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Death From a Child's Perspective — an article on the Smart Living Network
August 5, 2011 at 4:46 PMComments: 8 Faves: 1

Death From a Child's Perspective


This isn't an easy subject or a light-hearted one. It's not something I like to talk about often, or that I've spoke about for a long time. I'm sharing it now, because I think it might be helpful for someone else, but I was young, so I'll have to do the best I can recalling it. My first experience with death was at age 7. My sister died during birth when the umbilical cord strangled her.

My parents had left me with the babysitter on their way to the hospital so I found out  there. I remember my babysitter and her daughters crying, and I remember being sad, but not as much as you'd expect. I think it was a shock and it was hard to understand. When I got to the hospital, my mom looked horrible and yet they took pictures. They even asked me to hold her - Paige Elise, for a few of them. My mom keeps these in a photo album just for her along with a keepsake box of her things, a dress, a stuffed animal, a pacifier. As a child, I thought - picture being taken - you smile right? I smiled at the camera. Bizarre.

The hospital gave me children's books on death that I still have to this day for some reason. They had questions like "Is death like sleeping?" ( No, death is not like sleeping...) "When will they come back?" (They won't come back...).

I remember getting ready for the funeral, picking out a fancy dress at the store. My mother bought Paige and I matching gold heart necklaces. She was buried with hers and I still have mine. I drove there with my grandmother, and though it sounds made up, it was mid summer, it hadn't rained in weeks and there were three brush fires we passed on the way there. When I got there, I remember she looked like a porcelain doll with rosy cheeks and long white dress.

As a child, I think I was somewhat shielded from the full impact of the loss. I was selfish and inward thinking like all children. I felt it was my fault. I was worried a new baby would take attention away from me and I had prayed to NOT have sister. (Though originally, being an only child, I had begged for one.) I thought God had listened to my prayers.

And I remember feeling very lonely - as you can imagine, it was devastating to my parents and especially my mother who had sewn her entire crib set and painted it with stars, had bought everything a baby would need and had a closet of clothes ready.

I remember at that time I would have nightmares that I had died. That I was a ghost and no one could see or hear me, no mater how hard I tried.

The next year, my mother became pregnant again and she was definitely worried, even to the point of superstition. She wouldn't tell anyone the name. She didn't sew a comforter or paint any paintings this time around. Yet, despite her worrying, my sister, Haley Jane was born healthy. My mother had insisted on a c-section delivery this time. I, myself had been delivered by emergency c-section and she felt resentful toward the doctor's urging her to go for a natural delivery with Paige. She wondered if she had pressed harder for one, if it would have saved her.

Haley's room was attached to mine though a shared vanity and bathroom. I remember I would get up in the night and check to make sure she was still breathing.

Since, then I have experienced the loss of two great grandmothers (I barely knew), an uncle (I barely knew), pet cats and guniea pigs (I was devastated by) and the loss of my mother and father in law (very untimely, unexpected and traumatic). Every time, it affected me in a slightly different way and though each loss was painful and extremely hard, I went on, recovered and became stronger for it.

Far more recently, after the death of one of our much loved cats, Felix, I was absolutely heartbroken, laying in my bed and crying when my daughter, Ivy, 8 years old, sat next me.

"Are you sad about Felix, Mommy?"

"Yes." I said, "I will miss him very much."

"Me too...but he'll come back, right?"

I was somewhat startled. "No, honey. He's dead..."

And she, quicker than me, said " Yes, I know, but after you die, you live again, right?"

I couldn't help it. I smiled. Young, but so wise. "Yes, that's right."

Ultimately, though death is painful, it is an important part of each life. Knowing that the ones we have lost are not suffering, and for myself, with my own spiritual beliefs, knowing that they are not REALLY gone, is comforting.

I've wondered before how things would have been different had Paige Elise lived. Would she have inherited my mom's creativity like me and Haley had? Would there have been a Haley? How would I, myself, be different without having experienced her loss at such a young age?

It's interesting to imagine, but I still like to think that everything happens for a reason. I like to believe that her spirit is where it is meant to be and though it may not be obvious, and her time wasn't long, I like to believe she left some positive impact behind.

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  • That's why Albert hired you. You are an amazing writer! I cried through most of your story and it gave me some strength, too. My mom died when I was 9 years old and at that time I blamed myself because of a bad dream I had the night before (kids minds...). I still miss her today very much. I am sure we all have memories like that. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Awww... thanks, Petra! I was a little bit worried about writing it, because I didn't want people to feel sorry for me or think I was looking for that. I just felt like it was an important issue - though, I have to say, it was kind of therapeutic writing it out.

    I'm really sorry to hear about your mom. :( And at 9! That must have been so hard. I can't even imagine.

  • Erin, Thank you for sharing this. You went through a tough experience at such a young age and I'm glad you were able share. This is a blog that will definitely reach others. It's hard to understand death at a young age. But I feel like more children than we think go through something like this.

    Thanks again for sharing!

  • I definitely teared up when reading this, Erin. This is very touching and emotional, and I agree with Petra great writing! Its interesting to think back to when I was a little kid and what I thought of death, and that most kids have to deal with it in some way.

  • Bri, Kara - Thank you so much!

    The way children understand death and process their emotions is definitely different than an adult does. Children are "self-centered", that is, they think of everything in terms of how it relates to themselves. Because of this, many children believe they are in some way responsible for the death.

    Because of this, whether or not a child expresses those sorts of beliefs or feelings, (I know I never said anything about it to MY parents) when a death occurs, I would urge parents to explain to their children that nothing they did or said or thought caused it.

  • I am deeply touched by the story. It was amazing journey.

  • Thanks, Fekadu. :)

  • Very touching story! Viewing or hearing about death is never easy - at any age!

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