**Triggers: pregnancy after loss / rainbow baby **
Explaining death to a four year old was never going to be easy. Where do you start? How do you start to explain that the perfect little world that they live in can sometimes be full of sorrow and heartache? How do you even begin to find the right words that will ultimately break your child’s heart?
In the days after we told Ieuan about his sister’s death, he was unusually quiet. Nick and I had agreed that we would let him come to us with any questions he may have had and we were very open with him in our responses when he did. But I would find myself watching him from afar, wondering what was going through his mind. After all, at only four years old, how would he know how to communicate his feelings? How would he even know how to make sense of his feelings? What if he had something to ask us or say but he didn’t know how to find the words? So many ‘what ifs’.
In those early days, I would find myself venturing into the great unknown, pushing him slightly for answers just so I could figure out his own level of grief and therefore try and find a way to help him fathom his way through it.
“I was thinking about Evalyn today,” I told him, “Do you think about Evalyn?”
“Yeah. Sometimes,” he would respond.
“You used to like talking to my little bump, didn’t you? Does it make you feel sad that you can’t do that anymore?”
What are you thinking, Ieuan? I would ask myself. How are you dealing with your loss? How can I find a way to really get into your mind? How can I find a way for you to talk to me? Maybe at four years old, it doesn’t even hurt as much and I’m letting my mind go into a complete overdrive worrying about you? . . .
“I got Ieuan a puppet,” my mum told me a few weeks later, “We had them in the school where I worked. The kids loved talking to them and Ieuan loves his teddy bears anyway. You never know, maybe he’ll love it?”
It took Ieuan all but 5 seconds to fall in love with his puppet. It helped even more that my mum had bought the puppet and Ieuan matching Christmas jumpers.
“We look like brothers,” Ieuan giggled whilst cuddling his new friend on the sofa.
“What are we going to call him?,” I asked.
Ieuan rolled up the creases of his forehead as he thought long and hard.
“Bryan!” He laughed, “I’m going to call him Bryan because it rhymes with Ieuan.”
Over the next few days, Bryan sat on the end of Ieuan’s bed waiting to be brought to life as I tried to summon up some ventriloquist skills that I was secretly hoping I had but were very well hidden.
It started with Ieuan’s bedtime stories.
It turned out Bryan was American (mainly because it’s one of the only accents I can semi-do and it’s the first voice that came out of Bryan’s mouth). Coincidentally, we also learnt that Bryan was the same age as Ieuan and that he was incredibly cheeky and would often find ways to interrupt the bedtime stories I read to them in the evenings – which Ieuan found hilarious, but Mummy not so much. I would find myself constantly telling Bryan that if he didn’t stop being naughty, I would have to stop the story altogether and I then noticed how Ieuan started to talk directly to his much-loved puppet, telling him to listen and to behave, all the while trying not to laugh himself.
It also turned out that Bryan was not afraid to talk about death . . . .
“Do you have any brothers or sisters?” Bryan asked Ieuan one day. They’d been talking about Ieuan’s school day when Bryan decided to change the subject.
“I had a sister,” Ieuan told him, “But she’s in Heaven. She was just a baby but she didn’t come home from the hospital.”
“That must be really hard,” Bryan told him, placing one of his cotton hands onto Ieuan’s own, “But I think you’re being really brave. Does it make you feel sad?”
“Sometimes, it does. But Mummy and Daddy told her all about me so she knows who I am. And she gave me her teddy bear, Ela. Do you want to see?”
Ieuan raced to get his Ela bear and I watched as he showed Bryan, all the while listening to their conversation about life, loss and love. Bryan, in his own beautiful way, had shown Ieuan that not only was it easy to talk about death, but also that it was alright to talk about it too. He didn’t have to be afraid of it.
“You know you can talk to your Mum and Dad about anything, don’t you?” Bryan told him, “And I’m always here for you too.”
And just like that, Ieuan started to talk more about Evalyn. He started to ask so many questions it was hard to keep up. Sometimes he spoke to me, sometimes Nick, but sometimes he would just talk to Bryan. Of course, he knew who Bryan really was. He knew that Bryan’s magic didn’t work unless I was there too. But in his own unique way, Bryan acted as a bridge for the questions our son was too scared to ask us and in doing so, Ieuan learnt that mine and Nick’s ears were always open to his thoughts and feelings.
“Sometimes I just don’t want to make Mummy and Daddy sad,” he told Bryan one day, “So I’ll just ask you instead. Is that Ok?”
Bryan tilted his head and looked at him. “You could never make your parents sad. In fact, you make them happy. You are a huge reason for their happiness. They like talking about your sister. And they like sharing that with you.”
Eighteen months later, and he still sits on the shelf in Ieuan’s bedroom. He got Ieuan through alot. His early grief, his understanding of loss, his worries about me and Nick being pregnant with Iola. But mostly, he was able to make Ieuan laugh in those early days in a way that myself and Nick weren’t able to do. He made Ieuan laugh which in turn made us all laugh out loud together and laughing whilst grieving is one of the hardest things to do.
It was only when we were redecorating Ieuan’s bedroom this past weekend when I picked Bryan back off the shelf and realised that it has been a long time since I’ve done so. With Iola’s arrival, our focus has shifted slightly and although Evalyn is mentioned every day, our grief has reshaped itself. It’s still there. It always will be. But it is not as raw as it was eighteen months ago. And now being nearly six years of age, my mind always felt that perhaps Bryan wasn’t as magical to Ieuan as he may have been at four years old.
I turned to find Ieuan standing in his bedroom doorway with a huge smile on his face. He looked down at his puppet in my hands and then expectantly back up at me.
“What have you been up to?” Ieuan asked.
“I’ve been tidying your room,” I told him, “You need to pick up all of your cars, Ieu. I keep tripping -”
“Not YOU, Mum,” he laughed, “I’m talking to Bryan! What have you been up to, Bryan?”
I looked at my son in amazement and then down at the puppet in my hands. And just like that, I realised that maybe their relationship wasn’t quite finished yet. Maybe Ieuan still needed his friend . . .
“Ieuan!!!!” Bryan sprung to life and knelt down until their eyes were level , “How have you gotten so big? We haven’t spoken for a while. You ok, buddy? I’ve missed you!”
“Guess what, Bryan?”
“What?” Bryan tilted his head the way he always did when Ieuan asked him a question.
“You have to guess?”
“Errrr, you got a job?”
“Nope,” Ieuan laughed.
“Learned to drive?”
“Nooooooo,” more laughter.
“You’ve FINALLY started eating pasta based meals?”
Ieuan burst out laughing, “You KNOW I don’t like pasta!!”
“YUK!” They both said in unison whilst I reminded them both that pasta will make them big and strong (if only they would try it once in a while) and they both rolled their eyes in response.
“I’ve got a new baby sister,” Ieuan told him excitedly.
“You ALREADY have a sister, remember?” Bryan said.
“I know. Evalyn! But this is a NEW baby sister!! Come and see!!”
He took Bryan’s hand and led us both into the girls room where Iola was sleeping in her cot. Ieuan smiled at me, then at Bryan.
“See,” he said matter-of-factly, “I told you.”
“O my goodness!” Bryan moved closer to the cot and peered over the side, “She’s beautiful. You must love her so much – Hey? What does this do?”
We both watched and laughed as Bryan picked up Iola’s dummy and tried putting it in her ear, then her cheek, quickly followed by trying to use it to comb her hair.
“It’s her dummy,” Ieuan laughed, taking it from him, “It goes in her mouth. You are so silly, Bryan.”
Bryan looked at him, then up at me and I think we all realised that maybe we do need eachother in our lives for a little bit longer. Maybe we’re not ready to let go of that magic.
Not just yet . . .
“We’ve missed you, Bryan,” my son’s little voice whispered as his sister continued to snore happily.
“I’ve missed you guys too,” he whispered back, “So very, very much.”