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Question About Child's Fear Of Death After Losing Sister


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My daughter drowned in our pool coming up on four years ago. One of her brothers, now 11-1/2 was at home when it happened. He has always been a "sensitive" kid - very shy and introverted, and has always had night-time fears since even before she died. He told me this past weekend that ever since his sister died, he's been scared that he will die young as well. I tried reassuring him the best I could think at the time. I told him the odds of something bad happening to him were incredibly small. He's adamant that he does not want counseling (he went to a six week class for bereaved kids after her death), and says he feels more comfortable talking with me and his older brother (14 and was home when she died too). I haven't had a chance to talk to my counselor about this yet, but wanted to ask here too. Has anyone else faced a similar situation? If so, how did you handle it? As I told my son, the most important thing for me is for my kids to be happy. I just struggle with how they are going to be able to truly be happy when they've lost their innocence at a young age and have to deal with the pain of losing a sibling for the rest of their life.

On a related note, a short time after he told me his fear, we were at his brother's baseball game sitting on the grass near the outfield. I asked him what it was about death that scared him most, and though he couldn't come up with the words, we agreed that it was the not knowing for sure what happens that was most scary. Then I talked to him about the signs I get from my daughter since she died, and it has made me truly believe that life doesn't end at death. The signs I get are numbers, dragonflies, and ladybugs. He had questions about them (including why he didn't get signs from her), and as we were talking about it, a big blue dragonfly flew right towards us a few feet off the ground and then went away. We hadn't seen any signs of dragonflies before or after during the whole time we were there. I pointed the dragonfly out as a sign and although he didn't appear convinced, it was wonderful for me. I told him when I died (we agreed MANY years from now), I would try to give him signs, and he requested "cats". ;-)

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Maria, my dear, as I read how you've been responding to your son's (understandable and, I believe, entirely normal) fear, I must tell you that I think you're handling this perfectly.

The fact that your boy feels comfortable confiding his fear to you tells me that he trusts you and feels safe enough to share his innermost thoughts and feelings with you. Your responses assure him that you are his safe haven, that you will take care of him no matter what, and it is highly unlikely that his greatest fear will come true. Your boy has had to experience one of life's most difficult realities: accidents can happen and people you love can die. This lesson is hard enough for grownups to handle, much less for one so young.

But as you wisely pointed out to him, that does not mean that the same thing will happen to your son. He just needs reassurance that he is safe, that you will do all you can to take care of him, and you'll be there for the long haul. From what you've described, it seems to me that reassurance is precisely what you're giving him. With you, he obviously feels safe enough to identify what he is feeling or thinking about, and that alone tells me that what you're doing is exactly right. Just keep offering him those opportunities to express himself and share with you what is on his mind. Identifying, expressing and sharing won't take his fear away, but it will help your boy to work his way through all of it and come to terms with it. You obviously know him very well, and it's good that you have a counselor who will support you through all of this. I believe the best way for you to take care of your boy's grief is to take care of your own grief first, and that also is precisely what you are doing. Good for you!

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