Saturday, September 19, 2009

We told the children....

Today was the day that we undertook the all important and somber task of telling the DD that their Grandpa had passed away. It has been one week; a week filled with chaotic activity, appointments, arrangements, a day away out of town for Marc's surgical consult and finally culminating with the funeral and sitting shiva. Marc and I both thought it best to wait until the smoke cleared so to speak and things were a little more settled to explain the death of Big Al to them.

I know both of my little ones very well as well as their individual levels of understanding. Katie is every bit of her four years and then some in her emotional/intellectual development and Ethan is not yet four in terms of this type of discussion. I knew that if we gave them both a small glimpse that Katie would ask some questions; as much as she needed and that Ethan would probably not and I was correct.

We started out by talking a bit about Grandma and Grandpa's dog, Truffle who had passed away about a year ago. We had never really broached the "D" word about Truffle at the time of her death and had just said that she was sick and was in the doggie hospital. They had asked a few times about her and we kept that story up. I was really wishing now that we had dealt with that one a while back as it would have been a building block towards this more painful realization. We held our breathe for a sec before telling them that just like Truffle had been sick and in the hospital that they knew that Grandpa was as well. Truffle was a VERY VERY OLD dog and Grandpa was a VERY VERY OLD man and they both were worn out, kind of like an old car or shoe. (Everything that I read for this age told you to emphasize both OLD and WORN so that the children would not be scared that they would lose their own parents or that they themselves would die. Also, NEVER mention that the deceased went to sleep and did not wake up...that one is an obvious way to scare the living daylights out of them.) That when any living being gets VERY old and their parts get worn out that they pass away or die. We told them that we would not see them anymore but that we would always have Grandpa and Truffle in our minds and in our hearts. We would be able to remember the love that we shared and all of the happy and fun times as well. This way we could always think of him and remember him when we wanted to.

The conversation went completely over Ethan's head and he proceeded to ask me a question about something totally unrelated. Katie, on the other hand wanted to know again if we would get to see Grandpa again. I reiterated that we would not see him in the way that we always had but that we could think of him and all of the happy times that we had with him anytime that we wanted to. Marc and I explained that we would all miss Grandpa but that as much as we missed him, that Grandma would miss him the most as they had been together so very long. At that point Katie said that she wanted to give ALL of her Barbies to Grandma so that they could keep her company. I asked her about Ken and she said no, that would not be a good idea as Ken has no pants and we cannot find them. Mature and generous beyond her years and simply innocent all at the same time.

At that point she basically looked a little sad and perplexed but decided to change the subject. The info offered was obviously enough, so the conversation was ended.

My friend Shannon, as well as the director of Katie's preschool, have offered me a book to read to them that helps in the understanding for this level. The book (The Fall of Freddie the Leaf) uses the metaphor of the annual changes in leaves on a tree to help explain the different phases of life.

Although the leaves die each year, they are part of the tree which lives on, although even it has a finite life. the book discusses the interconnecedness of life and death. however, it does not take a stand on the specifics of a life after death; which is what we wanted.

I wonder if they can find something that can help me to understand. Now that the funeral and Shiva are over, I am sad and numb and wonder all the time why Big Al had to suffer so long before he died. He had worked hard his entire life, even up until a few months before the end, when he could no longer physically do it anymore. Then after all of that work and fulfilling his role as a wonderful provider, husband, father and grandfather he finally succumbed to the illness that plagued him practically his whole adult life. Not quite the payoff that he deserved. Of course, life is not about fairness or deserving and that is what I was trying to protect my children from as long as possible. Their youth and innocence will protect them quite a bit longer but then the lessons will be learned by them too. Until then, I am happy that Ethan is a bit too young to really understand anything and that Katie thinks that her Barbies will help. Now that is a blessing indeed.

12 comments:

Tamara said...

It sounds as if you did a good job of explaining it to Katie and Ethan. I dread having to explain it to my girls- how do they understand what adults have a hard time coming to terms with.
Keeping you all in our prayers.
Love you!
Tamara

sherri McI said...

Sounds like you handled talking to your children in a beautiful way. Big Al was surely smiling.

Michelle said...

Lori - It sounds like you did a great job of explaining to the DD. I love that Katie wanted to give her Barbie's too cute.

Love Letters To China said...

You really did a good job explaining everything to the kids. They are ever so lucky to have you both as parents. Hugs...

Diana said...

Lori
It is 2 years today since my mom passed from pancreatic cancer and I still wonder why she had to suffer the way she did..There are so many things in life that just do not make sence and death and suffering is one! My heart breaks for your family as even though we know they are not suffering anymore we still want them HERE.
Hugs to all of you and I am so sorry.

DawnS said...

Oh Lori, I am so sorry that these lessons are coming so young. Katie is sweet as ever too. It is such a hard subject to deal with. My grandmother passed away a few weeks ago and Rylee keeps telling me that she doesn't "want you to get dead Mama!" I think I might need to do some more stressing on the older and worn out - that might help so thanks for sharing!

Tammie said...

Lori,

I know that this was a conversation you weren't looking forward to having with Katie Starr & Ethan. You did a wonderful job & from what you posted, things went exactly as you anticipated. I have that book just waiting for Erin (at Shannon's suggestion also).

There is no answer as to why someone has to suffer so before they leave us & take their place with G-d. I only wish there were so I could get over losing my mom & seeing the pain she was in. My only comment here is that there is no pain anymore. BTW, you should still talk to Big Al. I speak with my mom frequently & on her yahrzeit, I yell at her for leaving. It really is therapeutic.

Hugs & love. . .

Vivian M said...

We have been there and done that twice now with Kerri, and I think you handled it beautifully. Be prepared for the questions to come later, when you least expect them to. Kerri has a habit of catching us off guard, lol.

Candy said...

You did a fantastic job with this conversation. I will take a lesson from you, and also purchase this book.

Thinking of you and your family.

RamblingMother said...

Bless Katie and her barbie idea. how sweet. Ethan will come to terms in his own time.

Donna said...

Lori, I'm so sorry. These life lessons are never easy. Regardless of age!

When my mom passed away, I also waited a week to tell my (4 year old) son. I used that time to slowly work up to it so it didn't seem like it happened all of a sudden (even though it did -- Grandma was only 53!). His response was a combination of your kids. Pretty standard for kids of that age, I think. But I'm sure the extra time kinda helped.

So sad. Again, I'm so sorry for your family's loss.

:::hugs:::

Donna
Our Blog: Double Happiness!

Julie said...

I love Katie Starr. Very nice of her to skip the ken doll with no pants...sounds just like her sweet self! Thinking of you guys.