Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A most difficult topic

One of the single hardest things in dealing with my mom's death has been in regards to my kids. Death is just not an easy subject to get, like at all, for the younger set.

When AB and I told Skadi that grandma died, she looked at us and said she wanted to go play with her dollhouse. We didn't expect much more, but still felt the need to say it to her.

Leif was a different story. He knew for months that something was up. We said daily prayers for grandma, we talked about her being sick and late in the process we admitted that grandma probably was not going to get better and was probably going to die. He sobbed and sobbed one evening that he didn't want grandma to die.

Neither did I, sweet boy.

When my mom died we sat Leif down and told him. His first response was an angered, "I wish she would have washed her hands." Because no matter how many times I have tried to explain the difference between a communicable disease and non-communicable disease, he just hasn't gotten it. "But my teacher said that handwashing prevents diseases!" He tells me. I can't caveat it because that isn't what his teacher says.

And I am resisting the urge to talk to the teachers about specifying the difference between diseases we catch through germs and those that arise from different sources. Because I see how this can quickly become complicated to 3-6 year olds.

Leif has handled it quite well to this point and tends to tell us that "but it is okay, because she is with God and she isn't in pain." And at Sunday school the other day when Skadi started talking about grandma dying, he was quick to explain "well she had this disease".

When I had kids I never gave it a thought that my mom would not be here to share them with me. We live far away from family, but somehow my mom always made it closer between webcam sessions, visits and little packages that would arrive for every holiday and some non-holidays as well.

I lost my grandfather when I was 13 years old. At that age I well understood the concept of death and that my grandfather had been sick for a decade with congestive heart failure and diabetes. No one was terribly surprised when he passed away at 72.

Surprisingly it has been Skadi who has been stuck on the topic of grandma passing away the last week. Nearly every time we have been in the car she immediately starts asking questions.

And not all of them are easy to answer.

"Where did grandma die?" (This one is easy, she died in Colorado at the hospital.)

"Where is grandma now?" (She is in heaven with God.)

"Like Jesus?" (Yes, I guess like Jesus. Though Leif reminded us that grandma did not die on the cross like Jesus did.)

"Where is heaven?" (Umm, way way high up in the sky, where she, God and Jesus can watch over you.)

"Is she on top of the clouds?" (I believe she is on top of the clouds.)

"Can we visit her on the airplane?" (No.)

"When is she coming home?" (She isn't coming home.)

"When will she come see us?" (She isn't going to come see us anymore.)

"Why not?" (Because she died, like how flowers die and turn brown, or like if you step on an ant and it is dead. Realizing of course that now she is going to think that grandma was stepped on...)

"Did grandma die?" (Yes honey, grandma died. Here we go again.)

My stepdad picked up some materials from Hospice to help with explaining death to kids this age. I get the whole keep it simple thing. But I suck at that. I tend to take things to a complicated level - more complicated than it needs be level - very quickly.

I ordered about four books today from the extensive list that Hospice provided after studying the Amazon ratings trying to find books that jive with our beliefs. Customer ratings can be a wonderful thing... or they can really suck up your time and make you a neurotic consumer.

This evening I asked Leif to say prayers. For the second night in a row he declined. "I don't have any prayers tonight," he told me.

"Sure you do," I said. "Think about prayers about keeping everyone healthy, or helping us all be happy, or being with grandma in heaven." I listed the options off.

"I am tired of sad prayers mommy," he mumbled to me half asleep.

"Then how about a happy prayer," I said and quickly tried to come up with a happy prayer. What exactly is a happy prayer? I have my own belief on the things that we should and should not pray for. And I am not sure what it stems out of. But in the moment I could only think of one thing that so violated my thought of what prayers should be about.

"Pray to God that you get some nice things for your birthday," I said to him.

And he did.


fire-sister said...

April, One of the hardest part of explaining death to kids is that you are still experiencing the feelings of death yourself. It's hard to break out of your emotions to be clear and helpful with the kids.

When my dad died two years ago, Toad was five. We did the "he's not in pain and with God" explanation. She seemed to get it or at the very least accepted that answer.

When I lost the baby last year though, things were completely different. With both girls. Urchin suddenly had all her imaginary friends die. I know it was her way of trying to understand both what happened and what I was feeling. Both girls were angry for a time, telling me they wanted a brother. And then moved on to being sad that he wasn't there. They still draw pictures of our family, and every now and then he's drawn into them, but then it's explained to me that they know he's not here now.

Skadi and Urchin are a lot a like, at least from what I've read about Skadi. I answered the same questions over and over. Eventually they get it. It's just so hard to grieve yourself when you have to answer them over and over.

I truly hope the books help.

NanaNor's said...

Hi there, This touched my heart because I remember having to explain to my girls that their grandpa had died. After your mom passed, our youngest Kim was telling her 5 yr old about your mom and Shannon got excited and said "Now Miss Barbara is in heaven with Jesus and I'm so happy for her"...and she continues on with this sentence all the time. WE have tried to explain that Mr. Rick might still be sad so we need to be thoughtful of speaking this.
Sending hugs to you and yours.
Love, Noreen

vanessa said...

Could a happy prayer be giving thanks for the best things in his day? I am sorry that your family is going through this.