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Death and Guilt

Updated on October 23, 2012

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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    • primardie profile image

      primardie 5 years ago from Texas

      Most definitely. In life we have to always be aware of the little ones and their reactions to things that happen around them. We can always help them deal with situations difficult to understand as long as we are willing to take the time. Thank you for your comment.

    • LEWMaxwell profile image

      Leslie Schock 5 years ago from Tulsa, Oklahoma

      Thank you for sharing this primardie. Children go through the grieving process as well, but as you pointed out, it can have a whole different set of consequences with children if they aren't sat down and allowed to ask questions and receive answers. This could be said for any major life event that can possibly involve grieving or confusion.

    • primardie profile image

      primardie 7 years ago from Texas

      As a high school counselor I deal with this sort of thing quite often. Many times it is pain that is unintentional on the part of the parents. It's no wonder many children have such a hard time learning.

    • chamilj profile image

      chamilj 7 years ago from Sri Lanka

      Very sensitive story. Children suffer with these kind of problems for years. As you said we must tell them that it is not their fault.

    • primardie profile image

      primardie 7 years ago from Texas

      Thank you, izettl.

    • izettl profile image

      Laura Izett 7 years ago from The Great Northwest

      Great point to this story- and well told.

    • primardie profile image

      primardie 7 years ago from Texas

      Thank you, suziecat7.

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      A sad story and some important advice. Great Hub.

    • primardie profile image

      primardie 7 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Okmom23!

    • okmom23 profile image

      Donna Oliver 7 years ago from Midwest, U.S.A.

      How sad, both the death and the guilt which comes with it. I agree how important it is to communicate with the children involved, full of life! Well written hub.


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