Drew was just two days past his fourth birthday when we lost Austin. I didn’t know what to say to him, didn’t even know what to say to myself at that point. Drew loved his uncle, and with Austin living with us, he was used to seeing him daily. He was expecting a fishing trip soon and wondered when they could go.
Early on we decided to be honest with him but on a level he could hopefully understand. It all seemed fun to him in some ways, as family was in town much more than normal and we started spending time in new towns looking. But he knew we were looking for Austin, that he was lost and needed to be found. He would ask people he didn’t know to look for “Uncle Austin” and they gladly told him they would.
We tried to keep things somewhat normal. I have a happy memory of the morning we signed Drew up for tball, so looking forward to what was ahead. Drew was so little and so cute and was ready to play. But that same morning we were having a prayer rally across the street from the field at our church for Austin.
So like many days of this journey, we left a sad event for something joyous and back again.
I think through it all, that’s how we’ve helped Drew. We’ve let him know that we’re sad and miss Austin, but also let him know he was safe and loved and had good things ahead. He has asked many times about him, and always said he misses him.
It’s now been four years, and our explanations have changes yet remained truthful. Drew now knows that we truly don’t know where he is and truly don’t know if we’ll ever find him. At 8, Drew has now lived longer without Austin than with him. But he remembers him, even tonight saw something that reminded him of Austin and he said he missed him. What sweet joy to be reminded that Austin was loved and is missed, even by someone that I’m not sure truly remembers him.
I don’t yet know exactly what we’ll tell Ben about the uncle he never knew. But I know we’ll make sure he knows the level of truth he can understand, and that he’s loved and safe too. And we won’t pretend we’re not missing part of our family, won’t pretend there isn’t grief.
And I pray that as they grow, they’ll never pretend things are okay when they aren’t, but will be able to also find the joy in the midst of any circumstance they face. And if they remember Austin, that would make me smile too.
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