Simone is five years old, with a round face and hazel eyes.
Simone loves playing with toy cars, going to the nursery school to visit her teacher Anna, drawing dinosaurs.
Simone loves going to the park with mum and dad. He would very much like to come back. But he doesn’t dare ask. Not now. Not now that things have gotten so weird.
Simone passes in front of the main entrance of the park to go to school, and throws a curious eye, a little sideways, so that mum doesn’t notice.
Who knows if they fixed the rocking duck, and the castle with the corkscrew slide. You ask.
Mom, every time, right there in front, quickens her pace and pulls him by the arm.
“Simone hurry up we are late”.
Mom looks down at the ground as she talks. He looks at his feet.
The words all come out dry and firm.
Mom used to speak round and soft.
Simone throws a greeting with the other hand, the one not pulled by her mother, to the park, to all its majestic trees, and to all its rides, to the fallen leaves and those still to fall. How much he would like to return.
It was beautiful, on Saturday mornings, all together, in the midst of dozens of other children and grandparents and mothers and fathers and nannies, running-jumping-swinging – sliding at breakneck speed.
It was beautiful, because he knew that after each run – slide – dive from the slide he could turn to his mother, and feed on her warm gaze, and her happy smile.
Thanks to that look, and that smile, Simone in June had learned to ride a bicycle without wheels, accompanied by his father and mother’s eyes.
Just with those eyes, Mom and Dad had announced, shortly before, that a little brother would arrive at the beginning of November.
Simone still remembers well today the sensation of heat inside the stomach and ears, and the curve of the smile soaring to a thousand at that precise moment.
The moment of the little brother.
Remember to have peeked at the belly of the mother, and to have just reached out a hand, towards the navel, as a greeting.
Since that day, all the days have been “the days before the little brother was born”.
A very special kind of countdown, for the whole family and for all friends.
Special also for Simone, engaged in a personal countdown for the passage from the status of “only child” to that of “older brother”.
One drizzly morning in mid-October, Simone waving a blank sheet and two markers, wanted to start writing Santa’s letter.
Well in advance, so you can be sure you don’t forget anything.
“I would also like to ask Santa Claus some gifts for his little brother” – he says with an air between serious and facetious.
“My Simone is very good!” – says mom, smiling – have you already thought what to ask? “
“Two dinosaurs for me, and a small one for him, but soft, otherwise he punches himself with his tail.”
“Sounds like a great idea! I’ll help you write,” dad says, taking Simone’s hand in his.
That morning Simone hung the letter on the fridge with an ankylosaurus-shaped magnet.
“It will be great to unwrap Santa’s gifts, all together!” he remembers thinking Simone, putting on his hat and scarf to go to the park. After a week, it had finally stopped raining.
Simone remembers going to the park with his grandparents that morning, even with mud and a thousand puddles, because mum and dad had to go and visit their little brother.
Simone did not know that today would be the last day in the park.
He did not know that while he was jumping among the puddles laughing out loud amid the reproaches of his grandfather that he did not get too dirty, his little brother was getting sick.
Even today he does not know what really happened. He tried to ask, but then he let it go.
Mom is back, with no belly, no little brother and no face.
Or rather, the face is still there, but it must be that of another person, who looks a lot like the mother, only different.
Dad is back and he doesn’t stay still for a minute, he jokes and hugs Simone tightly without looking at him. He tells him that he is his champion and that together they are very strong.
Simone doesn’t know if he’s strong, he just wants to go back to the park all four as before the rain.
She would like her little brother to come back, disease-free.
She would like to take it on the merry-go-round as a child, the round suspended one, which always makes Luca’s little brother laugh, and all the babies.
He doesn’t even understand very well where his little brother has gone. There are those who say up, there are those who say down, there are those who say in the heart, there are those who say that he has turned into an angel.
“Mum doesn’t say anything. Dad says we have a superhero of our own. It was fine for me to have a normal little brother. Like all my friends,” Simone thinks, just before going to sleep.
Sometimes Simone thinks that there is a special place where little brothers and dinosaurs, also extinct, but certainly not forgotten, play together, live.
He would like to know from his little brother if it is really true that the brontosaurus has a very long neck and a tail as well. And if the velociraptor is really crazy fast as they say, or is it an invention.
The letter for Santa Claus is still there, hanging from the fridge. No one has touched her since that day.
Simone, who in the meantime has learned to write alone in block capitals, deletes the long list made with dad, and adds: for this year I would like only my brother. Thanks, Simone.
When an expected child dies in the family, the experience is so painful that it is “unthinkable” and unspeakable for many. So strong it can’t be said. If there are other children in the family, this difficulty in talking about what happened becomes even more evident: in many cases no one knows what to say, and no one bother to find suitable words (to the child, to the parents, to their previous family history ). Often people prefer to keep quiet, hide what happened or minimize the impact by using phrases such as “Don’t worry now, mom will make you another one”, “She is better off where she is now” “The little brother was an angel and the Lord ‘is taken “etc ..
Phrases of this kind, which are not very useful and sometimes seriously offensive even for parents, can even be harmful to other children in the family, who, often independently from adults, “work” on the event immediately and they interpret as they can, with the tools they have and according to their age.
When a little brother dies, children, even small ones, realize that something has changed, first of all because the attitude of adults changes, some habits change, expressions and emotions related to pain, sadness, real mourning appear frequently. , with all its complex facets.
Older siblings can react mainly in two ways, depending on their age and other personal and family variables. There is no right or wrong reaction, it is very important to welcome children’s bereavement reactions without judging them or wanting to correct them. Mourning is in fact a very critical event, which if well addressed in the family can give children the opportunity to make a path not only of pain but also of growth and resilience.
It may happen that a child begins to ask insistently where the belly has gone or when the little brother returns, even if no one has explained what happened to them and everyone has tried to assume expressions (fake) calm and relaxed (“for the good of the child. , show yourselves serene “) that are of little use, if not to confuse the ideas in an already highly stressful moment of his.
Or, he can keep quiet and pretend indifference, waiting for adults to give explanations. This usually occurs when the child feels that what has happened is “too big” for him or his parents to process right away. Some children refrain from asking why they fear that they are responsible for the completely normal pain reactions of bereaved people.
Others, however, may think that they are somehow responsible for what happened, and this condition is associated with a high level of stress and inner suffering.
Regardless of the reaction of your child (or of your children, if there are more than one) it is important that children feel welcomed and part of the family and its movements through bereavement, and that they feel respected their limits (age, cognitive, emotional). With the right words and the right time, any child can mourn without too much suffering, beyond the normal suffering associated with loss and its consequences in the family.
Often, however, adults think that children are unable to understand death or face the event without suffering serious consequences, and due to an excess of protection it often happens that children are left “out” of mourning and kept away. In fact, children can approach the subject of birth and death with surprising ease and clarity, and if age-appropriate tools are used, they can understand the event in the least traumatic way possible for them. What scares children the most is the ambiguity that adults have in dealing with the subject of death: since adults do not speak openly about death, often everyone has their say to children, and it happens that children have multiple versions of how things went, and they receive explanations in contrast to each other, which, together with the strange atmosphere in the house and the inevitable changes in habit (for example linked to a long hospitalization in intensive care, to an early hospitalization of the mother , to a death in utero or in a cot) amplify the sense of confusion and bewilderment.
Receiving (or listening to) elusive or confusing answers, such as “it was good for him, because he would have been a wretch” or “now he is in the arms of the Lord, who calls to him the best children” or “the little brother is gone away because he went to another house “” mothers’ bellies are magical and sometimes disappear, but then grow back “can amplify the sense of loss and difficulty that children have when they are faced with so many changes in a short time .
Children should feel free to ask and get coherent and simple answers to questions such as “why is mom sad”, “where is the baby brother, when does he come back, why is he dead”, “what happens to dead people”. If the family fails to address the topic and uses confusing phrases, children in many cases (especially from three years onwards) end up taking the blame for what has happened, they fear that it will happen to them too, or that the parents will they themselves disappear into thin air. In some cases, children react to all this fear by losing some of their abilities (for example, going to the bathroom alone, or sleeping without a diaper, or going to school with the bus) and insistently request the attention of their parents, while in other cases, especially when children are of school age, they can take care of their parents, becoming serious, precise and “adults”.
A simple and linear dialogue on the death of a little brother or sister, the sharing of the typical emotions of mourning, the explanation in understandable terms of what happens when you die can make a difference and represent an invaluable resource for healthy emotional and psychic growth, where lies and secrets (like: it wasn’t true that mum was expecting a little sister, it was a joke, there was no one in the belly) or blackmail (not to mention the little brother that you make mum feel bad) can cause psychic discomfort both in the childhood and adolescence.
For further information, consult the section of the CiaoLapo forum on developmental psychology, edited by my colleague Simona Agosti.