Those We Often Forget (young sibling grief)

by Jennifer Radosevich

Shining in bright yellow lights, it read, “The Bereaved Parent Club.” Every night, my dream of the club was always so vivid. Upon each morning awakening, I knew it was not a dream, but the reality my life had become.

We never thought “it” would happen to us. It sounds so cliché, I know. Everything in life was grand, but we knew bad things happened to good people. “No parent should have to bury their child,” I would say. Before I knew it, I was standing over my child’s headstone at the cemetery. How I got there I do not know. However, I refused to let grief tear my family’s world apart.

Reflecting on our loss, I wish we had more answers. Yet, my family could only ask so many questions until we realized we simply had to accept the sudden death of our youngest son, Benjamin. Being that he passed during the night, we could simply assume he was at peace, sleeping like an angel. Yet, one will always wonder how a healthy older child could pass away without warning.

The days following his death were not really a blur, as some may say; I can recall every detail. Many have asked me how difficult it must have been that morning, and I respond by saying, “Imagine the difficulty of telling my husband, then my older son, that Benjamin had died.” Don’t you wonder how we find strength during moments when we should fail? My family and I were about to embark on a journey we had not chosen; bravery and courage would have to step up to the batter box. I searched for guidance in every place imaginable, and I was grateful for the advice I received. However, I found that grief assistance for children seemed to be lacking. If I couldn’t find help for my son, then how many other parents felt lost trying to aide their surviving children?

Jennifer Radosevich and son, Tyler

For adults, resources seemed often available. For example, I immediately took to my own teaching advice on dealing with emotions and began journaling, even writing my first entry the day of Benjamin’s death. I needed, and wanted, to remember every little wonderful detail about my son. I continue to journal today, as it provides me with a sense of peace and personal reflection. Since Ben’s death, my family and I have been on a mission to assist each other with our grief, and in doing so, have found that my son Tyler has needed us most of all. Children cannot grasp the concept of death. Children cannot divulge their emotions. The adults in their lives need to help children explore those emotions, showing them what is healthy and not. As I tried to grieve in a healthy manner, it was my responsibility to ensure my son was grieving in a healthy way as well. Resources for children, however, were simply not readily available, nor truly child-centered.

Thus, I began planning various child-centered activities for Tyler, to help him express his grief. This also helped me illustrate my grief with him. During one instance, he asked me, “Mom, why do you cry whenever we talk about Ben?” I simply replied, “I miss him, just like you miss him. You can cry too.” From that point on, we never became uncomfortable when we needed to shed a tear; the act was accepted and welcomed. Now, we often speak of Ben without shedding a tear at all.

Benjamin, Jennifer, and Tyler

Time would pass and we were so happy to find Tyler becoming so open and honest with his emotions. It was then when I felt the need to share our activities with others. I felt this would be of great importance because sometimes those that are the youngest are left behind in the grief process. We assume that kids will be kids, and they will just “play.” However, death is frightening to adults, so we must imagine how a child may feel when hearing of death. I didn’t want other parents to be at a loss for how to help their saddened child, so I turned to blogging as a means of communicating with other bereaved parents.

Being quite nervous and somewhat intimidated, I decided to create my blog site and share my first entry with immediate family and friends. Then, took the next leap of faith and made the blog public. As days passed, I was receiving more site visits and comments. It was exhilarating to know I could be helping strangers. Yet, I received a wonderful gift in return: meeting bereaved parents who put me at ease by sharing their stories of loss as well. This blog had given me a real connection to the world, like someone else actually understood my journey. It is a difficult first step to take, but once you find those that can relate to you, the reflection process truly begins.

The Bereaved Parent is a sad club to join; one would never wish to be granted membership. Still, to this day, I have no idea how I got to this place. Yet, bereaved parents have qualities that the world may be lacking: compassion and empathy. We take ownership of our feelings and we acknowledge others emotions; this is what makes our club so strong. As a parent, it is our duty to be a source of inspiration to our surviving children, because we will be gone someday too. Teaching children about death shouldn’t be shunned or silenced; death is a natural process of life. Adults need to share that with children.

What has worked for our family is creating activities which allows for discussion of Benjamin and/or the sharing of our emotions. For instance, dragonflies remind us of Ben, so we color a dragonfly every holiday, while we exchange a funny memory of Ben. We gave Tyler a bottle, where he is able to store letters to Ben. My husband and I have also become very aware of Tyler’s limits, such as days he wants to visit the cemetery versus times he refuses. Simply spending that extra five minutes with a grieving child, rather than washing the dishes, can show them how much they are loved and appreciated.

Everyone has to find what works for their families. This means thinking about strengthening the healthy relationships among family members through different activities or conversations. Give the children, living and deceased, the attention they deserve. Go for a walk, paint a picture, laugh at old videos, and speak to the stars. Above all, assure them that you will always be an ear to listen, or a shoulder to cry on.

About the Author: Jennifer Radosevich is a middle school teacher, residing with her husband in a small suburb outside of Chicago, Illinois. She lost her youngest son, Benjamin, in 2010 at the age of 16 months. He is survived by Jennifer’s eldest son, Tyler, now 6. She is the creator of Helping Him Grieve, a site which illustrates her grief journey and offers assistance for others on how to help grieving children. She hopes to inspire bereaved parents to communicate openly and frequently with their surviving children. It is not a journey one chooses to take, but one we must accept.