still something I think about every day, and since kids often begin to understand things far sooner than we realize, I’d rather “start as I mean to go on” if possible, at least until they get old enough to talk intellectually about things like death and what happens to us when we die. I’ve read entries on several other grieving mama blogs about these conversations they’ve had with both older and subsequent siblings of the child who died, and everyone’s approach is very different, as it should be.

My biggest problem with this, of course, is that I have no idea where Hudson is, if she is anywhere, or what has happened to her, if anything. I know what I would like to believe. I know what makes me feel better to think about. I know how much comfort I get from the little things that happen that make me feel like she is with me. But I have no idea how to talk about these things with a small child who wants to know where his big sister is. (And I am still rather disbelieving that I will eventually face such a terrible circumstance.)

My inclination right now is that when they are very young, the most important thing is for our future children to feel, from a very early age, like they have a special relationship with Hudson. This may very well mean that for some period of time, I will have to be okay with talking to them in some kind of concrete language about her, even though there is nothing concrete about our ideas of what happens after we die. It just seems like it would be so much easier for them to feel close to her if they perceive her as being somewhere specific (heaven?), always close to them and watching over them (like an angel?). These seem like fairly straightforward ideas for a child to latch on to (if not fully comprehend), at least from my 10,000-feet point of view. And maybe it will also give them language with which they can talk about their sister with other people, which I think will be very important for all of us. And later, when they are more intellectually curious (and capable?), maybe that will be the time to start thinking and discussing things from a more spiritual perspective, along the lines of how their dad and I don’t really know where people go after they die, but that we feel Hudson’s spirit with us all the time in special ways, and that she is their sister no matter whether she is here on earth with us or not.

Argh. (What an understatement.) I really can’t believe that I have to think about this. And yet I must.  This is my life, my family’s life. Hudson will always be the big sister. Forever.


  1. One of the things I was concerned about in the earliest days after Henry died, even before I was pregnant again, was how to keep Henry "alive" for other children we might have. My husband and I had memories and the pictures and video to go with them. I knew we could keep him part of our family, but how would we do that with a child who had never met him? Seeing other people who had done that didn't necessarily tell me what to do, but it let me know it could be done. At that point, that's what I needed.

    We have pictures of Henry all over the house and a Shutterfly book I made of pictures of him. We look at these with Kathleen. She knows his name. We tell her he is her brother. She recognizes him and can point him out by name now. Part of her bedtime routine is saying goodnight to him. We initiated the saying goodnight because Kathleen would point to the picture. When we say "We love you, Henry," we always tell Kathleen we love her too.

    We will use heaven, though the question then becomes where/what is heaven. I like the idea of saying he is among the stars. We are figuring it out as we go along—like everything else with parenting. Only I wish we didn't have the need to figure this one out—wish you didn't either.

  2. Maybe the "place" that Hudson went is the same "place" that Jackson, or you, or I came from. Where do we come from/ where do we go is a question that all parents end up having to muddle through.

    I remember when Erin was almost four she asked me, "Mommy, where was I when you were a little girl?" I said, "I don't know, I didn't know you then." She promptly informed me that she was "in god". I was surprised by it, because I never spoke much of god, and though she could have picked up the idea almost anywhere, it was her emotion that really struck me: After she told me she was in god, I said something like "Really? what was that like?"

    She sat real still looking at me for maybe thirty seconds, and then tears came up in her eyes. She said, "I love god". I was startled by the tears, and a visibly strong emotional expression, and so I said, "Is that a good feeling?" She nodded and said, "I love god more than you". I said, "Wow, that's a lot!" Then ('s the clincher..)with a worried look on her face, she asks me "Do you love god more than me?"

    I couldn't tell if she was having emotions that conflicted with her sense of security, or was simply discovering her own life force and was overwhelmed..I still don't really know what she was trying to convey. I do know that it was an experience all her own, and it moved her deeply.

    You know that line in the Kahlil Gibran/ Sweet Honey song that goes:

    "You can give them your love, but not your thoughts; they have their own thoughts"

    Erin had her own thoughts on god. Jackson will have his own thoughts about Hudson, whether you explain where she is or not. As a matter of fact, you might want to ask him before you try to tell him..

    I told Erin when she was about 5, that I was from another planet. As she got older, she would re-visit the question, and I would re-tell the story of my planet. When she got to be 8 or 9 she would say impatiently, "you are lying!". I would always tell her that everybody said that; nobody ever believes me. Her sympathy would cause her to doubt her certainty that I could not be from another planet.

    Of course, by the time she was 12 or 13 it had simply become a game, and later an interesting story to tell her friends. I have never said, "okay you're right, I'm not really from another planet". She is nonetheless certain that I was born on earth.

    Don't you worry Mama, Jackson will get it.

  3. Sara, I don't know you, but what you have described is beautiful. It seems apropos of Hudson too to say that she is "among the stars," given how brighly she shone during her time here.

  4. You will know, Mandy ~ I am certain that once Jackson is born and those situations arise, you will just KNOW what to say...I have the utmost faith in you ~ simply based on your immense love for both of your children. You are obviously a natural at being a mother, and when the time comes, it will all fall into place. I wish I had some words of wisdom, a helpful suggestion, or some practical guidance to offer you...but all I can say is good luck. Even as you wrestle with these thoughts now, just know that when the time comes, sharing Hudson with her little brother will come naturally to you and Jackson will always know EXACTLY who she is.


  5. Mandy, this is beautifully written and heartbreaking, as so much of your writing is. I wish so much that you didn't have to think about this stuff. When I was reading this entry, it reminded me of one of my coworker's families. Her third child was born with a heart defect, and he passed away as a result at a month old. This is a very different story from Hudson's, but it may offer some small comfort. The family openly talks about their second son, and each of the children (the 2 older siblings, as well as the sister born later) will all tell you that Tyler is their brother, even though he is not with them here. I am not sure what they have told their children as to where they believe Tyler is, but I am confident that you will find the right words for your family. I agree with Jillian above - you are a wonderful mother, and because of that, each of your future children will know their big sister.

  6. Even the most religious among us has to at least sometimes doubt the existence of heaven. But if the idea of it helps, there's no harm in using it. And if it's so, what a wonderful thing.

  7. This is your life.. and just by thinking of this you are already on a path towards understanding how you will handle this for Jackson and your future children. That alone is a big step. I think that when the moments come you will speak from your heart, and that will be all you need to do to express the intimate bond that these siblings will have to Hudson.
    My living children often ask about Cullen.. sometimes just to say- 'Mommy- is Cullen my brother?' and every time the answer is the same.. 'He is your baby brother, and he is a beautiful soul as well.' My daughter talks of him as an angel. Every time she sees the silhouette of an angel- or even a cupid she excitedly exclaims..'Mommy look! It's Cullen". And I have to say that it warms my heart, because I see her thinking of him, saying his name.. and most of all remembering that he existed, and still does in so many ways. I too see Cullen as a star voyager.. I believe his soul in on a long a beautiful journey, and I do hope that when it is time I will join him on that journey.
    And to Diane.. that story is so amazing.... thank you so much for sharing it.

  8. Mandy, you will figure it out, as you see the person who Jackson is. Your beautiful words will continue to keep Hudson alive for your children, as they do for us.
    Big hugs.

  9. It is so difficult to imagine trying to have those "where do we go. . .?" conversations with a very young child, when it's nearly impossible to have that discussion in a meaningful way with another adult. (After re-reading that sentence, I almost think it would be an easier conversation with a young child, because of the imagination and trust factors.)I think that a lot of it will depend on Jackson -- his personality, his sensitivity, his world view. But Mandy, one thing I know after reading your blog for these months is that if anyone will ever have the best words for the task, it will be you.

  10. Your plan sounds perfect to me.

    We're still in the concrete Veronica's "in heaven" stage. My oldest has started to ask where heaven is...I just answer that I don't know, but I think it's a very nice place. That seems to satisfy her for now.

    We also say "goodnight" to Veronica and our other dead relatives that my kids knew (my dad, Kevin's grandmothers) before bed. Keeps those loved ones close even if they no longer are.

    I think you'll find that developing a relationship between Jackson and Hudson will come quite naturally once he's here.

  11. Mandy, I am sorry that your heart breaks when you see Hudson's peers with their new baby siblings, but it's wonderful that you can express that hurt. I just know that you seem to be among the most thoughtful and compassionate people despite all this pain or maybe in some ways because of it. I know everyone who reads your blog knows that anyway. But even through your heartbreak, no one is more eager to help organize a meal schedule for a family whose newborn had unforeseen health concerns or to worry about whether pregnancy talk would make a friend who had experienced infertility feel sad. And I have watched again and again your compassion in action with friends who are dealing with loss and grief or hardships of any kind. I guess that I'm just trying to say that your kindness is remarkable, especially since you have so much grief to carry around.

    I know that you will show Jackson a beautiful way to live life fully and with such compassion and keeping Hudson close to all of you. She'll be alive in your actions at least as much as in any words you try to find to explain the inexplicable. xoxo, K.

  12. My heart breaks over the idea that Hudson won't be the big sister to her baby brother that she was to so many of her little friends. She stepped into that big sister role at St. Ann's and we caught a glimpse of what should be for Jackson.
    ARGH is right!

  13. Well I haven't weighed in in a long time, but I can tell you that Hudson is an Angel, and a big sister and her worked is not done yet. Hudson will live on in so many ways and guide so many people. You are a woman of words and the words will come to you when needed. Not many people cross your path like Hudson and I can tell you she is still standing in my door. Yeah it really sucks and Jackson and future siblings will not know her in body, but they will know her spirit because it is everywhere!! You go to St. Ann's why? Ask ourself it because they are great people or because they are great people and a part of you likes the faith and spirit there? Just a both are in my thoughts everyday!!

  14. I'd second lots of the comments above - that this will evolve, and you will know the right way to explain Hudson as you get to know Jackson. But if you aren't religious, and feel ambivalent about saying that Hudson is in 'heaven' but would like to be able to talk in concrete terms, one option would be to talk about her being a star. For us, some friends 'bought' a star for Z and gave us the certificate at her memorial - I wasn't sure about it initially, but now I have a particular star I associate with her (probably not actually the one specified by the certificate), and it is a big comfort to say 'hello' whenever I see her star. And the good thing with stars is that even if it is a cloudy night, you know they are still there, wherever you are.

    I'm sure I've seen a good children's book about losing a sibling which talks about a brother being a star, but I can't find it on the internet.

    Sending love xxxh