I am by no means an expert on this topic. I naively thought that Darcy was doing extremely well, until it all fell apart last February. All it took was one night away from Parker and I and the bottom fell out. She was extra clingy, acting out and night terrors had begun again.
How on Earth does a 5 year old process the death of her brother? How does she process someone close to her picking her up from school, bringing her home to see my car surrounded by police, ambulance and fire and no family around? How does she process that individual falling apart on her when she needed him most? Not getting any answers, but knowing something is terribly wrong. Darcy asks me a lot of questions about that day, but really hasn’t talked too much about what she through beyond coming home and saying that the police were nice to her.
Darcy saw the adjustment counselor at school twice in the beginning, which Parker and I were thinking was enough. She seemed to be adjusting ok. My cousin was on my case to set her up with her own counselor and after the holidays we did do that, although I had no idea what to expect. The first meeting was awful, Darcy wanted no part of it. I think a part of her sensed something was off. The second meeting went well and she warmed up to her therapist Annie and very shortly became the loving, playful person that we know, singing, dancing and playing through her sessions.
At first, I thought, ok, there’s very little going on here. We played, I enjoyed seeing Darcy interact and I figured, at least we tried. Then I talked to Annie one on one. She noticed that Darcy was constantly playing with cars, reenacting car accidents, ambulances and police coming to the scene. I had’t really even noticed, she always played with cars with her brother, so to me it was no different. She was trying to make sense of it all.
Annie started to push Darcy to talk about Benny. At first she would remain tight lipped and wanted nothing to do with it. To Darcy it was easier to not talk about him at all. This was hard for Parker and I. Darcy started to ask us to stop crying, she was done with it all. Annie pushed her a little more each session and in about 8 months, she was bringing in pictures and drawing her family album including Benny. She had truly opened up and begun to share with Annie. I found that she looked forward to our meetings with Annie. Over the summer when she started doing really well, we had gone from seeing Annie from once a week to two times a month. Darcy was missing her time with Annie desperately. Annie worked for us, she worked for Darcy.
The other day she came home from school with a paper she wrote about her family. She talked about all of our pets that have passed and how she loves her baby brother. That wouldn’t have happened a year ago.
Before I was born, one of my cousins died, he was hit by a car coming off of the bus. His older brother was there when it happened. This happened 40+ years ago. I sat at the table with my Uncle who said that he regretted not getting help for my surviving cousin. I think about how long ago everything happened to them and how different therapy was conceived. Because I was so young and never knew my cousin or their situation, I was surprised by how similar our stories were. I am also so hopeful because here they are today, decades later, surviving.
There’s no right or wrong way to grieve, period. When it comes to kids, I don’t know the the right way to handle things, I just know what worked for us. I consider us lucky to have people in our lives that pushed us to get Darcy the help that she needed. I owe my cousin Annie, who pushed us to get Darcy into counseling my peace of mind.
I think I’ve talked about this, but I’ll say it again that a close friend gave us the book ‘The Invisible String’. We read it at Benny’s memorial services and it speaks about our connection with close friends and family without being overly sad for kids. Recently we had our neighbors over and Darcy chose to read this story to them. It made me feel really good that she felt comfortable reading this story that’s so closely intertwined with her brother’s services. There are a few additional books that I will also recommend below. I will add more as I find them.
For the Kids:
My Yellow Balloon
For the Adults:
The Boy on the Green Bicycle
Children Are Not Paper Dolls