By Elizabeth Devita-Raeburn —
If you poke around in sibling loss literature, one unanswered question you come across is–does losing a sibling make sibling survivors more or less likely to have children? And do they tend to have “extra” children, just in case they lose one?
FYI, I don’t have an answer to this. In my case, I simply had too much baggage to deal with to have children earlier in life. (I had my son, Henry, at 40.) But the question does interest me. As does the issue of how sibling survivors, like myself, parent siblings (something I have no experience with). At any rate, I’ve always got an eye peeled for references to this subject, so I was intrigued to see it brought up by Giada De Laurentiis.
I had no idea that Giada had lost a sibling. Partly, I guess, that’s because she apparently didn’t talk about it for a long time. Her story in brief: Giada is the eldest of four kids. (Her grandfather, for the record, was film producer Dino De Laurentiis.) A few years ago, her brother, Dino, died of melanoma.
I’ve seen and heard Giada, a new mother, make comments lately about almost not having children, because the thought of having to face the loss of one, after the loss of her brother, was too much to contemplate. In some references I’ve seen, it looks like her daughter was an accident, but she’s grateful it happened, because she’s not sure she would have had her otherwise. In the Redbook excerpt, below, the story is cast a little differently. Either way, the struggle of surviving siblings re: kids is in evidence.
One of my younger brothers was diagnosed with skin cancer at 29 and passed away not too long after that. We were very close. He always wanted to have children, but he didn’t get to. And after he died, I remember thinking, You know, maybe there’s a place in my heart for someone else other than all the people I already have in my life. I know I was very afraid…. My brother’s passing made me afraid, I think because I was afraid that we could have a child and lose him or her too. I didn’t know if I could go through that kind of pain with anybody else the way I did with my brother. So for a while, I was very down on the whole idea. I thought, I don’t want to have any more relationships. I don’t want to have anybody that close to me. But a few years later, I thought, If I never have a child, that might be the saddest thing for me.
I can totally relate. I don’t regret having a child, or having one later in life. But I think I tend to be over-protective of Henry because I do know that horrible things can and do happen to children. There’s a lost innocence that comes with childhood sibling loss. I wouldn’t trade Henry for anything, but, truthfully, I do feel terribly vulnerable in an entirely new realm now that he’s here.
Elizabeth DeVita-Raeburn is the author of The Empty Room: Surviving Sibling Loss, a memoir and journalistic exploration of sibling loss. Her brother, Ted, suffered from a rare immune deficiency disorder and spent 8 ½ years in an isolation room behind a plastic curtain before he died. He was one of two boys upon whom the movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” was based. She is a contributing writer for More magazine, and has also written for Self, Discover, Psychology Today and Harper’s Bazaar, among other publications. Elizabeth is currently working on a new book, The Death of Cancer, with her father, Dr. Vincent T. DeVita. She lives in New York City with her husband, writer Paul Raeburn, and her son, Henry. To learn more about Elizabeth and her work go to: www.devitaraeburn.com or visit her blog: www.tedishere.blogspot.com. Elizabeth also edits www.opentohopesiblingloss.com.Tags: Depression, grief, hope