THE BLOG
04/30/2014 09:26 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2014

I Didn't Know What to Say

My 4-year-old daughter Annabel's questions about her deceased older sister Madeline come in phases, and we are currently in a big one. The questions are getting more specific and harder to answer, because while I am always honest I do everything I can to not scare her.

Annie is very into the human body right now. We have several books and apps she likes to explore, and I love watching her face as she puts it all together. I dread the sections about lungs, because Annie always asks questions about Maddie's. We told her that Maddie had weak lungs because she was born too early. We then emphasize that Annie and her baby brother James have strong, healthy lungs.

She accepted that for a while, but lately she wants to know why. Why was Maddie born too soon? Why were her lungs weak? Why couldn't the doctors fix her? She's at the age where I want her to trust that doctors will make her feel better. She doesn't need to know that doctors can't fix everything. Not yet.

The one question she's asked a lot lately is, "What did the doctors do?" Did they give Maddie shots? Medicine? Did they have her rest in bed? This line of questioning is difficult because it gives me flashbacks. I hate that soon, she's going to realize death is something that can happen to anyone.

During our eight millionth watching of Frozen, Annie finally made the connection I've been dreading -- that she should be "Anna," and Maddie should be "Elsa." I'd been trying to avoid this by emphasizing Annie's big sister status, but I knew it was only a matter of time. She said, "Mommy, I wish Maddie was here so she could sing the big sister parts." I switched tactics and told Annie since she's a big sister and a little sister, she can sing both parts. I even started calling her "Annabelsa," but she still seems quite sad about it.

She's started asking me to draw her "Maddie Marks" again. I don't mind, although I do wonder how she explains them at preschool (her teachers know about Maddie). Yesterday she asked me to "draw a different Maddie Mark -- one of me and Maddie together." Heart stab.

My husband Mike took Annie to see Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which has a time machine as the central plot point. Annie is absolutely fascinated by the whole concept of time travel, and has been raving about it ever since she saw the movie. She asks every day if she can build a time machine so she can "see dinosaurs!" When I dropped her off at school yesterday, she said, "Mommy, later when we build a time machine, I don't want to see dinosaurs. I want to go back in time and see Maddie. I want to play with her and save her so she can be with us forever."

I just hugged her, because I didn't know what to say.

Annie

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