We were on our way home from your swimming lesson when you said it.
The clouds that had been slowly rolling their way in throughout the course of the afternoon were now dispelling their contents in large raindrops on the car windscreen. The sun was beginning to be swallowed by the grey sky but not before giving us the gift of a rainbow.
A beautiful, vibrant rainbow.
This led to an ‘Evalyn conversation.’ It always does. We told you eighteen months ago when your mind was younger that rainbows are little “hello’s” from your sister. In a way, we were partly sugar-coating death for you, but in another way, I really do believe this to be the truth.
It is a way for us all to stay connected to her.
“There she is,” I smiled as you looked out of the window from the back seat, “Saying ‘hello’ to everyone she had to leave behind.”
“Like you left her behind,” you replied and my heart froze in place.
“Like you had to leave Evalyn behind at the hospital. Remember? You had to leave her there, didn’t you?”
And just like that, I suddenly realised that you aren’t four years old anymore. You’re nearly six. And in growing up, your mind is changing and understanding Evalyn’s death on a new level. A level that I have tried to keep you safe from, not to hide you from it, but to keep you from knowing too much at too young an age. No four year old should know about death. No six year old should have to know about death in the way that you do. No child should have to suffer loss on any level. Because it takes away a beautiful innocence that parents wish their children could keep hold of forever.
But there you were, uttering words from the backseat that were a completely innocent observation to you, but to myself, showed me that you are changing and understanding and in turn, growing up.
Because when you were four years old and your sister didn’t come home with us from the hospital, we told you that she left us. That she had to go away. That her heart stopped beating in Mummy’s tummy and she had to leave us and go to Heaven.
We never told you how it was us who had to walk away from her. That, even though we didn’t want to, life gave us no option. There were no choices given. We had to walk away. We had to leave Evalyn behind because that was the only option on the table.
But as far as your young mind understood, Evalyn died at the hospital and then she went straight to Heaven. The who, how, why, what and when didn’t matter to you.
Now you are starting to put two and two together and it terrifies me. It terrifies me because in you understanding more and more about Evalyn’s death, you will in turn have more and more questions. You will start to ask me things on a more grown up level and I can’t put a bandage over my answers.
I will have to tell you the truth.
And in picking apart at my answers, will the magical, ‘Guardian Angel’ figure who Evalyn has become to you suddenly evaporate?
Will Evalyn still remain the same in your mind?
Or will she just be your baby sister who died?
Will she just be your sister who you were able to move on from but Mummy and Daddy never could? Will she just become a story you tell your friends when they ask about your siblings . . . . I had this baby sister who died. It doesn’t make me feel sad or anything. I never knew her anyway . . .
Back in the car, I was wondering what to say to you. The traffic light had turned from red to amber to green and the car behind me was honking loudly, the driver not understanding why my limbs were as frozen in place as my thoughts. I shifted into gear and the car started to roll forward.
“Like we left Evalyn behind?” I asked you, trying to keep my tone casual.
“Yeah,” you frowned, “You did have to leave her behind at the hospital, didn’t you? Because she never came home?”
Without even knowing it, you had found a strand of cotton on the ‘jumper of comfort’ I had so delicately made for you since your sister had died and you had pulled it. And in pulling it, you had started to unravel all of my words at once. At that moment I was already praying that I could somehow stitch it all back together but it’s a long running family joke just how bad at sewing I am . . . .
In that moment, I realised two things:
- You are growing up.And,
- I don’t have to be afraid of that fact.
I just have to tell you the truth.
Just like I always do. But as you grow up, I now realise that that truth will change as your level of understanding grows. Because, I guess, that is what growing up is all about. Evalyn never got the chance to grow up. But you did. You are. And in growing up, I have to be fair and I have to truthful and honest and I have to adapt our story of Evalyn as you begin to understand it more.
It does petrify me, I’ll be honest. Because I know the day will come – and most probably soon – when you will start to ask more questions. You will probably ask why you never went to your own sister’s funeral. As an older child it may seem cruel, but as the four year old that you were who believed Evalyn had magically gone from the hospital to the sky, how could I then present the tiniest of wicker baskets to you and tell you that she was sleeping inside?
And Evalyn’s ‘stardust’ that we so lovingly sprinkled in her special place? How on earth am I going to tell you that those were her ashes? How on earth do you tell a young child that Mummy and Daddy had only two options . . . To bury our child in the ground or cremate them? As an adult, we understand that this is the nature of life. As a child, I can only imagine that it is incredibly confusing and may bring up more questions. Knowing you, my boy – who looks at the world full of questions and wonderment – I know that there will be more difficult conversations ahead . . . .
“You’re right,” I told you, thankful I was driving and that you couldn’t see the tears that had formed in my eyes, “We did have to leave Evalyn behind. But we left her with some wonderful doctors and midwives who looked after her when we left. And we didn’t want to leave her, Ieuan. We wished so much that we could have brought her home to you.”
“Did it make you sad?”
You were trying to figure it out. You were trying to put our ‘white lies’ and your ‘truth’ together.
“O Ieu,” I told you, “It made me so incredibly sad. It made me sad because I didn’t want to leave Evalyn behind at all. I wanted to stay with her forever and tell her how much I loved her just like I love you. But I also knew that I had to leave because she was already in the sky by then and I knew that you needed me too. Mummy and Daddy had some time with your sister, but we had to get home to you because you hadn’t seen us for a while and we knew you’d be worried.”
“I was a bit,” your little voice replied, “But I KNOW what made you feel better? Do you want to know what it was?”
“Tell me,” I say, intrigued.
“My hugs,” you said, “My hugs always make you feel better, don’t they? You always say that so it must be true. So that’s probably why you had to leave Evalyn, isn’t it?”
Ieuan, for as long as I live, thank you. Thank you for saying the words that next escaped your mouth when I enquired as to your reasoning so I could try and understand your thought process . . .
Your thought processing is one of the most beautiful things I have ever known. . .
“You HAD to leave Evalyn because she couldn’t hug you. And you say that your ‘hugs from your babies’ mean everything. So you HAD to get home to me so I could give you a hug. Because you were feeling sad. But a hug from your babies would mean everything . . . . So I just hugged you twice.”
Ieuan, you are growing up. Your mind is changing. Your understanding is changing. But you never fail to amaze me in the way you have taken Evalyn into your heart.
You are, quite simply, amazing.