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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Grief and sibling trauma

As we walked home from the frozen yogurt store last week, my son pointed out some Halloween decor at the end of our street that he liked. There were some scruffy black cats and pumpkins and a scarecrow. My neighbors were offering a gentle version of the holiday that's become anything but gentle. When I asked what he liked about them, he basically said that they weren't upsetting like some of the other stuff. When I asked him what he meant, he had a hard time articulating what he was feeling, but it was obvious to me. So I helped him make sense of his feelings as best as I could without putting words in his mouth.

He is also traumatized by the holiday gore lining our streets.

He's seen postoperative pictures of Riley. And he lived with his brother's scars -- the six-inch scar down his torso and the holes from the stitches and the puncture wounds from drainage tubes. All of those scars were familiar to him because that's all he ever knew of his brother who endured six open-heart surgeries during his lifetime. He is familiar with Steristrips holding skin together over wounds. He is familiar with bandages from blood tests. He spent time with his brother in the hospital when he was a baby. He lived with his brother and the aftermath of those long hospitalizations for all eight years that he was lucky enough to have an older brother. So seeing the undead around town with bloody incisions and gaping wounds and bandages is upsetting. He knows what those are in real life. He doesn't want to be reminded of them on the streets of our town. It reminds him of the trauma in his own family. It reminds him of his dead brother. I'm sure he imagines what his brother looked before he died. And afterwards. Those images probably look like the worst of what Halloween offers.

The bloody clown emerging from the gutter is not on display this October. And I have avoided the house near school, the one that incorporated their son's imaginary death in their decor last year. As a result, I don’t know what decorations, if any, they’ve put out this year. But I’m very much on edge as I move through town this time of year. And apparently, I'm not the only one. Still Standing just published a slightly altered version of my piece from last year. Read it here.

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