By: Julia Henry
After months of discussion and consideration, we made a parenting non-decision.
We would spend December 12 as we have for the last 8 years, and if it seemed to make sense to share our story with the girls for the first time during that day, then we would. If not, then we would try another time.
Our story is one of loss. It began on December 12, 2006 when our first child, Caroline Maria Henry, was born still. In an instant, the life my husband and I knew was shaken and unrecognizable. Our devastation, shock and heartbreak was deep. Working to find healing and hope was not easy, but we found inspiration in our desire to honor what Caroline’s brief physical presence in our lives had meant to us.
As our lives unfolded after the loss of Caroline, we were blessed, in time, with two more beautiful, healthy daughters. When the girls were babies, my husband and I could talk about Caroline and our experience of loss as often as we wanted. As they grew and could understand more, we naturally moved those conversations to moments when the girls were not within earshot. There was no one reason for this and no discussion between my husband and myself deciding to take this course. It was just the best we could do at the time.
My husband and I wanted both girls to know about Caroline and her lasting impact on our family life. We just really did not know when we would tell them or how we would tell them. When the prospect of sharing this with them came up in conversations, it was always in terms of “someday.”
Someday turned out to be much sooner than we expected. When the oldest of our two subsequent daughters became school-age, it became clearer all the time that, with our guidance, she had a decent understanding of matters we thought were beyond her age. She was curious about all she heard around her and asked lots of questions. Gradually, the topic of Caroline was pushed even further from our conversations.
A precious part of our lives, hearts and family had become somewhat of a taboo in our home. A secret not to be spoken of or referenced in any way. We simply did not want either of the girls to learn of Caroline and our loss in any other way than directly from us in a manner thoughtful and considerate of their feelings.
Overall, we were anxious about sharing our story of loss with the girls. We did not want to transfer a burden of sadness or grief onto their hearts. However, we did not want to tell them at an age when they may be truly resentful that we did not share with them sooner.
To help find clarity about the best course to take, we talked through the matter with family and friends we trusted and those who had insight into these types of matters, including Share staff members. This was very helpful. However, it clarified even further that we could not predict how our children would react to the news of our loss of Caroline before them. A leap of faith would be involved in telling them. Much like a leap of faith was involved in our subsequent pregnancies after our loss.
The day arrived. Our non-decision would soon be made for us. Vague answers to questions about where we were going and why we had flowers with a pink and silver bow did not suffice for seven and three year old girls as we drove to the cemetery. My husband and I exchanged looks in the front seat. It seemed we would be telling them shortly. Deep breaths. Remain calm.
As all four of us stood at Caroline’s graveside, my husband and I shared the story of our loss of our first child with the two children who had come after, our voices alternately steady and unsteady.
Our three year old did not comprehend what we were telling her, but it was comforting knowing that she will always know of Caroline and that we can help her process Caroline’s presence in our family as she grows.
Our seven year old daughter understood. As my husband and I spoke, she began looking intently into our faces, turning back and forth between us, each time it seeming like she wanted to bore holes through us with her searching eyes. I could see her full comprehension come over her face as it happened.
Her first words, a question: “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
My breath caught. How was a seven year old so insightful? My answer seemed so insufficient, and in that moment, I felt I had let her down tremendously as a parent. Trying to hold a steady voice, I answered: “I am sorry we didn’t tell you sooner. We didn’t know how to tell you or when to tell you.”
The remainder of our time at the cemetery was filled with tears, questions, good discussions and comic relief from our three year old.
In the days and weeks that followed, it was simply amazing to watch our seven year old take such a strong ownership of this new knowledge of the sister who came before her. She had a confidence and sureness in processing this matter that I had not seen in her before. She seemed to know what she needed; sharing with friends, cousins and teachers; drawing in her own Share memory book; and talking with my husband and I about questions she had.
As a parent, I felt relief. Relief that Caroline was no longer a secret in our home and in our family life. Relief that our young daughters were on good footing in the new knowledge of the sister who came before them, and that they could know our complete family as my husband and I have known.
In the nearly ten years since Caroline was stillborn, I have shared our story of loss at various times with new friends and even strangers. Each time involved a leap of faith and a preparation to steel myself in case the response was not as I hoped it would be. Sharing our story of loss while parenting has required the biggest leap of faith yet. But the response from our daughters and openness it has brought to our family has been a truly beautiful experience that has touched my heart beyond words.
Brian and Julia’s daughter, Elise Henry, proudly donated money received as gifts from her first communion to Share in memory and honor of her big sister, Caroline.