Saturday, December 26, 2009

Helping our children come to terms with life's hardest lessons

Katie Starr is a most sensitive soul and lately her sensitivity is being fully felt in the area of losing her grandfather and the illness that preceded his death.

After Big Al passed away back in September, we chose what we felt was the best time (if there is such a thing) to discuss his death in the simplest of terms with them. I wrote about it on the blog in this post. Ethan was not developmentally able to grasp the concept at all, which I was grateful for at the time, as four is quite a young age to process it. Katie, who is also four but emotionally older, was able to process it just enough to begin to dwell on it and try to figure it all out. You could tell she was quite perplexed that she would not be able to see Grandpa, other than in pictures or in memories or her dreams but she seemed satisfied at the time with our answers to her questions.

That did not last very long....

She speaks about him quite often and when she does, she always tells us that she misses him and cries a bit. Each time she brings him up we reinforce the seeds that have already been sewn and she seems to understand a bit more, although she is still going through her own grieving process. When she sees Grandma she always tells her how much she misses Grandpa and goes through the same process. It is so hard to see her so sad but I know that it is her way of making it more concrete.

Katie is so vulnerable to loss. She has had too much of it in her short life; more than anyone should ever have to deal with. She and actually both of her brothers have had losses of one or both of their biological parents and even Justin's dad is not available to him in any real sense and has not been for a very long time. I know that all of my children struggle with the fallout from this and it manifests in different ways. With Katie, who lost both her bio parents as well as her foster parents, the pain was quite raw for a very long time. She has a real fear of abandonment and loss. When one of us is sick she literally becomes physically upset by it. When her grandparents leave after a visit she is always saddened by it.

Last evening, just before our holiday dinner, I was talking while eating and the food went down the wrong pipe. This is never good but because I am getting over a bout with Bronchitis, I really struggled for breath and once I caught it, I ran coughing and gagging to the bathroom while Justin, my mom and Judy ran after me to make sure I was OK. This episode went on for about 10 minutes and while it was happening, both Katie and Ethan were VERY upset. Katie was really more than just upset, she was just about inconsolable and clung to me for the rest of the evening as she kept reminding me how upset she was and that she "gets so scared when Mommy is sick."

I am glad that she is able to verbalize her fear although I believe it this fear of illness begins with the fear that any of her loved ones will leave her again.

Katie has always been a "thinker." It makes life a bit more trying for her as she mulls things over and over. I knew she was this way from the first days we became her parents back in China. She grieved so much harder and so much longer than any of the children in our travel group. The entire group worried about her and it last for months after we came home. You can see the her little mind trying to come to terms with her loss in this photo taken in China. She takes nothing lightly and I feel in my heart that she will have the hardest time coming to terms with why she lost her biological parents. She is much like Justin in this way. Ethan is a "doer" and even though he is quite bright, he does not dwell on things and he does not suffer in the same way. I may be proven wrong but this is how I see it all playing out.

I will see how it unfolds with her as we try to use these moments to comfort her as much as we can. She is really such a happy and resilient child. I know in time that she will be able to process this in her own way and I pray that she begins to feel secure that our family will not be going anywhere...that we are here to stay...for her and for her brothers....forever.


Of course, the fact that Marc was seriously ill for several months during the time his dad was so ill and hospitalized twice as well as being on IV antibiotics for 6 weeks here at home has probably heightened the response as well. Thanks to Corinne for reminding me of that. Hard to believe that I have already put that period of our life so far behind me that I forgot that it is part of the issue that we are still living.


Tammie said...

Katie Starr is such a sweet & sensitive soul. I know that she will figure it all out one day with the guidance of her loving family.

Monica said...

I feel for her. Our Katies are so similar this way. They not only feel deeply, they are thinkers. I know that she will come through this because she has such a beautiful family. Keep doing what you are doing Lori you are a extraordinary Mom. While you can't take away the losses that she has, I thank G*d that she has you to help her process that loss & be able to come out on the other side of it.

a Tonggu Momma said...

I'm typically a lurker, but I just had to comment on this post because our Tongginator is also very sensitive to losses. Last year, when she was four, she lost two people (her grandfather and our next-door-neighbor/ mom to one of her close friends/ my close friend). It's taken awhile for her to process this... she still talks about it sometimes. I read her a lot of books that seemed to help, if you are interested in hearing the titles.

Life with JJ, Starr and Spice said...

Tonggu Momma,

Thanks for De-lurking and posting about your daughter. I would very much appreciate the names of the books. We have read one that the director of Katie's preschool recommended called "Lifetimes" but have not read any others.

Again, in advance I thank you :)

Vivian M said...

Unfortunately we have lived through your post way earlier with Kerri. She lost her first pet Charlie before the age of two, and then her Grandma Donna at two. She "lost" her uncles and New Grandpa at three, and then Grandma Felisa passed away just a few months ago.
The questions will continue to come, and it has taken Kerri a long time to deal with the losses. She too was afraid of losing us, and took several steps backwards with her attachment issues. But your love and reassurances will help Katie through this in time. If you ever need to talk, let me know and I will call!
I think the books might help. (Hugs).

Mama Duck said...

Lori, I think that you really have a handle on your little Starr...and that's going to be invaluable to her as she grows and struggles with the issues that she has. You and Marc are right there providing her with a foundation of love and support that's going to help her learn how to cope with life's losses. Best wishes for a happy new year!

Teresa said...

I lost my dad to cancer when I was 8 years old and my mom never remarried. My biggest fear growing up was that I would lose my mom too. In fact, a few months after my dad died, my mom was intervening in an argument my sister and I were having (typical kid stuff) and I distinctly remember her crying and screaming that she wanted to die. I can't tell you what an indelible impression that left on me.

However, I do remember asking my mom what would happen to us if she did die and she told me that plans were in place for us to go to my aunt and uncle's so that we would not be left alone. That did give me peace and comfort that I was not going to be abandoned.

Mary McG in TN said...

Lori, Tennessee teacher here. LOL
Please have Katie Starr see a counslor. No, not from school A REAL professional. Ask around as to what agency they think is the best. You want an agency that is good with children. They will help Katie work this out ... and you will think, why didn't I think of that. This will only take 2 or 3 sessions and they will give you guidance as what to say when this crops up again.