Wednesday, 12 October 2016

A brother’s love for his dying sister – how to explain the inevitable to siblings

Many people have asked me, how we handled our son Keelan when the doctors told us about Isabella, and the answer I always give is we were honest with him from the start.

I suppose the hardest part was knowing that Keelan already said hello to his sister and that we told him already that his sister was coming home that Friday, he was so excited becoming a big brother, I remember sitting on the bed with Keelan after he saw Isabella with his dad when the doctor and nurse came into the ward and asked to see myself and Kevin in a private room, my heart sank as I knew there was something serious wrong by the look on their faces, I looked at Keelan and he had the biggest smile on his face not knowing what was happening,  that is what gets to me more about her heart condition not being picked up, our son had to suffer the rollercoaster ride of emotion, something no sibling should ever go through.

After we were told that she appeared to have complications with her heart and that she was being sent to Crumlin, we were in a state of shock, how could our precious baby girl who looked  perfect and healthy have something wrong with her? How serious is this? Is this life threatening? How are we meant to go out of this room and explain to our son what is going on? Is he going to understand? All of these questions were running around in our heads, I wanted to go with her in the ambulance but I was not aloud after surgery, Kevin had to go up alone in case paper work had to be signed but I don’t want him to be alone and I don’t want my baby girl to not have her mum next to her. You simply cannot process anything, all I knew is that I had to be truthful to Keelan, he is 7 yrs old and has a good understanding about life itself, I strongly believe as it was his sister he had the right to know the truth, if I tried to sugar coat this it would be so much harder for him to process if anything was to happen which at the time I would of never dreamed of.

We sat Keelan down and I said that the doctors have found that Isabella’s heart is very sick and they are going to send her to a very special hospital in Dublin where they are going to do everything they can to make her better, but there maybe a chance she may fly with the angels. It took all my strength not to collapse on the floor in front of my son, but if I looked strong, he will be strong, he replied and said ‘ok mummy, I will say a little prayer for my sister to get better so we can bring her home. As I stayed in Kerry hospital for the next two days I spent as much time as possible with him as I knew once I get to Dublin I wouldn’t know when I would be back down, the night before I left my mum brought him down and I asked for her to go back to my house to collect more stuff and to leave Keelan with me, that was quality time we needed and time which became so important to ensure that he understood what was going on.

I remember months prior to having Isabella my granddad (Keelan’s great granddad) was very ill with cancer, I knew I had to prepare Keelan for the inevitable, we visited him in the hospital but once he really started to deteriorate I didn’t have the heart for Keelan to see him anymore, I wanted him to remember him looking well and able to crack his jokes as always. To prepare Keelan I got him a book about life and death so he would have a greater understanding for the sad time that I knew was upon us, this really did help him, however I never knew that this would be of use to help him through losing his baby sister.

As I was in Crumlin Isabella’s condition is looking more serious but we had yet to find out what was going on, until we had our meeting with her doctors and was told that there was nothing they can do. Our hearts broke into a million pieces; Kevin looked at me with despair and said ‘how are we going to tell Keelan’ I said ‘the truth’. At first Kevin was hesitant to let Keelan come up but I said we must give him a choice, he will never get a second chance to say goodbye. I remember being at Kevin’s brother house Micheal who is Isabella’s godfather, he lived down the road from Crumlin so we were staying with him, he looked after us through our entire journey, he sat us down in the living room and then we made the phone call, we had him on speaker phone both trembling with immense sadness and fear in how we are going to tell our son what is going on and how is he going to react. Kevin talked first then paused, he couldn’t go on, I took over and started to explain, I told Keelan that the doctors could not fix Isabella’s heart because it was too sick and that she will be flying with the angels soon, the phone went quiet, I continued and said that we are giving him a choice if he would like to come up and say goodbye or if he wanted to stay at home? He replied that he wanted to be the best big brother and say goodbye to his sister, we was incredibly proud of him as we knew that this was no easy decision to make for a 7 year old.

Keelan came up on the Friday with all of the family, amazingly Isabella gave us precious time so that Keelan had a chance to say hello again and give her cuddles and kisses before she grew her wings. She was christened at 4pm and we had a private photographer from NILMDTS to take photos of her later that evening in her final hours with us, photos of Keelan holding her, and our little family altogether which will forever be cherished, making those memories that will now last a lifetime.

Isabella passed away early Saturday morning on my chest, we brought her down to Kerry for her burial that same day, we brought her down to Kevin’s dad house in Killorglin, so many people were there wanted to pay their respects, Keelan wanted to help his dad place her in her little pink casket, something that I would never expect for him to do but he wanted to, a sense of a duty being her older brother. She layed there just looking like she was sleeping, so beautiful and at peace, that was when it finally sunk in what had happened, myself, Kevin and Keelan broke down together holding each other so tight, a bond that will never brake. We did choose for Keelan  not to attend Isabella’s burial as he had already been through so much at this stage we felt that he said his goodbye’s and now it was our turn to say goodbye.

Kevin walked out of his dad’s house holding little Isabella’s casket so tight in his arms, while I walked behind him, the sun shining down on us, the clouds were so fluffy in the sky, the river was sparkling and so many swans gathered around the water’s edge, now it was time for us to say goodbye to our darling Isabella.

I wanted to share this as I feel it is so important to see from personal experiences how we as parents dealt with a situation that was thrown to us, everybody has their own ways in parenting, but I just wanted to show that being truthful to our children is the best way for them to learn about life and death and how they begin to process this in their own way. We all want to protect our children from pain and never want to see them cry, but I think if we tell them nothing bad is going to happen and it does, it could create a full sense of confusion and leave them thinking negative thoughts about every situation they are told 'everything is ok, and you don’t need to worry’ but if you sew the seed of maybe this could happen but they are in the best care possible, this not only tells the truth but also adds a percentage of preparing for the worse. This can be relating to any family member, friend of family or even the families pet.

I like to say ‘preparation is key’ and it is especially for siblings in circumstances like ours, this is why our campaign is so important to get through to the Minister for Health that if Isabella’s heart condition was picked up, and knowing that she could not of been saved we could of prepared Keelan for the worse, however because the resources are not available to us within the hospital our son said hello to his healthily sister then days later goodbye, if that is not confusing I do not know what is and all because our health system failed us. We know our Isabella could not have been saved, however we want to save any other parents from the heart break of what we have gone through.

Mother & brother to an angel xoxox

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