Saturday, August 28, 2010

The death of a sibling and the effects........

It started in the car yesterday with Dempsey, sitting in her car seat, dripping wet from hours of swimming at Summer Camp, as she hit me with one of her question times. “Mommy, can you tell me how old I was again when Savannah died?” she asked. I turned the radio down and adjusted the rear vision mirror so I could see her.

“You were eighteen months old Precious…almost two.” I told her.

“I miss having my sister Mommy, can you tell me again how Savannah died?”

Here we go, I thought. Dempsey is obsessed with how her sister died, what it was like for her and all sorts of other questions that I keep answering openly and honestly so she can have some sort of picture of what Savannah was like.

     Savannah and Dempsey.  Savannah had just lost the ability to walk.

The conversation continued when we got home on our sofa. I sat down next to her and put my arm around her as she asked questions like……”What was I doing when she died?” “Did Savannah like me?” “What were Savannah’s last words Mommy?” I told her what a good baby she was for me when her sister was sick and I racked my brains to remember what Savannah’s last words were… could I ever forget…but time clouds your memory.

I stroked her arm and told her Savannah loved her and was so proud to be her big sister, that she would crawl over to Dempsey’s bouncer and read Winnie the Pooh to her….and pop her binky back in her mouth when it dropped out. Demps sat there smiling and staring off into space in a trance. I would’ve loved to know what was going through her tiny brain as I told her the stories, the same stories I’ve told her over and over. I asked her what she was thinking and she said, “Nothing Mommy!” With a shy smile.

Then my beautiful eight year old reached over and hugged me, “Mommy, I feel sad for you too because you don’t have your big sister here either!” I cuddled her and kissed the top of her head with a lump in my throat……”No Precious, Mommy doesn’t have her sister either!”

Suffering the loss of a brother or sister is like misplacing a part of you.  It changes the family dynamics, especially during the holidays or special family occasions. I remember my Dad and Brenda’s wedding a few years ago, fighting back the tears when I saw her twin daughters dressed in flowing lilac dresses, their hair curled into ringlets with huge smiles decorating their faces…….also, that Tarnia wasn’t there to witness our Dad so happy and in love again…and of course that she didn’t get to see her two boys looking so handsome. I will always be saddened that she can’t participate in our family get togethers. And I know I wouldn’t be human if on those special days I didn’t have that longing for my sister to be part of our family as she should be.

  Brenda's grandaughter, and Tarnia's twin daughters with Dempsey at Dad's Wedding two years ago!

Yes, Dempsey and I share a special bond that we’ve both lost our sister’s, our siblings. I was fortunate to have had Tarnia in my life until we were adults and I have a lot of memories and photos I can reminisce over. Not all of the memories are happy ones might I add, Tarnia and I being so different! :)

And I know I have to be careful when I tell Dempsey stories about her sister’s time with us as I know it’s very easy to paint of picture of Savannah or of a sibling that is unrealistic or flawless as we tend to do when people we love die. I know some people have put Tarnia on a pedestal, have forgotten her imperfections. It’s important to be honest and real, especially with children who have lost a brother or sister. My friend Dr. Philippart sent me the email below after Savannah died…..

Dear Mrs Doyle,

It is important to make sure the surviving child is not given the impression that the deceased child was such a perfect being that there never will be another sibling who could match that perfection. Two of my friends who had lost an older sibling were feeling their lives were under the shadow of that perfect sibling and were uncomfortable with their inability to compete with someone they never knew.

Sincerely Michel Philippart, M.D

His words are always in the back of my mind when I tell Dempsey about her sister. Losing a sibling creates a new identity and for a long time after Tarnia died I felt ripped off that I didn’t have her to call and talk to her about Mom dying or Savannah….. I also remember standing in a queue at the checkout a few days after she died and wondering why her and not me, guilt that I was alive and she wasn’t! I was angry at her for dying, angry that she had caused our family so much pain….”God Tarnia, how could you be so careless!” I thought to myself. Then of course I was upset at myself for thinking such a thing………

I know for me, I still have my brother Mark, whom I adore, but I do miss having a sister. I’m envious of my friends and the relationships they have…even if sometimes I do romanticize how Tarnia and I would be now. I know Dempsey gets lonely for her sister too and I know how she feels……I also know I can’t change what has happened to our family…I have to accept it, keep Savannah’s memory alive for Dempsey, continue to tell her over and over that she has a sister…its just that she can’t be here with us.

I know I’ll always miss Tarnia and the relationship we could’ve had……I will always yearn to have her in my life. However I know I’m not alone….some people never experience having a sibling. I have to look at what I do have which is great girlfriends who are like sister’s, and cousins who I can call like I would’ve Tarnia. I have to look at these positives to survive not having her here.

     Me, my beautiful Mum and sister Tarnia, taken a long time ago! Nice hairdo's :)

I take comfort now in passing on what I do remember about my sister to her two little girls Emerald and Charlotte who never knew her, I’ve started a journal full of my memories of her as a gift to them when they are older….this also helps ease my guilt that I am still here while she is not.

And I’ll continue to answer Dempsey’s questions about her big sister with a smile….reinforcing to Dempsey how precious she is to us!

Our conversation yesterday finished with Dempsey providing me with comfort…...a hug and a sloppy kiss, as she added….“But you still have me Mommy and I’m hungry!”

How lucky I am! x

The above article was published on where there are some insightful articles on the journey of loss.



  1. Dee, we are in the same boat today. I noted down the usual blithering crap or something, then logged in here to see what you had been up to, and, yep, good days and bad, this september will be too long. Cheers dears, chin up, tomorrow is a new day anyway :)

  2. Thanks Tone,

    Always thinking of you, Tarnia and your four beautiful ones and yes, tomorrow is another day! :)
    love you all and miss you too.

  3. Hi Diana,

    Sorry I haven't commented in awhile but I'm still reading and always impressed at the grace in which you handle all life has given you.


  4. Hey Missy,

    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, especially such a heartfelt one!

    So excited for you and your growing baby! I can't wait to read your journey and of course see you little doll Katie!

    Have a great day!
    Diana x

  5. Diana-- Thank you so much for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. I am just so very sorry for everything that you have endured. I lost my mother to cancer in 2002 when I was 26 and ended a terribly sad marriage in 2004. After I met my current husband and had our beautiful Hudson, I think I thought that I would somehow be insulated from any more suffering until I was old and prepared for it. Your strength and grace in the face of all that you have suffered is an inspiration and gives me hope. I am thinking of you and your mother and your sister, and especially your sweet Savannah today. Thank you again.

  6. Dear Mandy,

    It sounds as if you have been through so much too, its hard I know.

    Thank you for your comment from one mom to another who knows.

    I'll be checking in on your blog to read your articles which bring me comfort and also let me know I'm not alone in my thoughts of losing a child and missing them so very much.
    with love
    Diana x