Death and Guilt
The Death of a Child
They brought the body home, I recall everybody crying uncontrollably, especially my aunt, his mother. I remember that he was so little and that my aunt and uncle lived in that little room out back of my grandmother’s place. Numerous times my aunt would ask me to sit on the side of the bed and watch my little cousin so he would not fall from the bed. The floor was made of concrete. Could that have been what killed him? He must have fallen and hit his head. I am sure, that’s it!
I cried myself to sleep that night, but earlier, as I got close to the box, I could see his little body. The box was white. He looked like he was asleep. I remember looking at his face for a long time wondering if he was going to ever open his eyes. I had watched as my grandmother had washed his little limp body, dressed him and put him in the box. She gently combed his hair, looking at him with so much sadness. At that time, I did not understand. No one saw me there; it was like I was a ghost for no one even looked at me, much less pay attention to me.
A Child's First Encounter with Death
This incident was my first encounter with a death in the family and as I cried myself to sleep that night, I wondered if I had been the one to blame for his death. What had I done wrong? Did he fall off the bed and hit his head? I had to know, but I was afraid to ask. Had I left him unattended? What if I did? What if he fell and died because I left him and my aunt did not see him and he fell off the bed? The guilt overwhelmed my heart that night and the memory of the still body in the night haunted me for a very long time after that. I was eight years old, I had no previous knowledge of what death was about. Why had the baby stopped breathing? I had no understanding of what had happened and my imagination ran wild. “Poor baby,” I thought, as I looked at how beautiful he looked. He looked so peaceful, as if fast asleep. I was alone with him for what seemed hours. By the time I woke up in the morning, they had already taken him away. I did not see the box again..
Help Children Understand Death
I finally had the courage to talk to my mother about my baby cousin. I was in my late thirties. "Mom, remember my aunt's baby, the one that fell off the bed and died?" She corrected me and said, "No, he didn't fall off the bed and hit his head, he just stopped breathing." That was the day I laid my baby cousin to rest, because for years, I had carried the guilt in my heart.
The moral of this story: Make sure that when there is a death in the family that you pay close attention to the little children in the family. Help them understand that sometimes things we cannot control happen and that it is not their fault. Take the time to explain to them, do not let them wonder alone while you carry on with your grief. Know that they are asking themselves many questions. If no one takes the time to talk to them, they will create their own stories and they could go on to blame themselves until someday they gain the courage to ask what happened. That could be many years later, or far worse, maybe never.
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