The girls and I had such a fun time at Saturday’s St. Louis Cardinal’s baseball game. We sure wish the score had been reversed, but we were so thankful for a beautiful night (82 degrees 🙂 ), free jerseys, and awesome fireworks in spite of our losing game! Kylee has become quite the baseball fan, and she is the reason why we decided to make going to a cardinals baseball game this summer a priority. I continue to try to listen closely to my daughters and make sure that we are making the most of the memories and times that we have together and in our lives.
As I look at my two amazing daughters, my heart continues to fill with thanks for them and for how wonderful they are doing in the midst of all of the trauma that they have endured. MiKayla’s daddy died when she was 11, and her big brother died when she was 13. Kylee’s daddy died when she was 14, and her big brother died when she was 16. These two daughters of mine have experienced so much pain and loss. My heart hurts for them. I am so thankful for how well that they continue to do in spite of their individual pain and brokenness.
Often, children who have had a sibling die not only have lost their sibling, but there are many who express that they feel like that they have also lost their parents. My daughters did have to additionally tragically experience their daddy’s death in addition to their brother’s death. 22 months happened between the two deaths. As their mom, I was not only dealing with the loss of my only son at the age of 18 and my husband, but I was also devastated by the grief that my children were experiencing. Any of you who are parents know that when your children hurt, then you hurt. The pain that my children were experiencing was adding additional pain on what already felt like a broken and crushed heart. I was experiencing much anxiety on how would I be a good mom to my grieving daughters while I tried to live in my own devastating grief.
My son was killed in a car accident on June 26th, 2013. That was a Wednesday. I was in a state of shock that seems indescribable… beyond words. I remember the funeral was Saturday, June 29th. (You can listen to my words at his funeral to our family and friends on my Youtube channel- Kristi Kirk). I had not eaten from the time he had died on Wednesday through the funeral on Saturday. I was in such a state of shock that something as simple as eating was something that I had no desire to do. However, my oldest girl Kylee was observing my behavior. I remember her coming to me before the funeral with huge concern filling her eyes. She said, “Mom, please eat something.” Tears immediately fill my eyes as I am writing this. I will never forget the look in her eyes. The worry and concern was screaming through Kylee’s eyes and went straight to my heart. It was like that look of such concern shook me physically. Something snapped in me during this moment. I remember having these thoughts, “Kristi, you will take care of yourself. You daughters have lost their daddy and her brother. They will not lose you too.” I remember looking at her and saying, “Kylee, I promise that I will eat after the funeral.” That seemed to satisfy her. That was one of those moments that you don’t forget. Thank God that somehow during that time of complete shock and devastation that somehow I was still able to see what was happening to my daughter. Thank God that something rose up in me and said “No. My daughters will not lose me too. I will continue on as their mother.”
It is truly heartbreaking how many siblings who have had a brother or sister die feel like they have lost their parents too. When your child dies, the loss and heartache that you experience is massive. It is devastation beyond words. I remember reading whatever I could find that would describe how the siblings felt after losing a brother and a sister. It was so heartbreaking. Story after story described how they felt like they also lost their parents. After I would read these stories, I would go to my girls and tell them what I had read. I would ask them to please tell me if they ever felt that way. I would ask them to please let me know if there was something that I was doing or was not doing that was causing these feelings inside of them.
When children are grieving then they are not always sure how to even express the feelings that they are having. This, of course, can also be true of adults. When I read something like this, then I would discuss it with the girls and try to see how they were feeling. It is important if you are going to do these things with your children that you try to not get defensive if they share something with you about you. It is important to hear them and understand their feelings and then to do a self-evaluation. This was and is one of my biggest priorities. I believe it is so important to find things that can be used as examples with our grieving children and to share them with them and to ask them, “Do you feel this way?” “Is there anything that I can do that would help you?” I believe that it is important to do this with grieving children. Please know that does not mean that your children will want to talk with you every time that you try to give them a safe and open environment to talk. Believe me, my girls don’t always want to talk when I do this.
In this blog, I always want to keep everything real. I do not want to give any misleading ideas of how things work in a grieving family… it will be different for all of us. I will share my ideas and what I have done; however, please always know that all of our children will grieve differently just as we will all grieve differently. I share these things just in case it may help one parent who is raising a grieving child. Some things may be helpful to some parents who are also raising grieving children as they grieve. As I share, please remember that there are many times when I may try to have a discussion with my girls on something that they may not want to talk about. At those times, I respect how they are feeling. I remind them that I am here for them if they want to talk.
Recently Prince Harry was in the news discussing his mother’s death and describing how he did not deal with it. He shared how the grief did not go away because he ignored it and eventually after some very difficult times then he did try to work through it. I saw this as another example of someone who experienced childhood grief that I could discuss with my girls. I described what I heard Prince Harry say to the girls. They looked at me and rolled their eyes. I think one of them said something like, “Here we go again.” Smile. If you encounter these types of reactions with your children then please do not let it discourage you or cause you to never try again. You may get the eye roll one time or ten times, but believe me, every time that they do disclose what is hard and what would help them then know in your heart that the other times that weren’t productive were still well worth it. Of course, sometimes we may just encounter normal teenage mood swings and feelings. Just please keep trying to communicate with your grieving children whenever you can. They need us. They need us to be present in their lives… not just physically but also emotionally.
Please know in these examples that it does not matter how old your child is. A friend of mine who had a sister die as an adult truly felt as if he lost his mom with his sister. His mom was so overcome with her grief that she did not want to be involved. Even though he was an adult, he still wanted and needed his mom in his own life. He still wanted and needed his mom to be involved in his childrens’ lives. He was grieving his sister. He did not want to lose his mom too. Our crucial role of parenting our other children who are living does not disappear when our child dies. Our pain and agony may seem insurmountable. We must continue to remind ourselves that our other children need us to continue parenting.
Another issue that I have read that grieving children struggle with is that often the sibling who has died is made out to be the hero or the perfect child that they can never live up to. I also encountered this in reading countless times during my searches of how my children may be feeling. I have tried to battle this in my girls’ minds by talking about things with their brother that weren’t perfect. For example, both of my girls have been incredible students. My son was a good student, but he was not at all as serious as his sisters. In all honesty, I now look back on that and think I am glad he wasn’t. That may seem like an odd thought for a mom to have but in my mind I think, “I am so glad that PK had so much joy and so much fun being he was not able to utilize his education in college or in the job market being he died at the age of 18. I am just thankful that he had a great time in school.” LOL. That may seem odd to some, but I have definitely settled in with this belief for my son.
In utilizing this example, these are the words that I have said to my girls, “I am so glad that both of you are such excellent students. PK really could have learned from you both and should have been more serious about his studies.” I have told the girls that on different occasions. This example has a very specific goal. I am trying to show my daughters their strengths and that I recognize that their brother did not do this. I want them to see that their mom has not idolized him or made him into an untouchable hero. I want them to know that I see strengths in them that he did not have.
I tried to reemphasize this at orientation one year with my youngest daughter at school, but the whole thing flopped because I think I freaked the teacher out. The teacher had my son and my oldest daughter in class in the past. I was intentionally trying to reemphasize this example with my daughter at orientation. The message was “MiKayla. I see your strengths. I know your brother was not perfect.” Some people may read this and think that I am putting my son PK down. Please know that there was no bigger fan of PK than I. As his mother, my love for him has been and continues to be fierce. There are no words that adequately describe it. However, I will continue to try to do what is best for my daughters also. My love for them is equally as fierce.
I said to the teacher, “MiKayla will be an excellent student like Kylee. She will not be goofing around like her brother, and you will truly enjoy having her in class.” The poor teacher looked like I just punched him in the stomach. He had my son in class and like so many others was so sad by his death at the age of 18. He did truly enjoy my son. But again, no one enjoyed my boy as much as I did. But this was a lesson for my daughter. The poor teacher immediately began talking about what a great student that my son was. I had made him so uncomfortable. That was not my intent. I was simply trying to reinforce in my baby girl that I see her strengths and that I know that her brother was not perfect.
I made sure to go back and talk to the teacher on a different occasion and tried to explain to him what I was trying to do in that conversation. I could tell that he was trying to show that he understood, but he was clearly still uncomfortable with what I was doing. Again, my son had no bigger fan than me; however, it is crucial for me that I continue to parent my daughters. I am determined to continue on as their mom in the midst of my own heartache and pain.
Countless times through these last four years, I have and will continue to tell myself: “Kylee and MiKayla deserve my best just as much as my PK did. I will give it to them no matter how I am feeling. These two sweethearts deserve it, and they are going to get it.”
If you are parenting grieving children, then please do your best to continue as their mom or dad. I am not saying that it is easy. When we are grieving ourselves then often it is so difficult to look outside of our own pain. However, our children need us. Let us continue to try to give them our best. If we blow it one day, then let’s get up the next day and give them our best each day after that. Just as my two incredible daughters deserve it then so do your children!! Let’s give them our best! We can honor our child or loved one who has died in the process of giving our best to our living children 🙂