Think back to when you were 5 years old. I remember that time in my life fondly. School was new and exciting and you're happy to learn new things. Your parents can do no wrong and are often times your heroes. Your biggest worries are what games to play with your friends. It's a time of innocence. It's that time that as an adult I can look back upon and wish to relive.
It was a Friday like any other and my daughter was excited to hand out invitations in school to her girlfriends for her upcoming birthday party. This was a big deal as she was eleven days shy of her fifth birthday and had spent the last few months forming friendships in her kindergarten class. We had worked hard the night before glitter painting invites.
She was waiting for her brother and I at parent pick-up in line with all of the other kids, only I wasn't there, her grandfather was. There was some confusion as he wasn't on the pick-up list and she had to wait for her principal to confirm who he was. Once that was settled, she got into a strange car with her grandfather and made the one mile drive back to our house.
The scene when she got there was terrifying. There were police and firetrucks everywhere. There was yellow tape and a lot of people standing around in shock. There were cameras and helicopters. My car was in the road and hung up on some rocks across the street. This was far from a normal Friday.
My daughter went into my house with her grandfather, who was in a state of shock. A neighbor showed up, there were phone calls and she was suddenly going over to the neighbor's house to play. Even though this sounded like a fantastic idea to my 4-year-old, she knew something was wrong.
Her daddy came over later to kiss her goodnight and tuck her in. She said to him that she knew Mommy was in a car accident and asked if I was alright. My husband told her I was ok, and that we would talk in the morning.
Her daddy brought her home the next morning and she walked into the living room to find me on the couch. The first words out of her mouth were, "Where's Benny?" Those words nearly killed me because I knew that we would have to tell her something so awful that would forever change her life. She was only 4.
Today she is 7. I don't think she's any closer to understanding now what happened two and half years ago. I know that I'm not. She's struggled with emotions that she can't begin to explain and anger at why something like this would happen. She's regressed at home and acted out in school. She saw a counselor for two years and acted out car accidents in play therapy. It took her six months to just be able to talk about her brother again. She asked me so many tough questions regarding the accident and tried to find someone to blame. She wanted to know if I had strapped him in his car seat correctly. She asked why God was so mean that he decided to let her brother die. She just didn't understand.
Her night terrors returned. Anxiety replaced excitement for new things. Innocence was lost. She knew pain, sorrow and that life is just sometimes downright unfair for no reason at all. It started to feel like we had another adult in the house. She was always Type A, but now it was Type A on steroids. She needed to know every detail of every little thing. Things had to fit into neat little boxes to make sense again for her in her world.
If we were going out, there were bound to be repercussion's the next day. The first time my husband and I traveled alone some 16 months later, she was a handful upon our return. She was scared when we were gone that something could happen to us, but a child cannot always understand that, so instead she acted out again.
It's a long road for surviving siblings, especially when they are too young to articulate exactly what they are feeling. Five should be a time of fun and adventure, not reality and sadness. As a parent, it kills me that she had to go through this. You never want to see your children in pain or struggle. She is the strongest 7-year-old that I know and one of the bravest. She is what kept me going every day when I just wanted to give up. I hate that this has changed who she is; I only hope that she won't let it define her.
This post is part of Common Grief, a Healthy Living editorial initiative. Grief is an inevitable part of life, but that doesn't make navigating it any easier. The deep sorrow that accompanies the death of a loved one, the end of a marriage or even moving far away from home, is real. But while grief is universal, we all grieve differently. So we started Common Grief to help learn from each other. Let's talk about living with loss. If you have a story you'd like to share, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.