Toddler Grief

I have wanted to write about Nola for a while. It has been a difficult one for me for a few reasons. I have had almost 3 wonderful years with Nola, I have so much to say about her, how could I fit it into one blog post? Secondly, Nola will grow up one day and be able to look back and read my blog should she want to. I am conscious of this and therefore must get the balance right between talking about her with the same love I talk about Mavy, whilst retaining her privacy.

Regardless of everything, I know Nola. I believe whole heartedly that she will grow up to be a wonderful person who will want to help others and so I decided it was the right time to share Nola’s experience of grief – through my eyes and words.

The last words I said to Nola before Mavy came into our life was “When I next see you, the baby will be here”. Those words ring in my ears. I lied to Nola. The “baby” never came home.

When we left hospital with empty arms and went to stay with my mum, I gave Nola no explanation of what had happened in the 5 days we had been apart. I was terrified of speaking to her and being asked questions I couldn’t answer. The sad truth is that although I did get some lovely cuddles, my little lady knew that Mum & Dad couldn’t look after her at that point and so she directed all her care needs towards my mum and my brother. She did not ask me anything, she hardly looked at me. I found it incredibly difficult. In fact, I felt like I was losing her too.

The reason I picked myself back up as quickly as I could was out of my love for Nola and my innate want to be her Mummy. I just had to be there for her and look after her. With that in mind, we went home. This is perhaps 2 weeks after Mavy had died – I get lost with the dates – and at this point I had still not told Nola anything. Nor had she asked.

I had done my research while at my mum’s house and I had learned that it was very important to be truthful with children and not to sugar coat. This includes talking about baby’s sleeping or being ill as this could in turn make her frightened of going to sleep or getting poorly. I was determined to get this right and time was ticking on. My poor little girl could sense things weren’t okay and I needed to be brave and be her parent. Nola & I went to her bedroom together and I sat down on the bed beside her. The conversation went like this:

Mummy – “Nola, you know Mummy had to go to hospital to have the baby that was in my tummy?”

Nola – “Yes”

Mummy – “Mummy had the baby, so she isn’t in my tummy anymore; she is a little girl and we called her Mavy. She is your sister. Mavy didn’t come home to our house because she died. When someone dies it means they aren’t here anymore, and you will not see them again. We are very sad because we wanted Mavy to come to our house and live with us. Mummy & Daddy will cry a lot and it’s because we miss her. We both love you so much and it’s okay if you feel sad too.”

Nola – *Silence*

How does a 2-year cope with that conversation? It just isn’t in their emotional understanding – nor should it be – to comprehend death. I did my very best to remain calm, show her love and support and not make that conversation about me. She knew what I was saying was serious and upsetting and she couldn’t make sense of it, which is why I got no response. I left it by saying that she can talk to me about Mavy whenever she likes.

It was a while before I could show Nola, Mavy’s pictures. I kept these pictures to myself because Nola is 2 so becomes fixated with things. I wasn’t sure I could keep showing her the photos all day. I also worried that if Nola saw a physical baby who looked like she was sleeping, it would confuse her. However, when I sat with her 3 months on and asked if she would like to see the pictures of her baby sister, she amazed me. She loved to look at them, it didn’t seem to confuse her at all. Nola now has access to Mavy’s photo book, her album on my phone and we have photos in our living room.

As time goes on Nola will ask me occasionally where Mavy is. I will just repeat that she died and that means she isn’t here anymore. Nola will often cry and say she misses Mavy and she wants her back. I am not ashamed to say Nola has seen me cry and scream those words many times. She may be imitating me, but she may also be using my outlet to express her own emotions as she hasn’t learnt how to do that yet. Crying is okay. Being upset is okay. I used to worry so much how my outbursts would affect Nola but now I realise that this is part of grief, it is a ‘normal’ response.

In happier times Nola will play make believe and Mavy is always mentioned in her games – this is wonderful for me to hear. She will tell people about Mavy, proudly explaining she has a sister. Sometimes she even says she is Mavy. I think, like me, she just likes to say her name.

I do worry greatly about the impact losing Mavy will have on Nola’s life. Nola doesn’t fully understand what she has lost right now. If you have a sibling – imagine your life without them. That’s all you can do to really understand what Nola will face. I know many people will think that because she will grow up with this knowledge and she will never know any different – that may somehow make things better. I beg to differ on this. I think it will impact Nola, but I really hope it can be in a positive way.

I can never fully explain to anyone the grief of a 2-year-old – because I am not Nola and I can only write about how I view her experiences. What I can tell you is I am so proud of my little girl and the way she includes her sister into her life. She has watched her friends get baby brothers and sisters without complaint or questions. She has gone through grief at such a young age, yet she is happy, she smiles, she throws tantrums and she gives the best cuddles. She is doing great. I hate that she has had to go through this, and I will spend the rest of my life supporting her and loving her.

I don’t talk or post on social media about Nola, whereas I have made a whole blog for Mavy! I worry how that may look to Nola when she grows up. All I can say is that my reasons for this are to protect Nola and raise awareness in Mavy’s memory. I like to think they are both proud of me for this.

Many parents who lose a child have other living children however some do not. I am trying to be as inclusive as I can in my blog, but I can only really draw on my own experiences. In my experience with grief, I am trying to navigate this path for a toddler too. If anyone has experience with this and can offer any advice, I would really appreciate hearing from you.

Sending love to all those loss parents and the friends and family who support them.


Emma xx

7 thoughts on “Toddler Grief

  1. Oh Emma this is so sad to read 😢 Nola 💖 is a beautiful little girl (a mini you 💞 ) and I know keeps you and Adam on your toes and makes you smile ☺️ get up each day, and get on with life just like toddles should do. Maya 💗 will always be part of your lovely family and hopefully one day you will go on to have another little brother or sister for them both 💕 to add to your family because I know you both have so much love to give. Big hugs x

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  2. Oh Emma this was so beautifully , delicately written. Bought many tears and lumps to my throat. Your love for Nola really shines through the words but also your fears and pain of having to explain to Nola about Mavy . I cannot begin to comprehend how hard that must of been for you .
    I am sure this will really help others and I hope you get some help from this blog too . It definitely giving me a massive insight and more understanding what you are all going through , heart breaking. I wish I could change things and Mavy be here with you all physically. I am so proud of you all…I know I ‘ve said it many a time but you are amazing Emma such a marvellous mother to Nola and Mavy . Love you xxxxxx

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  3. Emma sweetheart, this is so beautifully written and as i read your words I was suddenly a little girl again sitting with my own dear mother (your Great Nan Mackay) as she told me about my sister Sylvia and how much she and my Dad had cried when Sylvia died when she was three days old. My Mum shed tears as she told me. It was a bit different to dear little Nola, becasue Sylvia had been born before my Mum had me so I had never known her in my Mum’s tummy, but there are so many similarities too.

    Although that day my Mum told me about Sylvia was about 76 years ago now, I still remember as though it was yesterday the emotional roller coaster I went through knowing that I should have had a big sister to play with, but she was not here. I remember feeling both excited and sad all at the same time. It was a very strange feeling and I remember my Mum shedding some tears as she told me how pretty Sylvia had been. Very few people had cameras back then, so Mum had no photos to show me, but she described Sylvia’s little face and told me that she had whispy curls of fair hair. i was so young to comprehend all I was told, but I do remember wondering how different life would have been, and how I would have loved a sister to play with.

    Later I did have my wish because my sister Susan was born. When Sue was about three years old Mum sat us both down and told us all about Sylvia together. By then I was ready to ask more questions about Sylvia, and i was sad that Sue and I would never really know what she had looked like – yet she was our big sister. My Mum eventually found a beautiful picture to hang on our bedroom wall. It was only a print, but it had a beautiful little girl kneeling with her elbows on a little velvet chair in what I imagine was her bedroom. All around her were little angels flying and surrounding the room as though to protect the little girl. Underneath was the first verse of the hymn, “Abide with me, fast falls the eventide…” We all imagined this was Sylvia growing up in Heaven and it was the last thing Sue and I looked at before going to sleep each evening and the first thing we saw when we awoke. Even though I am now 79, I still wonder what it would be like if Sylvia was still here. I know Sue does too. We have never forgotten her. We have her birth and death certificates and we knowwhere she was buried in the Kidderminster cemetry, although there is no headstone or anything to mark the place because our Mum and Dad couldn’t afford it. She was born at the beginning of WWII and life was hard for everyone and the future was very uncertain.

    Your Great Nan Mackay would have really loved to talk with you and she would have understood all your emotions like none of us ever could, because she had been through the same pain herself. What we have always done to remember Sylvia is to plant some Lily of the Valley flowers in our gardens wherever we have lived. They were in flower when she was born and they became my Mum’s favourite flower. So pure and white and with the most beautiful perfume.

    As I type this I want to let you know that we are creating a beautiful little summer meadow in our front garden and tomorrow we have a lovely Sorbus tree being delivered. to plant in the middle. The hole is already dug out in readiness for its arrival. We shall have a circular area around it and I am going to plant some Lily of the valley round the base. They will flower in March/April each year, before the summer meadow flowers have grown and blossomed a month of so later. All our neighbours know that this is going to be named Mavy’s Memorial Meadow – and I shall know that it also holds a little memory of her Great Great Auntie Sylvia too. It will be a special reminder each year of two special tiny girls who I believe I shall meet one day when I go to Heaven, but until then our front garden will remain a constant reminder. The Sorbus tree will have lovely white blossom in Spring for the bees to gather pollen, and lots of lovely red berries in winter to feed the birds. When it is complete and the flowers bloom in summer I shall send some photos.

    God bless you and I send big hugs to you, Nola and Adam. xxxx Nan Marian xxxx

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