How do you tell your kids that their brother is going to die?
First you choose a day: Tuesday when they’re both home from school with a mild stomach bug
A time: after lunch
A location: this one chooses itself since the weather is giving you a 72 degree break after days of snow and freezing rain: back porch
Your husband and daughter lounge on the outdoor couch, you sit
across from them on a chaise and your son sits nearby at the table.
You engage in some light conversation and witty banter because you can’t help it; the day is so beautiful and you’ve been so cold that you want to cherish a little bit of this gift. Your son wants to know when you’re going to buy him the new Wii U. “Probably never,” you tell him. “Fine,” he smiles, “I have enough money from Christmas so I’ll buy it myself. And when I do I won’t let you play with it.” “Ok, good luck playing it without the TV that your father and I bought… or the electricity we pay for,” you say looking at him out of the corner of your eye to catch his attempt to suppress a chuckle. His sense of humor is superb and you love being able to make him laugh.
You glance at your husband and with a raise of your eyebrows you silently ask, “Now? Are we really going to do this now?”
You look at your beautiful children so unburdened, so carefree. Before, you think. As soon as you tell them this will all be before. The bright sun, the dog lying in the patch of light on the floor, the warmth on your winter white skin. And you think about the after. You picture the sun disappearing behind grey clouds, the dark taking over and the chill setting in. You don’t want to leave the now, the before.
Your daughter sighs and out of the blue says she wishes the brother, who is at school, was there because it’s so beautiful and he would enjoy being out on the porch. You feel something sharp in your chest and you wonder how you will ever get through this.
“I can’t” you mouth to your husband. And so he does. He starts by telling them that their brother is very sick, that his kidneys have stopped working and before you can get any words out, the words you’d rehearsed in your head, your daughter asks, “So what’s going to happen to him?”
You told yourself you weren’t going to lie. You want to be clear, keep it simple, stay away from euphemisms that may confuse your young daughter. But you’re not ready to say the words yet. You need more time with simply speaking about the subject out loud to your children, making sure your voice can hold the weight of what you’re about to say.
There is so much expectation in her eyes. She still thinks you can make it all better.
“He’s going to die, Sweet Pea.”
And that’s when the tears start. Yours, hers, your husband’s. But not your son’s. He sits in silence. The one you worried most about – who spent 10 years as the protective older sibling, explained matter-of-factly all of his brother’s many quirks to his inquisitive friends, watched the countless resuscitations, endured the hospitalizations and benign neglect, delighted in some of the normal sibling interactions like play wrestling, and never, not once said a single bad thing about his brother – doesn’t say a word. Doesn’t shed a tear.
But your daughter, who is now in your lap because, really what were you thinking breaking this news with your children sitting so far away, she is sobbing and pinching her leg, saying in a whisper you can barely hear, “Please let this be a dream.” Over and over again she says this while the sun still shines and the warm air still rests on your skin. You realize that the dark you feared has settled only over your son, who still sits alone staring off at nothing, because, at nearly 13, he doesn’t do hugs. You motion to your husband to go sit near him while you comfort your daughter who has pinched an angry red spot onto her leg and repeats, “Please let this be a dream.”
You place your hand over her tiny one and gently remove it from her leg, “It’s not a dream baby girl.” And your son pushes the patio chair away from the table with a loud scrape and disappears into the house.
And it’s after the before.