Thursday, January 25, 2018

Kids and Grief: How do you make a Rainbow Baby not Feel Like a Replacement?

A few months ago I wrote about how Andrew has redeemed "boy things" for me. After Jack died, all things boy, whether the clothing aisles at Target, a Lego ad, or seeing boys of any age, brought much pain. Now, I can go to the boys' department and look for a good deal again, not cry for a stage of Jack's that I miss, or that he never got to. It's easier to look forward when fully engaged in the day-to-day needs of parenting a flesh and blood toddler, who is glued to my hip much of the time.

A reader who considered himself an unwitting and unwilling "replacement child" for his dead  brother shared how difficult it was growing up under the shadow of the sibling he never met. His pain was compounded by the fact that they shared a birthday, so even what should have been the most special day each year for him was linked to his brother and the reminder of the depths of his parents' grief and sadness. He considered it selfish for parents to try to have another child after loss because of the heavy baggage that child would always bear, and he recommended therapy rather than procreation as a way to find redemption.

I so appreciate his honesty and insight into the complexity of being a child who comes into a family after a sibling has died. He has been there; I haven't. And I want to honor his experience.

His comment also gave voice to some things I'd been wondering:

How do you make a rainbow baby not feel like a replacement?

How do you help your child grapple with the complicated realization that will likely come at some point, that had a sibling not died, he or she might not have been born?

How do you focus on the living child here, while honoring the memory of the child who died? 

Andrew is already going to have the oldest mom and dad around. His sister will be out of the house by the time he is 3 years old, so instead of being born into a noisy, boisterous family, he may have a childhood that feels more like Donaldson2.0 than what I would have chosen for him.

But he's here. Right now. And he's awesome. How will I help him with our family's less than traditional story?

Here are 5 ideas:

1) Let Andrew know that we always wanted a 3rd child, which is true, even though we never acted on it because life got in the way. His arrival may have been a lot later than we envisioned, but it was right on time, so that Andrew would be Andrew.

2) Make sure he knows he is not responsible for my healing or my happiness. Yes, having a baby brings life and promise and optimism, but it is not Andrew's job to fill me up or take away my grief. That's too much responsibility for a child to bear. I have myself, God, friends, and professionals to help me. He can be a kid.

3) Share about big brother Jack when it seems natural to do so, but don't deify him, and don't compare. Be sure to mention Jack's quirks and struggles as well as what came easily to him. Celebrate Andrew's uniqueness, his interests, his strengths.

4) Don't feel the need to bring Jack into every single conversation, but don't avoid mentioning him either. Gauge this on Andrew, just as we have with Margaret. Remember Jack is in paradise, and there is no way for me to let him down, disappoint him, or leave him out. There is no greater cheerleader for our family than Jack, so he would want us to find a rhythm that works for us.

5) Acknowledge Andrew when he feels like he is missing out, whether he grieves having siblings in the house with him, having younger parents, or whether it's about losing Jack, specifically. Let him know it's okay to grieve, it's okay to be angry, and it's okay to be happy.

What would you add? Are you parenting after loss, or are you, yourself, a "rainbow baby?" I think this is an important conversation, and I'd love to hear from you!

If you are in grief, or have a friend who is grieving, please consider giving them my book:

Saturday, January 20, 2018


Due to icy weather, illness, or school holidays, Andrew has only been to preschool 2 times since Dec 13! Being cooped up quickly took a toll on both of us, and I found inertia setting in. Too much TV. Too little human interaction and Vitamin D. One long day stretched into another, and eventually the thought of trying to leave the house became daunting.

Two weeks ago, we had a little break in the weather, so I decided to get off the couch and start taking him places again. First we went to church, where he explored the nursery. Next, I took him to the fancy-pants gym, where I discovered a contented Andrew having a tea party with several little girls and gnawing on the pretend food. The next day, preschool was back in session, and he had a blast as usual.

We both felt more positive about life.

By midnight the following night, however, we'd entered a barf-storm of epic proportions.

The misery.

The helplessness.

The laundry.

Oh, and did I tell you Tim was out of town? Over the next week and 1/2, we each succumbed to this nasty stomach virus AND Andrew was diagnosed with walking pneumonia.

So now we are back on lock-down. See you in the spring.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Sponsor the Gift of Rare Bird

It seems like each time I log on to my computer or turn on the TV, I see another tragedy unfold.

Sometimes, when I am able to locate a mailing address, I send a grieving family a signed copy of my book. Love gifts such as this meant a lot to me when I was in deep, early grief. THANK YOU to those of you who reached out to me in that way! Most times, however, I get overwhelmed by the logistics and expense and do nothing.

I'd like to invite you, as a reader of An Inch of Gray, to sponsor the donation of a copy of Rare Bird to a hurting family when you hear about a tragedy on the news or in your community. 

Each sponsorship is $15 and includes a signed hardcover copy of Rare Bird (retail $22.99), a note from me to the family, packaging, and shipping. I think this could be a good way to help me reach out to people I might not otherwise hear about.

I would need an address (U.S. only, please) and pertinent details that will help me inscribe the book and to make sure I'm not sending multiple books to the same family.

If this interests you, please email me at

And, as always, if you would like to purchase a hardcover book for yourself or a friend (also $15 including shipping), this email is the best way to contact me about it. Paperbacks are available on Amazon, and wherever books are sold.

Again and again, I hear how this book brings light to those in the darkness of grief. Thank you for spreading that light!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Rare Bird, South Africa

I know some of you were hoping I'd have a rare bird moment in South Africa, so I am especially happy to share this story with you.

A few days into our trip, we were out on an afternoon game drive, looking for the elusive black rhino. I said to myself, to Jack, to God: "I need a rare bird. Something really cool, like a bird landing on our truck or something. But it can't be something Chris (our guide) will explain away, like, 'Oh, that happens every day around here.'"

Of course seeing any exotic animal was thrilling to us, but we could sense that Chris was more enthusiastic when he'd locate some animals rather than others. For instance, we were excited each time we saw zebras and warthogs (Pumba!) but Chris gave those more of a yawn because of what a common sight they were on the reserve.

Just a few minutes later, as we drove across a frighteningly narrow trail that dropped off into a pond, Chris stopped the truck short. He pointed out a bird in the tree right next to us. It was a smallish bird, and none of us would have noticed it if he hadn't said anything. He told us it was a Diederik Cuckoo that likely hadn't yet learned to fly.

He told us more. They are brood parasites, which mean they lay a single egg in another bird's nest. Once hatched, this bird tends to kill off any of the original offspring who really belong in the nest. Boo. That didn't seem to be very nice, but it was fascinating. I still hoped this bird was for me. After all, everyone says how terribly mean blue jays are, but I love them for all of the comfort they've brought us.

But was this bird rare or special enough to be my sign? I mean, it hadn't landed on our car, or my arm. It was just sitting in a tree.

Chris radioed his best buddy and fellow guide, Bernie, to bring her group right over. Bernie pulled up, equally excited, and started snapping photos with her enormous camera. As the official photographer of the reserve, she wanted to capture this bird while she had a chance.

After about 10 more minutes of observing the cuckoo, we pulled away. Chris turned back to us and said, "That was incredible. I see them flying occasionally, but I haven't had a chance to see one up close like this in a long time, maybe 8-10 years."

Thank you. Thank you.

Monday, January 1, 2018

South Africa Recap

We made it back to the U.S. on Christmas Eve after a wonderful trip to South Africa. As you know I was nervous about leaving Andrew behind, but he flourished under the care of his aunties, and he seems to still like me.

So, how did this big trip come about?

Tim and Margaret went out of town for his parents' 50th a couple of years ago. I was left alone,  on Jack's 17th birthday, because I was hugely pregnant and couldn't travel. There was a charity auction at Margaret's school that night, but after a terrible day, I wasn't up for going. Instead, I placed an online bid for an African Safari right before the auction ended. I figured Margaret and I could have a nice mother-daughter trip before college. Later, when Tim decided to join us, it became a family trip sans Andrew.

In addition to leaving Andrew behind, I was a bit stressed about the rigors of travel. I'd never been on such a long trip before. The good news? Sitting crammed in economy seats and in airports for over 24 hours straight was downright relaxing compared to toddler wrangling. I just watched a lot of movies and tried (and failed) to sleep. Sure, I was tired, but I've been tired for a long damn time and it didn't seem any worse than usual.

The game reserve, Zulu Nyala, caters almost exclusively to school auctions. It is not one of the well-known, ritzy reserves you may have heard of. That was fine with us, as we are not very ritzy people. It was small and uncrowded, with only about 50 guest rooms, a lobby, a pool area, and a restaurant/bar/dining hall. As you can see, the setting was gorgeous.

view overlooking the reserve from the pool area:

 view outside our room:

The weather was perfect-- chilly in the mornings, warm in the afternoons, and windy pretty much all the time.

We had two game drives in an open Land Cruiser each day, the first at 5:40 a.m. I thought a 5 a.m. wake-up would be miserable, given that this was our first break from early rising in 20 months, but it was fine. We'd go out for 2 1/2 hours and then come back for breakfast. After that, we'd read or nap, have lunch, and go out on another drive for 2-3 hours in the afternoon. Our guide was animated and informative, our fellow travelers delightful, and we were engrossed as we bumped and flew along the rough paths looking for animals to observe.

And the animals did not disappoint! 

We saw warthogs, impalas, elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, cheetahs, wildebeast, lions (on a different reserve), monkeys, baboons, nyalas, hippos, alligators, birds, and dung beetles! I will never forget what it was like to be so close to these magnificent creatures as they went about their business. We even had elephants come super close to our vehicle!

After dinner, we'd read some more or watch a tv show we'd downloaded on our iPad and be asleep  super early.

The latter part of the week we went on a few excursions. One, to a neighboring reserve that had lions, to the Indian Ocean for a few hours, and to an elephant rescue. As you can see, the elephant in the photo below is free to roam wherever he wants. That little fenced enclosure was just to keep us from getting too close to him if he wasn't ready.

Margaret rolled with all of the planes, trains, and automobiles of such a major trip even though she had a terrible cold. As a bonus, she and Tim even managed to sleep for almost the entire way home!

The time away from our usual routine was beneficial for all of us: to sit, to wait, to watch in anticipation and awe, to eat food prepared by others, to read, to rest.

Thank you for praying for us and following along with my updates on Facebook. It was an unforgettable trip.