Theo was Star of the Week in his second grade class. Last Friday he brought home a “questionnaire” including describing favorite foods and family traditions. He also needed to bring in five photos.
He set about choosing from the thousands of pictures I have taken. He chose a baby photo, as a few-days-old newborn wearing a green onesie that said “I Love Hugs.” He wanted the extended family photo from our trip to Hawaii, now nearly three years ago. A photo from last year’s croquet tournament with my grandma, his great-grandma. A picture with our dog, Penny, who went to a new home earlier this year.
I asked if, for his final photo, he would like to take one of the professional family photos we had taken last Fall. He said “Yes. I want to take the picture that includes the shadows of Nelle and Iris.”
I was surprised. He had already filled out the part of his sheet that listed family members and only included those living (plus our cat). I told him of course he could take that photo and had it printed along with the others.
I gleaned from Theo that at some point he would be talking about his photos to his class. I really wanted to know what he was going to say about our family photo. So I emailed his teacher the following:
“Good morning! Theo is very excited to be Star of the Week this week.
One of the photos that he chose is profoundly meaningful for our family. Before his sister was born in August, we lost two babies – one at 16 weeks and one at 21 weeks of pregnancy. When we had family photos done this past fall, a friend of mine added some shadows representing our other two girls, depicting the ages that they would have been.
I’m not sure how much the kids talk about their photos as Star of the Week, but if you wouldn’t mind sharing with me what Theo says about this particular photo, I would very much appreciate it.”
His teacher responded “It’s a beautiful picture! We will talk about the photos on Wednesday, so I’ll let you know then.” I was a bit surprised that her response didn’t include anything like “I am so sorry for your losses.” In my head, I immediately filed it away as someone who had never experienced loss.
True to her word, his teacher emailed me on Wednesday after Theo did his presentation:
“Theo described his board today and it went well. He described the figures as the spirits of children who were not born. It did raise a lot of questions among the kids, but I think it went OK.”
That was it. I was longing for more detail: what types of questions did the kids ask? How did Theo answer them? Did he seem sad, or was he comfortable talking about it? I wondered if any of the other children had lost a sibling as well, and if hearing Theo talk about his sisters made them think of theirs, or if this was the first time that all twenty-three other students had been exposed to the idea of baby loss. Disappointed, I replied and thanked her for sharing with me. I also let her know that I had talked to Theo that night and he had told me that it was hard to talk about his other two sisters, but that “it’s important.” I told him that he was brave for talking about his sisters, even if it was hard.
His teacher replied: He’s just awesome. – he’s sensitive and aware of others and always kind.
I was so proud. I like to think that the living siblings have an increased awareness, sensitivity, and compassion. They have seen their parents in the deepest forms of sadness. They are taught openness, to honor, and to remember.