I try not to hide Perry from his younger brothers, maybe with the hope that they will also see him as a part of our family. I believe that far from making them feel afraid, that acknowledging him will make them feel more secure. I want them to know that I will always love them- each of them. Nothing, not even death, changes that.
We leave Perry's picture up on the wall. We have changed the frame because quite frankly I do not want something that matched his casket, I want something that matches the furniture in the home, but other than that it has pretty much stayed in the hallway on Emily's level to keep her from climbing up on furniture to touch or kiss it. I don't say anything to her- but I can tell from the smudges on the glass that she still reaches out to him through it.
There are many milestones that have occurred in our house, and our reality is that one of them is the first time a baby notices his picture as we walk past and reaches out, smiling at it. They seem befuddled why this baby doesn't feel like they do. I usually say something about it being their brother Perry. It seems to happen (the reaching) around 3 months.
Paiden has grown up thinking that our life is normal. That part of daily life is to light a candle by Perry's hideout. He considers it a great honor to hold the candle on the way there and sometimes gets upset if he is left with one of the adults instead of getting to come out. He sorts the shells and little rocks from vacations on the base of Perry's stone and sometimes examines the little stone turtle (Emily calls our family the hurry turtles so I wanted it when I noticed it at a store on one of our travels to New Mexico or Mexico).
One day he found the photo scrapbook that a family friend made me of Perry. He looked at all of the pictures and keep saying "Cute baby". I showed him pictures of himself as a baby and of Emily. The wheels seemed to be turning.
The next day I was carrying him down the hallway and he reached out for Perry's picture, so I stopped. "Where is the baby in the picture? Where is Perry?"
My heart dropped. "Perry died".
"Perry in his hideout?"
Hideout is Emily speak for grave. She was not much older than Paiden when we lost Perry and this is how she verbalized it. We didn't look at it as confusing her, because anyone who saw her reaction to Perry's casket at the funeral service realizes that even at a young age Emily understood what had happened, realized his body was in there, and that she was heart broken when she saw it for the first time. Looking back maybe we should have let her go in with us earlier, but I think we were so horrified at the thought of what she had already been through on the day he died that we just wanted to somehow transport her as far away from that day as possible. You make horrible decisions as a grieving parent that you never should have to- this sort of thing is not covered in parenting books.
And just as Emily had that moment of realization, Paiden was there too. We think subsequent children will not, but they really do.
"His body is. It broke."
Paiden started to cry. "Perry is dead." He touched the picture, slithered onto the ground from my arms, and curled into a ball on Emily's floor crying.
How does a child his age understand what death is? I do not remember having a conversation with him. Did he remember losing Schroeder? Or maybe a chicken?