As parents, our main aim is to protect our children. When they cry as newborns through those long nights, we go to them. When they scrape their knee and recoil at the sight of the red liquid on their skin, we’re right there with a plaster. When they fall out with friends, we tell them it will be alright – these things happen. We tell them that real monsters don’t exist and we put them in a little bubble that we pray won’t ever get popped until they’re well into adulthood and understand life on a much larger scale.
I never thought that the bubble wrap I had wrapped around my son would come away so soon. . . .
I never thought that at only four years old, he would have to deal with the loss of his sister. Not only that, but as Evalyn was stillborn at 38 weeks, he has had to cope with losing a person who he never got to know properly. He has had to get his little mind around the idea of losing someone before he ever really had them in his life. He had seen many of his little friends becoming big brothers and sisters before him and it was meant to be his turn.
I remember one Saturday afternoon, we were discussing the seasons and how Autumn was on its way. He had clambered down from the sofa, cupped my swollen belly in his little hands and exclaimed, “Did you hear that, baby? Autumn’s coming!! That means we get to meet you soon!”
Then our world turned upside down.
A little over a month later, we stepped into my parents house on the way back from the hospital. It was important to me and my husband that we would be the ones to tell him that Evalyn had passed away. We had raced to the hospital in the early hours the day before. He had woken up that morning to find we weren’t there and my mother in the living room telling him mummy and daddy had to pop to the hospital but mummy said she’ll ring you later. We asked my parents to keep the conversation light until we could get to him and when I rang from the hospital between contractions, I told him I loved him very much. He told me that Nanny and Grandad had been spoling him lots and that he was looking forward to his sleepover at their house. A four year old mind doesn’t worry, and I was thankful that he didn’t have too many questions at that precise moment.
Two hours after that phone call, I gave birth to Evalyn. And less than 24 hours later, Ieuan was sat between me and Nick on my parents sofa, his little eyes looking up at us expectantly. Nick picked him up and sat him on his knee and I moved closer and held his little hand in my own. We had agreed to tell him the truth. Nick had spent that morning Googling How to explain death to a child and we’d agreed that telling him the truth as we knew it to be was the only way that we could do it.
“You know the baby?” Nick began, tears already forming in his eyes, “Well, the baby has died and gone to Heaven and it’s very sad. We know that you’ll be very sad. Mummy and daddy are very sad too and we’re so sorry because we know that you were really excited to be a big brother . . . . . ”
Ieuan looked at Nick. He looked at me. He looked at the flatness of my top where Evalyn’s bump used to protude. And he cried. If we were ever worried that he wouldn’t quite understand, that moment confirmed to us that he knew excatly what had happened. I felt like the worlds worst person as he flung his little arms around our necks, held us tightly and sobbed into the creases of our skin. We had promised him a baby. We had promised him that he would be a big brother. And now the only thing we could give to him was a little teddy bear the hospital had given us that I had snuggled up to Evalyn before we left her in the hope that we could take a little bit of her presence back to Ieuan.
That’s all we had to offer him. A teddy bear and bad news.
We explained to him that the baby was a girl and that she loved him very much. We told him that her name was Evalyn and that even though she wasn’t with us anymore, he would always be her big brother. We told him that he could talk to us and ask us anything.
And sure enough, over the following days and weeks, the questions came. . . . .
“Mummy? When will the baby come back from Heaven?”
That was by far the hardest one. Where on earth do you start with that one? I explained to him that when someone dies, they don’t come back to live with us but instead, we carry them in our hearts.
There was alot of tummy prodding. He would poke my stomach and ask, “Does that hurt, mummy?” and once when he was snuggled up to me on the sofa he excitedly shouted, “I think I felt the baby kick!” at which point I had to remind him that the baby wasn’t there but that we still loved my tummy very much because that was Evalyn’s home.
“Mummy,” he told me once, “You’re lucky because you’re older than me so you’ll die first and you’ll see Evalyn before me.”
That broke my heart. “O, Ieuan. That’s not lucky. Yes, one day we will all be together. But until then we have to live happy lives so that we can tell Evalyn all of our stories one day.”
He had a few bad dreams in those early weeks. He would call for us in the night and we would run to his room. He wouldn’t tell us what the bad dreams were, only that they were scary. We would hold him and tell him to try and go back to sleep and to think nice dreams and thoughts.
“I don’t know how to make good ones,” he told us and I hated life at that very moment for making our boy go through this too.
I have always said that Ieuan has an old soul. He thinks deeply about things. He sees the world differently to other children his own age. Me and Nick would always laugh at his ‘old man’ personality but after losing Evalyn, I realised that the way in which he perceives the world around him has helped him understand losing Evalyn in a way I never thought he would. There have been many conversations since that have only shown to me how strong a little character he is. . . . .
“Do you go back to work tomorrow?” he asked me two weeks after losing Evalyn.
“No. I’ve got some time off now, remember? I’ve got time off so I can spend it with you.”
“And the baby!” he said.
“Ah, yes. Well, I was meant to be off work to be with the baby. But Evalyn went to Heaven, didn’t she? And even though we’re really sad that Evalyn couldn’t come home with us, I do now get to spend lots of time with you.”
“AND the baby,” he repeated, “Because you said that Evalyn is always here and looking down on us. You said she does everything we do like colouring in and running super fast!”
“You’re right,” I smiled, “You are SO completely right!”
Then there was the time he clambered out of the bath, cupped his little hands around his mouth and shouted I LOVE YOU, BABY, into my belly button. I felt the pinch at the back of my throat and went into my auto pilot response of dealing with this by explaining yet again to him that Evalyn wasn’t inside my tummy anymore.
“I know, mummy,” Ieuan said, throwing me a look like I was crazy, “But if I speak into your tummy then the baby will hear me in Heaven. Your tummy is like a telephone and when your tummy rumbles that’s the baby saying ‘I love you, Ieuan.” How could I possibly argue with that? . . . .
It was never going to be easy, explaining death to a child but I am so proud of Ieuan and the way he handles it in his own little way. He doesn’t even realise how much strength he gives to us. And I feel that it’s important to be as honest as you can when something like this happens. Yes, it’s hard. But it was always going to be harder for his young mind than ours to understand. In a way, I’m greatful for the fact that his age means that he is able to understand Evalyn on a beautiful, innocent level that only a child can.
There is never a day that passes where he doesn’t mention Evalyn in some capacity. Sometimes he’ll call her by name, sometimes he’ll call her ‘the baby’. Other times he’ll go into full conversations about what he thinks she’s up to in Heaven. The other week he called me to his room.
“Look, Mummy! I drew Evalyn!”
I followed the direction of his pointing finger only to find that he’d drawn a smiley face into the condensation on the glass window. My heart melted at the sight of it, although a part of me wished he had drawn it on paper so that I could keep it forever.
Today, he decided that he wanted an ‘Evalyn conversation’.
“When the baby turns one, we could have a little celebration, couldn’t we?”
“That’s a lovely idea,” I told him, my heart bursting with pride and sadness all at the same time.
“We could have a party,” he continued, “And we could send balloons into the sky like we did when she went to Heaven, remember? And we could have a cake with one candle on it. But I would have to blow it out for her. I think she’d like that, wouldn’t she?”
I have no idea what we’ll do when November 8th comes around this year. I have no idea how we’ll cope or what place in our minds and lives we’ll be at. What I do know is that if Ieuan’s got anything to do with it, he will be throwing his little sister quite the party . . .
And that’s exactly how it should be.