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My Daughter Died. How Do I Tell My Son? | NYT Opinion

February 15, 2020


In August, our son,
Harrison, celebrated his third birthday. He is our second child. And yet, we have never
parented a 3-year-old before. Because Harrison
has an older sister who never turned 3. An older sister
he’ll never meet. Four years ago,
my daughter, Greta, was sitting on a bench on the
Upper West Side of Manhattan with her grandmother
when a brick fell from an eighth-story window
sill and hit her in the head. She never regained
consciousness. She was 2. When Harrison was
born 15 months later, I became a father to both a
living child and a spirit. One child on this
side of the curtain, and another whispering
from beneath it. Greta became our
reference point for Harrison’s every move. We compared their sleep
habits, their behavior on the playground,
their first words, and their first tantrums. We loved how they were
different from each other and how they were similar. But
only until Harrison was 2. Now that he’s 3, we’re
in uncharted territory. It is a bittersweet thing
watching him reach milestones that Greta didn’t. Potty training took on
the momentous feeling of an unknown country. His sister never got that far. Sometimes, watching
Harrison grow, I’m reminded of how
little we’ll ever get to know about Greta. Harrison’s personality
is a public fact. He smiles wider
and cries louder than any other child
in the neighborhood. But Greta’s own
tendencies and quirks remain only in her
parent’s memories. Once, she was a person
imposing her will on the world. Now she is our
lonely private fact. When Harrison was a
baby, we would tell him little things about Greta. Greta loved bananas, too. Greta was a real
pain about sleep. But he is older now, and
I’m more reluctant to say her name when he is around. It’s not Greta’s life
I want to keep secret, but how she died. A brick destroyed
my first child. And now, I have to deliver
the knowledge of that brick to my second. It will teach him lessons
I don’t want him to learn. So I stall for
time, bargaining. My superstitions about Greta’s
accident have died down. I don’t cross the
street anymore to avoid passing under
construction sites with him. And the first time
Harrison smacked his face on the jungle gym, filling
his mouth with blood, I stayed calm. When he reached
for me, screaming, he saw no fear in my eyes. Recently, he pointed
to a picture of Greta on the refrigerator. That’s Harrison, he said. That’s Greta, buddy, I
said, correcting him gently. That moment reminded me
that someday, before long, my wife and I will have
to sit down and explain to him that he has a sister
and why she’s not here. So I hold my breath and
wait for the question. Sometimes, we dread it. Sometimes, we yearn for it. But we are on his timetable. Greta lives inside of
Harrison somewhere, murky and luminescent. He knows she was a person,
and that she’s not here, but that we love
her very much. And for now, that’s enough.

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74 Comments

  • Reply Jayden Meertins February 14, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    omg so sad

  • Reply Shilon06 _ February 14, 2020 at 6:01 pm

    🙊

  • Reply Michael Torres February 14, 2020 at 6:03 pm

    Depending on the age, I say be honest. My sister recently lost her daughter at 1 year and 2 months. Her oldest is 9 years old. She was very strong though the death.

  • Reply Isostasia February 14, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    Life is both so fragile and so beautiful

  • Reply 肉红烧 February 14, 2020 at 6:05 pm

    To be honest. I don't have close feelings to my sister. We grew up in different families and cities, and we contact each other every few years occasionally. I don't even know she is still alive or not for now.

  • Reply BOrn_HAPPY February 14, 2020 at 6:05 pm

    😢

  • Reply Pass Kall February 14, 2020 at 6:05 pm

    So beautiful 💕

  • Reply Dbb 55 February 14, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    Beautiful

  • Reply rod axel February 14, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    😢

  • Reply Anmol Deep Singh February 14, 2020 at 6:07 pm

    Everyone: :0
    Before long
    Narrator : But for now that’s enough.

  • Reply Anthony Ardillo February 14, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    Don’t write an op-Ed about it for the kid to see in a few years (because they do) and consult a therapist?

  • Reply Angel c February 14, 2020 at 6:08 pm

    The truth

  • Reply x x February 14, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    Terrible animation

  • Reply Trap Town NCS February 14, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    I enjoyed your video 🙂 Keep it up! Would you like to be YouTube friends? 🙂

  • Reply Trap Town NCS February 14, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    Nice! Keep it up! Would you like to be YouTube friends? 🙂

  • Reply T J February 14, 2020 at 6:09 pm

    I’m not crying u r

  • Reply Patty OConnell February 14, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    Walt Bogdanich this was seen by me…Michelle and Eli I treasure your spirit. A lasting impression Greta.

  • Reply Juan Cabrera February 14, 2020 at 6:12 pm

    Whoever did the animation, 👍👍

  • Reply Tarequl Islam February 14, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Pena us sured washington 2020

  • Reply George February 14, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    This gave me chills.

  • Reply Ivares Kesner February 14, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    Fortunately for him he is currently at an age where the concept of mortality still doesn't exist and sufficient emotional connections to be able to experience grief haven't been developed.

    Simply telling him in your own particular way (that reflects your values) that she is now gone would suffice, I should think.

    Be this that she is asleep forever, with God, simply gone etc.

    This becomes so much harder the older they get, especially after the age where f around fourteen.

  • Reply sixpoint3 February 14, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    My father, a middle son with 4 Sisters had a long and full life as well as his sisters through 2 world wars and fleeing the Russians , separating the the family for 45 years. They made it through all of this alright despite the fact, that I found out lately, that they had 2 ! older siblings that did not live to the age of 3. That is what life was 100 years ago. Fragile, yet you live on.

  • Reply Aflax News February 14, 2020 at 6:14 pm

    The Graphics is like a bunch of memes
    While the content is sad af!!!
    I feel bad now

  • Reply FriDuh February 14, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    Greta was her own person and so is Harrison. It's really sad that the parents keep comparing him to her. The thing about having more than one child is that you get to love them for who they are and not compare them to each other.
    Love Harrison for the little boy that he is. Stop trying to find Greta in him. She's not here anymore. It seems like the parents haven't accepted their loss.
    Harrison is not Greta nor is she in him. Love them for who they are.

  • Reply Clare Hill February 14, 2020 at 6:16 pm

    The animation in this was simply beautiful

  • Reply Joselyne Hernandez February 14, 2020 at 6:17 pm

    Wow. What a beautiful video. My heart broke in 20 thousand pieces.

  • Reply Joe February 14, 2020 at 6:21 pm

    I feel bad for the man. I've heard that the loss of a child is something people never get over.

  • Reply Elle van Veelen February 14, 2020 at 6:21 pm

    This could be shown in a museum, danggg

  • Reply Paul & Rene February 14, 2020 at 6:23 pm

    This is so powerful and centering, I lost my brother recently, thank you for sharing the memory of Greta.

  • Reply Victor Diaz February 14, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    What endearing animation. The perfect way to deliver the bittersweet story of Greta and Harrison.

  • Reply Kimberly Jacobson February 14, 2020 at 6:29 pm

    Awe that’s so sad. Great video and narration. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Feisal Aziez February 14, 2020 at 6:32 pm

    My son was very happy when he got a little brother. They were born on exactly the same date, February 28, two years apart. After a week, my youngest son was diagnosed with a rare heart condition. He spent the rest of his life at the hospital. That was three weeks. He passed exactly at one month old. My oldest son didn't realize what happened at the time. When he was 5, I took him to his brother's grave. Explaining what happened to him and what will happen to all of us. I can always see the sadness in my oldest son's eyes everytime we talk about his brother.

  • Reply High_ridges February 14, 2020 at 6:34 pm

    Well, I usually say “what a sad story, hope this never ever happens to anyone else”. This time, their story was so deep, yet sadly beautiful to move on living.

  • Reply Zen = Yen 🔴 February 14, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    Omg.
    I am praying and hoping against all rational that this is just a figment of someone's imagination and not even a minute remote possibility that's ever befallen upon the living.

  • Reply Deepak Ranganathan February 14, 2020 at 6:46 pm

    Instant like for the animation !!

  • Reply C R February 14, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    So beautiful

  • Reply Brian Fong February 14, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    Who dropped the brick? Did it get loose and fall off a building?

  • Reply Alan Le February 14, 2020 at 6:59 pm

    Very touching depiction 🙁

  • Reply Jasmine .M February 14, 2020 at 7:01 pm

    What a beautiful video x

  • Reply Andrei Pascale February 14, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    Greta will also live in the hearts of everyone here, at least in mine she will.

  • Reply Subhadip Banerjee February 14, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    What an animation revolving under such heartbreaking story!

  • Reply Max Hill February 14, 2020 at 7:07 pm

    thanks

  • Reply February 14, 2020 at 7:12 pm

    Creepy video

  • Reply Susan Hopkinson February 14, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    Children are more open to talking about death than most adults. Honesty and vulnerability lead to openness and strength. My third child died in infancy when my others were 6 and 4, and talking about it helped everyone a lot.

  • Reply Cooldocmom February 14, 2020 at 7:21 pm

    this is so haunting, and so heartbreaking. You were very brave to have another child, and of course it is so hard not to fear for him. There's no expiration date on grief, and each of us needs to work through it in our own time. No one can tell you what you should feel, or for how long. That being said, I think any parent who loses a little child, especially in a freak accident, may benefit from grief counseling and perhaps group support, so I hope you are able to do that. A local hospice or children's hospital may have a child life specialist, who may be able to help you find the time and the words to tell your little boy about his sister in an age appropriate way. Love to your family.

  • Reply Santiago Ruiz Rincon February 14, 2020 at 7:26 pm

    Lose a son is one of the strongest pain that a person can felt 😔

  • Reply Dave Shannon February 14, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    I’ve been telling my son about his sister Elizabeth since he was born. He’s 3, now, she would have been turning 5 this April, and when we can we stop at the pictures of our kids and show him who is sisters are. She’s part of our family, just like him. He won’t know what it’s like to not to have Elizabeth as his sister.

  • Reply pluggthis February 14, 2020 at 7:44 pm

    24 years ago my cousin didn't know his three year old daughter was playing outside. It was time for him to go to work so he went out to his truck, began to back out of the driveway, and backed over his daughter. She didn't survive. His son was a newborn, just a couple of months old at the time. The accident destroyed my cousin. He needed help figuring out how to go on with his own life while reconcilling the horror of the accident, and the guilt he felt about the accident. The death of their daughter also destroyed his marriage. His wife also had trouble dealing with the tragedy. She simply could not forgive my cousin for what had happened. They divorced and she took their newborn son and raised him herself. That son is now 24 and has two young children of his own. A boy and a girl. His parents never kept the knowledge of what happened to his older sister from him. As he grew up if he had a question about his older sister his parents just answered it truthfully. He was allowed to hear and to be part of conversations that went on around him that included mention of his older sister by family members and friends. My cousin remarried about ten years after his divorce from his first wife and he has a daughter now with his second wife. His second daughter has also been permitted to hear conversations that go on around her about her older half-sister and her questions about her older half-sister are answered truthfully. Today it appears that my cousin's son and my cousin's second daughter understand what happened to their elder sister and appear to have placed it into the proper context and have gone on with their own lives in the usual and normal ways that people discover more about life and what may be.

  • Reply Steve Deasy February 14, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    I don't think you "tell" people about this. It's best to respond in the moment to each question. Don't tell your story, just fill in the details of his. He will have an intuitive feel of what he needs to know. He will mostly be interested in your emotional response and less in the facts. Simple awareness reveals reality. Don't expect him to have a complicated response at this time as he might not have the tools to do that.

  • Reply That's Life February 14, 2020 at 8:22 pm

    The story of my family .

  • Reply mister62085 February 14, 2020 at 8:37 pm

    The heir and the spare.

  • Reply Cat T February 14, 2020 at 8:48 pm

    There is a really lovely couple on Instagram who lost their little guy when he was 4 or 5 and they keep his spirit alive in their everyday family life after having two little girls. Mom’s Instagram is babyboybakery if anyone else is going through a journey like this.

  • Reply brn2wld February 14, 2020 at 9:03 pm

    Since he is so young, tell him it there was an accident and went to live with God.

  • Reply JanoschNr1 February 14, 2020 at 9:17 pm

    02:50 Wait is that how Greta died aswell?

  • Reply Duncan Rossi February 14, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    This animation style is terrifying

  • Reply Armie of One February 14, 2020 at 9:24 pm

    Why did you use such disturbing animation? 😬

  • Reply rhianne February 14, 2020 at 9:34 pm

    I'm sobbing

  • Reply iffy ifaith February 14, 2020 at 9:36 pm

    I lost a older sister and my youngest sister was 1 at the time. Long story short. I always talked about how she had a older sister and that my sister loved her. I talk about how her favorite song was this and that. So I always make sure I remember her and tell her how she had a older sister and she always loved her and my sister doesn't remember her but she knows there is someone always watching her and that she loved her.

  • Reply artisticagi February 14, 2020 at 9:46 pm

    Who the f throws bricks out of windows

  • Reply Roque Santos Junior February 14, 2020 at 10:11 pm

    Tell him, stop protecting.

  • Reply 1-Last -Chance X February 14, 2020 at 10:12 pm

    Greta baby why ?!! 😭😭😭😭

  • Reply NotYourGirlfriends February 14, 2020 at 10:25 pm

    wow what an beautiful and terribly sad story. im sorry for your loss but amazed by the great job you are doing x

  • Reply Loud Girl Productions February 14, 2020 at 10:41 pm

    Wow. Amazing and beautifully done!

  • Reply Kathleen M. Higgins February 14, 2020 at 10:50 pm

    Just love Greta as you adore Harrison. Assure him of his loving family as above so below. Be joyful in the depth and truth of genuine Love! A brick can't hold a candle to all we forever cherish. There's no rush to tell of how she passed. Just stress the joy you know in the close beauty of your enduring family❤
    Love Heals Everlastingly!

  • Reply Jade Winton-lowe February 14, 2020 at 10:59 pm

    Thankyou for this

  • Reply Jen Owl February 14, 2020 at 11:32 pm

    This is similar to my family. I had an older sister who died before I was born. My parents told me when I was around 4 and they decided it was time to take me to her grave. I watched my dad cry, the only time I've ever seen him cry, and my mom would explain to me that God took her away so I could be born. This was traumatizing for me. I became a perfectionist, not allowing myself to truly live, because if I make a mistake it was like I was disrespecting Heather giving her life to me. I forever feel like the replacement child, that I was never really wanted and that I'm only here because she died. I see the way they look at me. They love me but I'm a reminder of the fact that their first daughter died. Its so hard.

  • Reply Corey Skinner February 14, 2020 at 11:33 pm

    Though a sad story. A powerful lesson in moving on is embedded. Maybe hearing this will help others.

  • Reply a35362 February 14, 2020 at 11:35 pm

    This video is amazing. Here is a virtual hug for Harrison.

  • Reply Chris Kalani February 14, 2020 at 11:41 pm

    What a beautiful short. My heart is heavy with the thought of families losing their children under any set of circumstances. ♡

  • Reply Paige A February 15, 2020 at 12:03 am

    My mom had a baby before I was born. She lived for a day and then passed from a heart defect. I was named after her. I’m still sad to know I could’ve had a big sister.

    I can’t imagine how hard it is to lose a 2 year old from such a freak accident. This story is beautiful

  • Reply ohoyohummered February 15, 2020 at 12:07 am

    I understand. my son passed at 12. I often saddened that when the last of his sister's die, so will his memory.

  • Reply Brandon Kalyan February 15, 2020 at 12:22 am

    So powerful

  • Reply _kr¡mzen_ February 15, 2020 at 12:44 am

    We had to answer this question. Use every chance to speak her name in conversations. She will always be a member of your family. Always answer his questions in a way that wont scare him but teach him about his sister. He will ask many hard questions. Do the best you can.

  • Reply sarysa February 15, 2020 at 1:18 am

    My family lost a little baby boy eight years before I was born, but he had only survived a couple days out of the womb. Didn't find out until I was maybe 11 or so, and the news was delivered very matter-of-factly. Definitely gave me perspective in just how fragile and precious life is.

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