Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Opening up old wounds

I try not to ever let Sabrina notice me get upset about Max, and what happened to him. But it was really hard to hold it together in the car the other day. An ambulance drove by, and Sabrina asked why people need ambulances. I explained that ambulances help people who get hurt.

"Why do people get hurt?" she asked.

I tell her that they can get hurt if they're in a car accident, for example, or if they fall down.

"Or if they're crossing the street and don't look and a car bumps into them!" Sabrina says.

"Yes," I tell her.

"Max got hurt a long time ago," says Sabrina.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"When he was born, he got hurt."

The tears that well up take me by surprise. We've never had this conversation before.

"How did he get hurt?" Sabrina asks.

"His head got hurt," I say.

"How did his head get hurt?" she asks.

I can't talk for a couple of seconds, because there's a sob caught in my throat and I don't want her to hear it. Finally I say, "We don't know. Something happened to him when he was born."

And now I'm slinking down a bit in the seat so she can't look in the rearview mirror and see the tears streaming down my face.

"Was he bleeding?" she asks.

"No," I say.

"Did it hurt?" she wants to know.

"No, it didn't hurt," I say.

And then she's quiet again. And I'm driving, and the tears keep coming. I wish I could pull over and have a good cry, but of course I can't.

A couple minutes later, we get to this big hill the kids love. Max gestures to it. "You want to go up the hill?" I ask.

"YESSSS!" both kids say.

And so we do, and as I drive up it they squeal and then they laugh and laugh when we came down. And I'm laughing, too. And boy, does it feel good.


  1. I tried to hide from Lauren what was going on with Jillian when she was born. Lauren was SO young at only 19.5 months old. For MONTHS after Jillian got out of the NICU she would say "Jillian's better, mom. Jillian's better" And in some ways? She is better. Hugs honey. I can imagine how hard that was for you. xoxo

  2. I had a moment like that,just today.I was repeating,like I have 1000 times before,about Zoey's Infantile Spasms.As I was uttering catastrophic seizures,the words got literally stuck in my throat as I choked back tears.

    I really thought I had come to some peace about that dark time.

    I suppose I haven't.Most likely,if I am honest with myself,I never will.

    Darn strokes.

  3. The innocents of children...sometimes it is hard because they don't hold back when they want to know something ( nor should they )...but I understand how painful it is at times. I don't think that hurt for our kids ever really goes away but I'm glad you got to laugh in the end. :)

  4. That Sabrina....she is SUCH a wise child! Such introspective questions--a lot more content there than "Why is (the hamburger pickle) green with lumpy lines?" You'll never have to be concerned that she doesn't "get it"--because she plainly does. When you're up for it (not before), and the opportunity presents itself again, you'll maybe want to continue that conversation with her--she's plainly curious, and you want to make absolutely sure she doesn't think it's her fault in some crazy and completely illogical way (kids do think like that, even if they weren't alive at the "time of the crime"). Ahhh, guilt! It's everywhere! And there's a fine, fine line between protecting children from harsh realities and letting them see an example of sweeping reality under the rug--I am a fan of sunlight and truth (in the gentlest. age-appropriate way possible, of course), having been subjected to the "sweep that stuff under the rug" approach in my formative years! My parents meant well--they just were products of their own environments, and nails that stuck up got hammered down (to steal a phrase from the Japanese). Even when I knew something was amiss, I knew better than to ask--it just wasn't encouraged. It's something we've adjusted in the intervening years, fortunately. Now, we're total blabbermouths, it's like the Dr. Phil show at our houses (I don't like that guy, but you know what I mean--it's all very open, honest and "confessional").

    It's odd, isn't it, how you can think you're "over" something, and have learned to deal with it, and then, out of the blue, that out-of-control, overwhelming sadness/grief/dread just takes over, grabs you, and leaves you powerless for a bit? See--that's post-traumatic stress messing with your head. It comes at you, unexpectedly, aggressively, with no warning. And you don't have any control over it or your visceral reactions to it. PTSD--it's not just for warriors, doncha know!

    You've got some serious Double Happiness going on with your two kids, though--talk about Wise and Wonderful! Such joy they bring, to wash away sadness!

  5. Dot is so young that she tries to be like her big brother and insists that she was very sick as a baby, was in the hospital for a long time and had many surgeries. She even shows me her imaginary scars.

  6. Man Ellen, that's tough stuff. I don't think I could have done that well! You did a good job, momma!

  7. You did such a good job, mama. I know that was a tough conversation to have. I know a similar one is in my not-too-distant future, and I cry just thinking about it.

  8. What a beautiful story...I'm sure it would be ok for Sabrina to see you cry...it's completely normal!! What a beautiful little girl you have!!

  9. I always find you to be so very brave when you bring up certain topics, this one being no exception. Your blog makes me feel like I am not alone, so thank you.
    I have had a moment or two like that with my little one. He is rather young (just turned 3), but he knows that his older brother is different - I am waiting for him to ask what happened. I am sure that that will eventually happen.

  10. I think yesterday must have been the day for all of us to break down a bit. I cried most of the day yesterday eventhough I hadn't in awhile. I think Katy (The Bird) was having that kind of day also. Max and Sabrina are so blessed to have you. it oo wonder how muchI should tell my 5 year old about what happened to her 2 1/2 year old sister. I never want her to feel that any of it was her fault but I do not want her to be consumed with worry either. i do not know how to handle that but I think you did a fantastic job!

  11. I always wonder just how much my son, who was 2 when my daughter was born, knows. Now they are 6 and almost 4, respectively. It is "obvious" what is "wrong" with her---she has a trach, and feeding tube, and hearing aids--and when people ask about it he tells them matter-of-factly that her trach helps her breathe, etc. However, we have never had a REAL conversation about it. I wonder when that will happen. I'm sure Sabrina will have more questions as she gets older, and I know you will field them with flying colors.

  12. I want to come down the street and hug you after reading this. Thank you for sharing it.

  13. I think you handled that beautifully. I'm of the opinion that the siblings of our children with special needs want and NEED information -- honest, simple information. If you don't give them that (and, obviously it's age-appropriate), they will fill it in their own way, which can often be terrible.

  14. I think you handled that well. But don't forget to give yourself that good cry. You've got it coming.

    I like that you didn't answer what she didn't ask. Kids ask for information that's important to them, and we make a mistake going further than their curiosity at times.

  15. We had a moment here too last week. Belle and I were talking about wishes and I asked what she would wish for. She said "I wish Button would play with me". It nearly broke my heart. Big hugs xx

  16. That was a beautiful account. For some reason my emotions are also very strong when my other kids ask questions about my son with disabilities. I know as parents we're supposed to be totally open and at ease discussing these things with the "siblings" -- but real-life is another story.

    An example: One of my daughters has asked repeatedly if Ben will be learning to drive (he turned 16). I already explained to her in detail why that wouldn't be possible, but she brought it up again the other day (and always with Ben sitting there). And for some reason my heart breaks when Ben is singled out as different from his siblings in terms of things he can't do.

    And I think crying is okay sometimes too.

  17. Thanks so much for the group hug, everyone. And for sharing your own similar moments. And Felicia, yes, I need to continue the conversation. I just want to find a way to do it without crying.

    I actually was proud of myself for the way I handled the conversation, even though I didn't think to say that. I was just so floored by the fact that I started crying.

  18. Ellen, you SHOULD be proud of yourself, you held it together while under a huge amount of emotional pressure--I'm telling you, what you went through was a PTSD event...Sabrina's questions caused you to have a visceral and uncontrollable reaction, and you found yourself having to cope with both her questions in a way that wouldn't freak the kids out, and your completely understandable though out-of-the-blue reaction to them, at the exact same time.

    That's PTSD for ya, it's never convenient--like I said, it ain't just for warriors. It's a real, live anxiety disorder, and it's to be expected when one goes through a horrific trauma. Sometimes it can hide, and be dormant for years, and then something--a memory, a visual or auditory reminder, more stress and exhaustion, perhaps--can trigger it. It's a sneaky little devil, and it can take quite a toll if it repeats frequently and you don't develop any coping mechanisms to deal with it.

    Believe me, I've been there, done that and bought the damn tee shirt. Take good care of yourself, now....that helps a lot! You're worth it!

  19. I am in my 18th week of pregnancy and am nearing the point when I had my car accident while pregnant with Roa.
    There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about that fateful day that changed all of our lives forever. Now again, carrying this new little precious soul inside me, anxiety and grief set in.

    Thanks for the post, Ellen. It helps to not be alone with wounds.

  20. Sabrina is wise beyond her years! I am crying just reading about the conversation. I think you handled it very well and I have no doubt it will come up again since she is curious. Each time you will share a bit more and a bit more (and hopefully the tears will keep until you can cry it out by yourself later).


Thanks for sharing!

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