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What does it mean when a child loses a sibling?

It’s a question I am fortunate enough not to have experienced.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not on the frontlines of it.

Because when Julian took his final breath, it was at that very moment my parents lost a piece of their daughter. My siblings lost a piece of their sister. My husband lost a piece of his wife. And my children, they lost a piece of me.

And yet, my children also lost a sibling. They still lost their brother.

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Losing a sibling has taught my sons at the very young ages of five and three, that life can be cruel. That life is unfair. That life is painful.

And that babies don’t always get to come home from the hospital.

It has them exploring through their feelings of anger, sadness, and confusion while trying to make sense of why their life has changed. It has them using a new vocabulary that now includes the words death, dying, and dead.

Losing a sibling opens them up to see their mommy struggle between wanting to decorate for the holidays but also quickly telling them, “Mommy changes her mind right now buddy, let’s try again tomorrow.” It has them creating new traditions in remembrance of someone who isn’t physically here while they are still trying to make sense of what that really means. It has them seeing their mommy sobbing quietly, tucked away, yet always seeming to find her.

It means going to the cemetery to celebrate another year older instead of a big, themed birthday party of an age they’ll never get to experience. It means drawing a family picture and making sure to include a halo around one of them. It has them knowing not to forget “Julian’s Bear” when we do special things or go special places so they know their baby brother is still included. It leaves them blowing out their birthday candles and them telling you their wish is for their brother to be alive.

Losing a sibling means you grow up just a little bit faster, you cry just a little bit harder, but you learn to love so much deeper.

Because my sons, unfortunately, now know the harsh reality that life isn’t sugar-coated. That during this journey of grief, their mommy will have good days and bad. And you know what? I think they will be better for it.

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Losing a sibling means seeing mommy cry, but it has taught them how to be gentle with a fragile heart. It means climbing onto my lap, grabbing me by the face, looking me in the eyes, and saying, “It’s OK mama, I know you miss Julian” as they nestle their heads into my chest and let me cry into them. It means asking Alexa to play “heaven” music as they think of heartfelt ways to ease a grieving soul. It means wanting to go visit their baby brother at the cemetery so they can talk to him and tell him about their day. It means correcting me when I say I have two sons because I didn’t have the heart to tell a stranger that one died.

It means talking about death instead of fearing it.

Before becoming a mom, I knew there would be life lessons I would have to teach my kids. Lessons I learned growing up myself, which would help mold and shape my children into becoming better humans. But never did I think they would learn the hard lessons and realities of how fragile a life could be, how you don’t always get something even if you were expecting it, or how to comfort someone who is broken—at the very young ages of five and three.

But this is my life. This is their life. This is our life. This is our reality.

The reality of losing a sibling.

Originally published on the author’s blog

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Dana Romano

Dana Romano is an elementary school teacher from CT who lives with her husband Dan of nine years and two living sons, Angelo who is six and Matteo who is four. After losing her third son, Julian, to fetal hydrops in August of 2019, it has pushed her to write and blog about her experience in hopes to shed light on this forever world grief and let others know how they can help along the way. To read more about Julian's story, feel free to subscribe to her blog or follow her on Instagram @thelittlestbrother803 for updates.

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