Last night in the bathtub I asked you and your brother to say three things you liked about the other. About your brother you said, “He’s here. He’s alive. He says funny things.”
This is yet another example of how hard it is to interpret the effect of your sister’s death on you. You said all this in a very blasé tone. If you did not have a dead baby sister, I’d be assuming you were just acting cool, like, “I don’t know what’s so great about him? He’s here, I guess.”
But you do have a dead baby sister and so I can’t hear “He’s here. He’s alive,” without thinking that you are imagining the alternative. If he weren’t here. If he weren’t alive. Like your other sibling. Like Anja.
You are inscrutable sometimes. I didn’t push to find out what you meant. I think I know. If I still think those things on a daily basis, why wouldn’t you?
You cried on Monday night. You begged not to go to school. On Tuesday, you sobbed and told me if you could just come to my office with me you would be so, so quiet and good. You’ve been having friend trouble. Same old thing as the last few years, with the same old group of girls. Today I went to talk to one of the school’s guidance counsellors. We talked for a bit about the problems going on and then I told him about Anja. I told him how it is hard for you sometimes to deal with stress except by getting angry, or loud, or excessively silly. I said, “I never know how much of what is going on is residual trauma, ongoing trauma, and how much is just her being a six-year-old and living through six-year-old things.” “But,” I added, “I just think if I am still so affected by Anja’s death, she must be too.” And he agreed with me wholeheartedly. “Oh, yes,” he said. And then he suggested we move you into a different class, what he thinks will be a more nurturing class, and away from the problem group. He said, “For a family that is living with the trauma that your family is, I think we should look at making a change.”
I feel both validated and concerned. Always concerned that I am making things more difficult for you by always bringing your sister into it. When I told your teacher this year, I thought, “do I really need to? Does it change how they treat you?” But ultimately I hoped it would make you feel safer. I hoped it would make your teacher understand something about you. And I worried that it would peg you somehow. I felt the same today: validated that the counsellor didn’t think I was crazy for bringing Anja into it and for suggesting that you would still be hurting, that the hurt could affect your comfort and behaviour; concerned that I will make it worse by talking about it.
Oh, I hate that. I hate that I second guess myself. I hate that I doubt myself. I hate that I think to myself for even a second: oh, it’s not really that bad, is it? Shut up and stop being such a big baby.
But you know what? This is the message that is sometimes subtly and sometimes not so subtly but always still pressed upon me. Get over it. It was a long time ago. She was only 3. It’s not her that is upset, it’s you and you’re making it worse for her.
Oh, my little-big E. I hope you like your new class on Monday. I hope I made the right decision. I hope I am doing right by you. In all of this experience, it is you I worry about the most. It is you, I think, for whom this is most unfair. Yes, Anja is dead and that is completely unfair, but she is not here to notice. You my dear, are here. You have to live with it. Your life was tremendously disrupted. Your sense of security was shattered at such a young age. And you live in a world that just doesn’t get that. I’m sorry, love.
We’ll keep trying.