Thursday, October 25, 2012

How We Handled the "Death and Dying Talk"

Death and dying.
Not a typical dinner topic.
Fortunately, we have a relatively healthy family.
But recently, a family member got very ill, very quickly and out of the blue.
And not just any family member:  a Grandmother.
For 21 days, we didn't say anything to the kids about it.
But they knew something was amiss.
They picked up on the tears.
The frustrations.
The arguments.
The frequent "meetings" that Mom and Dad had to go to.
And while many of you may not agree with how we (as parents) handled the situation, we chose to handle it the way we knew would work best for our kids.
The last thing we wanted was to put them in a tailspin.
Death is not something that is easily understood.
Not by adults.
Not by "typical" children.
So how in the world would a child with special needs get it?
We chose to have our conversations out of the range of little ears.
Our "cry sessions" had to become private or when the kids were in school or in bed for the night.
We chose to tells them that "Mom had a meeting" or "Dad was still at work" when one of us went to the hospital to visit.
And it worked....kinda.
For 21 days.
And we found out that there were some behavior issues in school as well.
I am sure we caused it...seeing that we were choosing to withhold information from them.
Because I am sure they knew something was very wrong.
We informed the school of the death of their Grandmother and the schools were very supportive.
So supportive that one of the schools sent this home to help us:

Where Are You? A Child’s Book About Loss, by Laura Olivieri, illustrated by Kristin Elder. For younger children, this book describes the feelings a boy has after a death, in simple sentences that comfort without sugarcoating raw emotion. “I look at your picture and your blue shirt in the closet. But you are not here. I miss you.” The explorations of an afterlife don’t come to a pat conclusion or deny the sense of loss – “Maybe you are a raindrop that fell into a cool blue ocean. But I can’t touch you.” But the book ends with the child drawing pictures and remembering happy times: “I remember you. So you are right here.”

And it helped tremendously.
A simple book.
Simple photos.
Simple language.
We didn't read it to them page by page.
We let them read it and look at the pictures.
But it wasn't going to take the place of "the talk" that needed to happen.
We chose not to say anything the night before the funeral.
We know from past experiences that bad news or bad days lead to bad nights and no sleep with these two kids.
So on the morning of the funeral, we had the talk.
It was 6:30am and the little girl was up early sitting in the living room.
She randomly said "Nana is sick."
That stopped my husband and I in our tracks.
And now we had to tell her the truth.
The conversation lasted for less than one minute.
Less than a mere 60 seconds.
We planned on telling her the concrete truth in the simplest forms we knew.
We would only answer her "WH-" questions and would not elaborate unless she wanted to know more.
We weren't going to tell her that she passed away three days prior on my sweet little girl's birthday either.
That will be for a later date...years down the road.
We told her Nana wasn't sick anymore.
She looked at us blankly.
She asked if Nana was in the hospital.
We told her that Nana was with Jesus.
She looked at us blankly.
She asked if Nana was OK.
We told her that she was happy with Jesus.
And at that moment, she stopped, looked down at her little hands and then looked at us and said "OK."
That's all you have to say?
No questions?
No comments?
Where was the "Why?" "When?" and "Where?" questions?
Just OK.
At the Church, we gathered in the back, talking and hugging family and friends.
Kate stood next to me, and I was on guard to shelter her from any additional information that she didn't ask herself.
As I talked with one family member, she turned and looked at a marble etching of angels.
Then she turned to me, tugged on my shirt-sleeve and said "Nana is with those angels."
The adults stopped and looked at her, looked at each other, and smiled at the innocence of a child.
She gets it, and she gets it in her own little way.
Rest in peace, Nana.


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