Today is my oldest daughter’s birthday. Brittany was born almost 2 years to the date (August 25, 1992, to August 9, 1990) from Courtney, her older sister. But she would never meet her sister nor get to know her because Courtney died at 9 months old.
I remember the day that I told Brittany, her younger brother and younger sister that they had an older sister. Up until then, Courtney’s existence had been silenced by her father. Her father did not talk about Courtney and in order to keep my marriage intact, I followed my then-husbands wishes. Until… until I had a photo album in my possession.
When Courtney was born, I started a photo-scrapbook for her. Mind you that this was 32 years ago, and the photo albums were not designed for long-term photo and memorabilia preservation. They were made of pages with adhesive that would either dry and the pictures fall out or they became stuck and unremovable. Over time, the pictures would become ruined and images unrecognizable. Pictures were all I had left of Courtney, and I could not bear the thought of losing those too.
After Courtney died, Penny, my now-deceased sister, decided to convert my old album to a version that would preserve the pictures, along with the memorabilia. Penny chose a newer, photo safe album. She spent two years creating Courtney’s album. Once a month for two years, we went to a scrapbooking night, and she diligently worked on it. Once it was completed, I knew I would use the album to introduce my other 3 children to their older sister.
I invited the kids’ father to join me, but he chose not to. That did not stop me. I was tired of not being able to talk about Courtney at family gatherings or with my friends.
I gathered the kids around me and presented the album. I talked about Courtney, introduced them to their older sister and cried. I cried because I was so grateful to have this gift of my sister’s labor of love. I cried because I could finally talk about Courtney with my other children. I cried because Brittany, who was the oldest at 8 years old, was sad. She was sad because she didn’t get to meet her sister. She would have loved to have an older sister. Brittany asked the same questions I asked, “What would she look like? Would they be great friends?”
Connor, the middle child, at 6 years old really didn’t grasp what I was saying. Hannah at 3 years old did not understand any of it. However, Connor and Hannah would grow up knowing they had an older sister, and it was okay to talk about her. For Brittany, it was a new concept and we worked through being born after a sibling’s death.
Fast forward 28 years, and my son died by suicide. I did not have to create a photo album. I had been doing it for years in the same type of album that Penny used for Courtney. What I faced was helping my living daughters talk about their brother, Connor because of what they faced as very young girls. Sometimes it was difficult to talk about him without experiencing a wave of grief, sadness or crying. I knew what they were going through.
However, from as early as I can remember in my grief journey with Connor, I made a decision to give myself permission to grieve, whenever and wherever. I encouraged my girls to do the same. Giving myself permission was a game-changer. I did not need to stuff my emotions. I knew that if I did stuff them, in the long run, it would do more harm than good. This was something the girls I encouraged my girls to do as they moved through their grief.
While two of my four children are angels, I have purpose to live. I cannot let what happened in the past affect today and my future. I live for my family. I live for my children, alive and deceased. Most of all, I live for myself. For if I do not live for myself, I cannot live and serve others.
Grateful to be alive. Grateful for my two girls. Grateful that I can tell my oldest daughter happy birthday!