Friday, April 11, 2014
Explaining and explaining
This week has seen me explaining and explaining. It's been a tough one and one night had me crying into a pillow before sleep snuck out her hand to haul me under.
Leo and I moved into a rented flat at the weekend - on the morning Chris left for Uganda. Leo went on to spend a couple of mornings settling in at a local nursery which gave me time to sort out our lives at our new location. However the last few days he's spoken about wanting to 'go home' (to Jinja) and on Tuesday evening he asked me about Ella.
Explaining why daddy was going away wasn't difficult for him to comprehend. Chris has been in and out of his life since he was a few months old and in the early days working in Murchison for 2 or 3 weeks at a time. It doesn't matter, he always knows daddy will be back.
Nursery wasn't too unusual as he attends one in Jinja, but it was unusual due to the amount of white only faces and explaining that he had to wear a coat. He's used to seeing black, white, toffee, yellow and pink friends dancing in front of his eyes and as for clothing, the tropics don't require you to wear a warm fleecy coat when playing outside.
The baby gently flitting around inside my tummy has been poked and prodded and sung to by Leo. He understands (sort of) that there's a baby in there, he's just glad it's not a baboon - we're all bloody grateful for that. It's the explaining to him that we can only 'go home' once the baby is here that's difficult. Tomorrow isn't yet on his radar and yesterday is either one day or 5 months ago.
The request to 'go home' seems to come at the most tender times; when he's cross or feeling upset. The yearning for the family dogs, his friends, hippo noises and playing in the garden on his plastic boda-boda is what seems to fry his head the most. He's adjusted to the UK like a kid in a sweet shop, but I am appreciating that mother Africa has put her stamp on his heart and he's under her spell.
It was the Christmas after we lost Ella that Chris gave me a soapstone figurine of a family. A few years back it somehow found its way to the UK and upon moving in at the weekend I unearthed it and placed it on a shelf in the sitting room. On Tuesday evening, after his bath, Leo was sat on the sofa and as I cleared toys from the table the figurine sat in his hands. He pointed out 'mummy, daddy, Leo, baby in tummy...and what's this one mummy'?
I sat on the low table in front of him and rubbed my finger across the top of all the heads before resting on the final one. This one, I told him, was Ella. His big sister. I knew that the conversation would one day happen, I just hadn't known when. How do you explain death to a 3 year old? But most of all how do you explain the death of a sister he has never known?
I tried to explain about how tiny she was, how cherished she was, how she stopped breathing ~ by blowing on his hand ~ that she's in the sky above, like a star, watching over us, keeping us safe; him, mummy, daddy, baby.... He clutched the figurine and started to cry. I sat on the floor and carefully held his hands as he told me to, 'get her down mummy'. I tried to explain that she couldn't, but he wouldn't accept it. 'Get her to come down, I want her.'
His tears finally slowed and I picked up his book about trains. Death to this 3 year old can be stopped abruptly with the mention of a steam engine. But yesterday morning at breakfast he asked about Ella again and I chose my words carefully. We didn't linger for long, just long enough to remind each other that she's there in the places that we walk and in the sunshine that touches our face.
There's no dress rehearsal about what to say, because there's no way of knowing how or when or if or why death happens. Which meant, to me at least, there is no right or wrong way of explaining our memory and the loss of Ella to her younger brother. Children can see through a smokescreen so by being truthful and honest is to be fair, and in their tiny beating hearts that is just about alright.
* A friend recently sent me a link to this book, 'When Africa Was Home'. It reminds her of Leo. For me her timing could not have been more significant.