My Child Was Perfect
by Alan Pedersen
No, this is not a misprint. After Ashley died she became perfect … if you don’t believe me just ask her brothers who confronted me a couple of years after her death. They explained how impossible it had become to live up to their sister’s angelic memories which had become the exclusive focus of my stories about her and how I represented her to the world. From their perspective, I had lost perspective of who Ashley was.
My boys wondered why I didn’t speak of Ashley more honestly, why my stories of her didn’t include all of the unique mixed bag of characteristics she possessed …. They reminded me that she was indeed amazing, sweet, kind, creative and thoughtful … but she also had flaws and could be a challenge, she had a sharp tongue, could hold a grudge, had a wicked temper and most of all made lots of mistakes … They loved her and missed her too, but they missed the real her, not this fictional perfect character created by me from the selective things I had chosen to say about her.
To say the least, I was a bit shocked at my boys’ intervention. I mean, after all, I was a grieving dad and of course I wanted to only remember the wonderful and glowing qualities in my little girl. What I hadn’t realized is at the same time I had deified her, I didn’t hesitate to let them and others know when they had let me down, didn’t meet expectations or had broken a rule. My boys helped me to see that in their eyes, Ashley had become the most important child, the focus of my life, she wasn’t being treated like she was one of my children but was treated like she was my only child.
Siblings and grief are a fascinating topic. I have been fortunate that when challenges such as these came up on my journey, I could turn to experts on sibling loss who could help me understand how surviving children perceive their parent’s behavior. As grieving parents, we worry sick about our surviving children and we would never intentionally do anything to hurt them. Yet, our lack of understanding about their grief can inadvertently cause us to do things that do hurt them.
The more I came to understand my surviving children’s grief, the more it seemed they could understand mine. It was very apparent that we simply grieved differently. As I became more educated about sibling loss, I learned some simple things I could do to assure my boys that they mattered as much as Ashley. I needed them to know that they were no less worthy of my praise than her memory was. By talking together, we figured out a few things I could do that would help them in their grief and a few things they could do to help me in mine. These few simple considerations given to each other opened up our communication and helped us. Hopefully these suggestions can help you or someone you know who may face these same challenges.
- We allowed each other to talk as much or as little as we chose about Ashley in our everyday life. If one of us needed to talk about her, we would always try to accommodate but we would not force or coerce these conversations. Nobody’s amount of love for her or how much they missed her would be judged by how much they did or didn’t talk about her on a daily basis.
- We also agreed that Ashley would always be a part of family events and holidays and we would each make our best effort to talk about her on those special days.
- We agreed to support and respect each other in whatever support or lack of support we chose to participate in. My children struggled with the amount of time I spent with my grief support group because they were concerned it was making me sad … I assured them it was my lifeline. I struggled because I didn’t think they sought out support and they assured me they talked to their friends.
- We agreed to give each other the gift of tolerance to grieve in our own time and in our own way.
- I agreed to make sure our house and my life more equally represented all of my children and was not a shrine dedicated solely to Ashley … she was and still is part of the family but they needed to feel as important and equally represented in how the whole family was portrayed.
My child was not perfect. But I have many perfect memories of her that I love to share. Over the years I have learned that it is just as healing sharing many of her imperfections as well. Even those memories where she failed or made mistakes are wonderful. In my opinion, perfection, just like beauty is in the eye of the beholder … so I guess Ashley really was perfect … and so are my boys.