There are many moments in life that as they happen, I try to freeze frame them in my memory forever. Typical moments such as the births of the children, first smiles, first steps, first words. And then there are those moments that to other people may mean nothing at all, just a few seconds in time or a word or two that touch your heart forever. I wanted to share one of those precious moments with you today.
Although Joseph is very much a part of our lives, I have been very careful over the years never to drum it into the younger children that he is their brother and we MUST talk about him. When Eva says that she has two brothers and a sister, I have never corrected her or told her that she must include Joseph. When we visit the cemetery and they are more interested in the flowers than the reason for our visit, I have never made a fuss. As important as it is for me to keep Joseph’s memory alive, I never wanted it to feel strange or forced on the children.
And while Lewis obviously remembers, and talks about Joseph quite often, I completely understood that the youngest three are unable to comprehend that there is another little baby who is actually their big brother too. At this age it is very hard for them to imagine something that they have never seen, never felt, never touched.
I have always wondered about what we will tell the children as they grow, as they start to question this older brother who we speak of but they have never got to meet. And it’s hard to know the right words, to explain to them about a place, somewhere in the clouds, where we go when we die. Psychologists recommend that we are brutally honest with children, that we use words like died and death, that we explain how there is no chance of that person ever coming back, no way of paying them a visit. But it all feels a little sombre, a little scary and so very final for a small child to accept.
When Lewis was the same age that Eva is now, he loved taking flowers to the cemetery, running around, fighting imaginary dragons with a stick, or jumping in a pile of leaves. He would tell us that this was Joseph’s playground and visiting him was never a sad occasion. He would lovingly clean the headstone and help us place the flowers in the pot, singing away under his breath. And he never imagined that his baby brother lay beneath his feet because to him, his “Joses” as he called him, was playing beside him, swooping through the trees and soaring through the skies. And I loved that and I hoped that it was true.
And the three youngest come with us to the cemetery now and they watch, as we place the flowers and we clean the headstone, through the innocent eyes of a child. We tell them that this is Joseph’s special place and they just accept it without a moment of doubt.
And there has never been any questions asked, not by any of them. Never has Eva mentioned him from nowhere or referred to him in conversation. Never has she asked about him or questioned why she can’t see him. And I was fine with that. I knew that as long as we continued to speak his name, to share his memory and keep him close that the children would grow up without fear, with the knowledge that Joseph is part of their family, their lives, their DNA.
And then yesterday, as we drove past the cemetery, Eva just randomly piped up from the back seat, “Joseph!” and pointed across to the cemetery gates. And my heart stopped for a moment, catching in my throat, too scared to speak incase I broke this precious moment. “Joseph is my brother”, she told me very matter of fact, “He flies up in the sky”. As tears filled my eyes and I looked back on her in my wing mirror, her little face looking up into the clouds with such wonder, she whispered, “Mummy, he is magic!” And my heart could have burst.
All the times I have spent worrying about keeping Joseph’s memory alive, all of the nights I have lay awake agonising how we would ever explain it to the children…and they just knew. These beautiful, sensitive, intuitive little Doves of mine, they just knew.