In the Arms of an Angel

Our family faced a sudden loss – for T, his first experience with losing someone – over the holidays.

My sister passed away last Thursday, a few days after being admitted to the hospital on Christmas Day, after a short and brave battle with cancer.

My family and I are still processing and making sense of this sudden loss. No matter how prepared we were, knowing we were on borrowed time, it still feels so sad and shocking.

T was her favourite person. Being his Auntie – a doting one! – was one of her most treasured roles.

She lived with us last Fall. I didn’t blog about it, as she loves to follow along T’s adventures and I wanted this space to be an escape from it all.

The last few months were so hard, stressful and exhausting. While we were happy to support her, it was beyond what the hubby and I were capable of. It disrupted T’s routine and affected our home life, sleep, mood quite seriously.

But I am glad we did it, because it provided her with comfort that she was not facing this awful illness alone.

In the earlier part of her stay, T and her enjoyed watching movies together in the family room and she would offer to help cook meals for him.

It is sobering and sad to now look back and realize just how quickly she deteriorated.

T displayed so much empathy, care and maturity during her stay – often going to her doorstep to tell her “I love you” or “I hope you feel better.”

But T, being T, also spoke his mind.

The funnier moments were when he’d go into her room and call her “Baldie” after the hubby shaved her head before she started chemotherapy.

The more serious moments were when T complained to her directly she was keeping him up at night because of her nonstop trips to the bathroom and her constant coughing.

The hubby and I would try to explain to T that while it was annoying and disruptive, she was not doing it on purpose and that she was only doing so because she was very sick.

About two years ago, T randomly asked me about death.

Before we invited my sister to move in at the end of September, the hubby and I decided we were going to be open and honest with T every step of the way, as it helps normalize things.

We let T know she was moving in because she was sick. We let him know that while we were hopeful for a miracle, she was also likely to pass away in the near future.

Watching T process things the last few months has been interesting, heartbreaking and ultimately something that makes us beam with pride.

I remember his school EA telling us T told her quite sadly, in October, that he didn’t understand why his Auntie was not getting better after he ran so hard for her at the Terry Fox Run.

T also went from having 1-2 night terrors a year to 1-2 night terrors a week when she moved in with us – a tell-tale sign of him coping with this huge sudden disruption.

We told T about her death after he came home from daycare. We were going to wait until two days later that weekend but he asked about visiting her and so we didn’t feel like we could wait.

He took the news well, although the next day, Friday, daycare staff said he cried.

In T’s mind, his Auntie is now an Angel sitting on a cloud with a gold ring over her head and has wings. And at nighttime, she is a star in the sky.

Honestly, I could not feel more grateful for how he is processing this.

We told T there is no right or wrong way to feel and to feel, think and say what he needs to – and that we are here for him at any time.

The hubby and I let T participate in some of the funeral planning. During a visit to the funeral home, we showed T the room where her service was going to be held and walked him in detail through the 4-hour visitation/service, so he knew what to expect the day of.

We told T what to expect his Auntie to look like when he saw her again in the casket in a few days – and explained that she would be cremated and what that meant.

We visited the cemetery and showed T where she was going to be buried.

The visitation and funeral service took place this Wednesday.

The hubby, T and I got there an hour before guests arrived to set everything up and to give T one-on-one quiet time with her.

While the hubby and I were reviewing the registration table setup, T quietly snuck up to her casket and shouted, “Boo!”

It startled us and we asked him what the heck he was doing.

T said matter of factly, “I just wanted to see if she was alive!”

God bless this child. Because the hubby and I burst out laughing. We really needed that laugh.

Then we told T he had better not do that when the guests arrived.

The four-hour visitation – with the funeral service held in the middle – feels like a blur to me now.

It was so nice to see many of her friends and our family come out to celebrate her life. I know she would’ve appreciated it.

And she would’ve been so proud of T.

He gave my Ma a hug when she arrived and hovered around her a few times to make sure she was ok.

He said he wanted to sit next to her during the service, because she was going to be sad, but he ended up sitting with my cousin’s similarly-aged children.

He sat through the 30-minute service, attended by about 75 guests, calmly and quietly.

My cousin told me that at one point, T put his hand on her daughter’s back to comfort her when she started to cry.

T’s doting Auntie surely would’ve been proud.

34 thoughts on “In the Arms of an Angel

  1. Ab, I am so very sorry for the loss of your sister and T’s Auntie. My care is with you. You seem, as always to be thinking of T and supporting him through his loss and understanding. I am glad you have written about this part of your journey here, will keep sharing your heart, and can feel the genuine care that is sent to you. ❤️

    1. Thank you, LaDonna. It’s been a very surreal 3 weeks (and 3 months before that). It’s a new process for all of us and we’re hopeful that time will heal all wounds. He seems to be doing ok and asking appropriate questions. 🙏

      Hope you had less eventful start to the new year! 😊

  2. I’m so sorry to hear that your sister passed away over the holidays. Everyone processes things differently, but I’m sure T appreciates how open and honest you are with him about death instead of trying to sugar coat it (or pretend it didn’t happen). And leave it to T to add some laughter into the funeral service! It’s honestly very heartwarming for him to be so aware of other people’s sadness and that he tries to comfort them. Hope you’re all doing okay.

    1. Thank you Linda. It was very unexpected. Looking at it from T’s perspective, he’s handling it as best as he could and we’re grateful for that.

  3. Oh Ab, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. What a nice thing you all did to have her in your home. I bet she was looking down from heaven and laughing when T said boo. How proud you both must be of him but I’m not surprised with the way you are raising T! (((Hugs)))

    1. Thanks Diane. It definitely was a challenging few months and I agree that she would’ve found it amusing when he said boo to the casket. 😆

  4. Ab, I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine how hard it was for you all to go through this horrible sickness. You, hubby, and T giving your sister the last comfort of a loving home made you her angels. T is learning hard lessons and is handling it so well and so maturely (other then that boo, of course!). May your family not know any more sorrow.

    1. Thank you! It was a terrible illness to witness so close at home. “Hard lesson” is the right word. Looking at it strictly from T’s perspective, the past few months have asked a lot of him and for a 7-year-old kid, we couldn’t be more proud of how he responded to this awful situation.

  5. Dear AB, I’m so sorry to hear this. Please accept my condolences to you and your family. It sounds like you all have had a long and challenging time trying to deal with a terrible illness. But how amazing that you all were able to have your sister with you at your home! She sounds like a lovely and kind soul. May her light burn ever so bright. ❤️

    1. Thank you for your kind words. It was a trying time for sure – and I can only imagine what she went through. T thinks she’s in the clouds now so the burning light imagery is a comforting one!

  6. Oh Ab, I am so sorry for your loss. Reading about how T processed the passing of your sister reminded me of my own experience when I lost a friend at primary school. I think it was the first time I lost someone I saw almost every day. I was sad, then confused, before I realized that she was gone forever. It really warmed my heart reading about how T has been dealing with this loss, and boy! him doing the boo! part is really funny. Bless him, indeed. Sending my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time for you and your family.

    1. Thank you, Bama. Death truly is a strange and sad process and even sadder to experience it through a kid’s eyes. I can relate on the school friend story too as no kid has to go through that, so very sad.

  7. Oh Ab I am so sorry to hear about your sister. The way you and your hubby handled the truth was beautiful. When My husbands mom died, our son was in 2nd grade. I don’t think we handled it well (in hindsight) and perhaps being honest and open and patient with explaining is the key to T’s view of your sister as his angle. May your sister’s memory be a blessing. Wishing you, your hubby, T and your family peace.

    1. Thank you Vickie. It’s a strange and sad process. We were blessed (if you can call it that) to have some notice and time to think about it and we’re glad we let him know ahead of time of what the eventual outcome would be. It helped soften it for him.

  8. I’ll keep you all in my prayer’s Ab. It sounds like your sister was a very loving spirit.
    It’s never easy explaining death to a child, at least not for me, but you guys seem to stay on top of T’s every need while giving him all your love and support. Sending hugs from Cali!!

    1. Thanks Tammy. She was kind and caring but also got on my nerves at times like a sister should. 😆 Being T’s Auntie was something she truly enjoyed. I wouldn’t say we’re on top of everything but this was one we were thankfully proactive in guiding him through the process early on. 🙏 But as with life, you can never really fully prepare for an event like death.

      1. I can relate to the siblings (2 brothers) working my nerves, lol.
        I simply admire you’re attitude when it comes to challenges. I’ve learned so much from reading your posts & I’m thankful for the perspectives you offer that I hadn’t considered in certain situations. You give me hope Ab❣️

  9. I am so sorry for your loss. I thought something had been going on lately, but I also thougjt holidays just got you real busy. I have missed your blogs. I busted out laughing about the Boo experience though. T is a very thoughtful kid. Into emotions of others, which is a trait i wish more had. I hope T is doing ok, and I hope you and your hubby and family are as well. Cancer SUCKS. it just does. Prayers with you all during this time.

    1. Thank you, cancer really is such an awful sickness. To see it up close was very awful and sad. But I think you can relate in some of the more spontaneous and funny moments like the “Boo.” It was just the right moment to bring some needed levity.

  10. Oh, Ab. I’m so sorry for your loss. That must be a heavy burden to lose a sibling, especially so quickly and when she was living with you. Bless you all for taking her in and rolling with the care, the disruptions and this huge task of helping T through the loss.

    This is an incredibly beautiful post – especially from within the midst of loss and grief. I hope you continue to feel her warmth and closeness as you all deal with a big loss. Sending lots of love and hugs.

    1. Thanks Wynne. It was a really tough three months but also shocking to think it was also just three months. The person who arrived at the beginning and who departed at the end were so different health wise that it’s shocking. Chemotherapy is awful and devastating.

      Death is a normal part of life and I know these emotions T are going through is normal. But they are nonetheless hard to watch as a parent. But as you noted, we think he’s doing awesome so far. 🙏 Take care.

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