“Is Josh still a baby or is he grown up?” asks my sweet rainbow girl from the backseat.
I look at her dad, our eyes share the same sadness. “I’m not sure baby girl. I kind of hope he’s still a baby so someday we can watch him grow up together.”
“Me too. I hope he’s still a baby in heaven.”
Madeline has been asking more and more questions lately. She has added him to her nightly prayers. She includes him in every picture she draws of her family. She wants to know all about her big brother. It is so heartbreakingly beautiful to hear her talk about how much she loves the big brother she never to meet.
Joshua was to be our firstborn. Our son. We were going to decorate his room in a Kansas City Royals baseball theme. We had plans. God or life or the universe had other plans. Joshua didn’t come home with us from the hospital. His nursery sat packed up and never completed. Our hearts ached.
Six months after we stood in front of a tiny white casket (a sight that no parent should ever have to see), I stood there holding a white stick with two pink lines. There was a light in the middle of all of the darkness. A rainbow was coming.
Madeline was born just a month and a half after what should have been her big brother’s first birthday. She came into our world and brought all of the joy and light and color back into our broken hearts.
To lose a child is beyond devastating. To get the blessing of getting to raise a rainbow (a child born after a loss) is hard and beautiful and unfair and wonderful all at the same time. Each milestone Madeline hits is one that we lost with her brother. Each question she asks about who he was and would be makes me feel a thousand different emotions all at once.
We have never shied away from telling Madeline about the big brother that she never knew. We have photos around. We always include him when talking about our family. When the holidays come or we go on a special family adventure, we always try to include him somehow. We often spot a cardinal following us around the zoo, and we say, “hi, Josh” as we go along our way, fairly certain that it is him just checking in with us.
But how do I teach our daughter about the brother that she will never meet, about the son I only got 36 hours to know?
Madeline started kindergarten this year. The school’s get to know you questionnaire asked if she had any siblings. “Yes. Madeline has a big brother who passed away shortly after birth. She didn’t get to meet him, but she likes to talk about him often.” Many of her friends have brothers and sisters. They cheer these siblings on at their games and give them big hugs and high fives. It hurts to know that Madeline is watching and beginning to really understand what she is missing.
There is no big brother giving her flowers after her dance recital. There are no photos of her brother sweetly holding her for the first time. There is no brother teasing her for missing a soccer goal. There is no brother for her to play catch with, have a tea party with, or build tall Lego towers only to knock them down together.
It is hard to be a little sister with no big brother there to protect you.
She asks why she can’t go visit her brother. I tell her I’m so sorry that he isn’t here to play with her, but Heaven is just too far away to go visit right now.
Watching her miss him will always be one of the most bittersweet things in my life. Knowing that even though Heaven and Earth separate them, she still feels connected to him. I will continue to remind her, every time that missing gets too big for her to understand, that he is still her big brother and nothing will ever change the special bond and connection she feels to him.