The only time that we talk about death is when someone dies. There isn’t a curriculum day or a series of books that we read to our children about death and dying…..until that aspect of life is happening. My children are not naive about life. I have killed every plant I have ever been responsible for, they hang out at the shop during hunting season and are aware that the cute little deer or buck they saw on the side of the road is what daddy may have hanging up that night, and Kendall is completely aware that when her dad says, “We need to thin out some cats”, he doesn’t mean put them on a diet.
Our first encounter with death and our children came from the passing of my husband’s oldest brother. In this situation, his brother had been ill for a long time and it was part of the process of life. It was almost easy with respect to our children and how we would handle things with them, because they didn’t know this uncle, he had been sick their whole lives, and not a part of family events. Tobin and I knew that when the time came, my grandma would come out and take care of our kids while we grieved and did what needs to be done during the early days of a loved one passing. I knew Kendall and Rhett wouldn’t be at the viewing, and if it was completely up to me, not at the funeral. It would just be easier. The day of the viewing before we entered the room, the funeral directors gave a touching little speech and handed out teddy bears to the other children there. In that moment I thought it would have been nice to have Kendall hear what was said and get a teddy……..but I was thankful she wasn’t. “They” and Everybody” were surprised our children weren’t there, but it was the right thing for us.
Not long after the passing of my husband’s brother, we found ourselves on the door step of another family death. This time was tricky because it was my husband’s father, Grandpa Bill. The first hard call came when Bill took a turn for the worse and was no longer the goofy, friendly man that Kendall knew. He was a shadow of himself and confused. That day in the hospital I declared that our children would not see Grandpa Bill again. It seemed awful to some, however my priority in life is my children and their memories are precious. Tobin and I made a decision that whatever living memories of her grandpa she had needed to be preserved, and that what “They” or “Everybody” though didn’t matter. What matters is that our child remembers her grandfather as healthy, not sick and dying. When his time in his earthly body came to an end, we again had to make choices for our family. Once more my Grandma came to our side to take care of the kids as we did the hard part of life. When the subject of the viewing came up, I said “NO”, our children would not be in attendance. There was much discussion on this topic and what would “Everybody” think if the other grandkids were there but not ours. Last minute decision that felt right for my husband was to take them. When we walked into the room to view the body and Kendall saw her grandpa……..it was truly the saddest thing I have ever had to deal with. Despite the kind funeral directors and us as parents picking out different bears for the children this time…….there is no way to prepare a child. Our darling little girl let out the most terrible cry. As I took her from the room and sat on the floor with her she sobbed and sobbed and screamed. I have never been so heartbroken for my child and the difficulties that come with being a parent and teaching about life.
This week we are faced with the most tragic event: the sudden death of a young man who’s family is very close to us. With the heartbreaking news, I arranged for a babysitter for the day of the funeral….whatever day it might be. I am secure in my parenting and don’t need to ask anyone what they think. This time our children are playing a different role. At bed time we send happy thoughts to the family of the young man. During the day, we have looked at pictures and talked about the family that is dealing with this loss. Tobin and I have instructed our children that it is their job to give hugs to people that look like they need them, as we spend time with the grieving family. In my heart I know that the role of my children in this situation is to offer hope for the future, to offer smiles to those who are lost in their grief, to play with an innocence that only comes with being a child, and not to be burdened by the severe anguish that death brings.
Death is the hardest aspect of life. However you choose to approach the topic with your child, is the absolute right way for your family. When anyone’s time on earth is done all that is left are the memories of the living. Cherish those, and our loved ones who are gone will remain in our hearts forever.