Over the past three and a half years, we have experienced the deaths of several children in our community. The first was my second daughter's best friend. She died in a horrific farming accident. It was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do as a parent, to tell my children that their friend had been killed. Obviously, my children wanted all the details and although I tried to state them matter of factly, the siblings of the little girl who died also confided in my children what they witnessed. It was shocking, and turned our world upside down for a while. We still talk about their friend...as a matter of fact, she came up in a conversation just this morning. It helps my children to know that she isn't forgotten, that it's okay to talk about her still, after all this time. One year after that, another little girl we knew, died while playing on her swing set and our cousin lost a daughter to SIDS. The next year, a family in our community lost their daughter in a car accident near our home (again, they were friends with the siblings of this girl, and my husband was her teacher). Later, our friends lost their little boy due to an accident while he was bathing. My children played with this child almost every week at his aunt's home. This was a few days before other friends of ours lost her first baby during delivery. She was a teacher at our church and the kids were anxiously awaiting the birth of this baby. The baby's cousins are some of their close friends. Later that year another girl in our community died from meningitis (she was also a student of my husband's). Several months later, another friend of mine lost a baby during delivery. My children are friend's with her children and see them weekly.
To say the least, I've gained a lot of experience in this area. It is difficult, but I have found that one of the most important things to do is to keep the good memories alive. It helps the kids to know that they don't have to forget. These families will *never* forget. These families love to talk about their children and appreciate knowing that others haven't forgotten their children. Our children are a constant reminder to them of what could have been.
Teach your children that it's okay to talk to the family about their feelings and about their friend. It brings people together in their pain and is extremely healing for everyone involved. It's important to focus on the fact that life goes on as well.
Our cousin gave birth to a baby girl ten months after Naomi died of SIDS. Our dear little friend who was first killed, now has a set of twin brothers. And my friend who's first child was lost at birth, has just found out she is expecting twins! These are causes to rejoice. Joy still exists and it isn't betraying those who have died. In fact, we believe they are rejoicing with us when good things happen. If you are still...you can feel them. They are still very real to us, and they need to be lest we feel that we are supposed to forget and pretend that they never mattered. They still matter to us very much.
We have plans to make a memorial garden for them where we can put flowers and stepping stones with their names and such. We also talk about how happy it will be when we can see them again. They are okay and in a good, safe, happy place watching over us. Their world is very close to ours.
What happened to them and to their families and our family was very sad, but with time the sadness gives way to a conviction that they are not really gone. That is one thing we have all learned from these deaths. Our faith was tested and we have planted our feet firmly in it as we have come through the pain. You can't go over the pain or around it...but you can make it through it and it *does* ease up. But you will never forget and remembering becomes less and less painful with time, even though we still cry for them sometimes. I think we always will.