Friday, October 13, 2017

When a 4-year-old grieves the loss of a sibling they never had

DIVERSITY of experience is the fullness of life. We will all grieve losses at various points in our lives. Here’s one glimpse into ours. One that took us by surprise early one recent evening.
Sitting at the kitchen table, a bizarre conversation takes place.
Our four-year-old, without understanding what he’s saying, says playfully, “I want to kill you, Dad.” One of us said, “That’s not very nice. If Dad dies he can’t come back…”
Suddenly, our son paused and then he broke down saying, “I want Nathanael to come back and he can’t come back.” We looked at each other not really knowing what to do other than sit there with him. His sobbing was intense for a minute or so, but he was soon placated and redirected emotionally. He also had a similar emotional reaction a day or so after, and it seemed that he was missing not having a younger sibling as many of his peers do.
Grief is a confusing subject for a four-year-old, obviously. It seems that at his age and stage it’s the issue of having a younger sibling that is poignant at present. Because some of his schoolmates have younger siblings, he has made the connection that he had a younger sibling but no longer does. He misses what he never had.
When it comes to Nathanael, it seems our four-year-old initiates conversation a lot more than we do. We don’t avoid it, but he is talked about more often than we plan to talk about him. And this aspect of not having a younger sibling is the current nuance of grief that our four-year-old is transitioning through.
Our son is learning to live with grief in stages at his own pace. And he will grow in understanding with our support.

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