Tuesday, September 17, 2019

14 emails - Parenting After Loss

Stillbirth, parenting after loss

At the beginning of each school year, my husband and I get a friendly email from my daughter’s eager new teacher. In it lies instructions for the days ahead as the school year kicks off and an invitation to write to the teacher to provide helpful information about our family context.

Four years ago, I would have glanced at the email with a smile and breezed right by. Now, however, my body sobers as the reality of my daughter’s life strikes me again. Her reality is being the oldest of three, with one living and one deceased sister. Her reality includes talk of death and dying since age two. Having a much different childhood experience, she is truly paving the path for all of us.

I wonder for how many years I’ll be writing this email to her teacher, explaining the loss in my daughter’s life. Giving context to family trees and portraits that might have five or four people, depending if she chooses to include her deceased sister, which ebbs and flows, often depending on the season. While Quinn is very present in our family conversations and traditions, we let Riley take the lead at school.

There would be 14 emails between prekindergarten and 12th grade, giving context to our family that includes both life and death. 14 teachers who are part of our village to give our daughter support and courage to face the joys and sorrows that may lay ahead in the 41 weeks of each school year.

However, I don’t think I’ll be sending 14 emails. I have sent three so far, and I wonder for how long it will be my responsibility to give the teacher our family context, before it falls on her. I often wonder what the conversation will look like with her teachers and/or friends after she takes the baton. Will her sister’s death even come up? Will Riley even talk about her? Did I give her the tools she needed growing up to have that conversation?

Riley carries a weight that I never had at her age - growing up holding her sister’s memory in her heart and alive in her life. At the young age of six and as the oldest sibling, she in particular, feels the void of her deceased sister during holidays and birthdays the most. She is the first to cry and the first to ask to light the Quinn candle. As a role model for her younger sister, she paves the way through the heavy breaths of grief that come and go throughout the year.

This year, my email to her teacher is straightforward and light. The response was full of understanding and compassion. With it, we launch into another school year of joy, sorrow and family portraits.