How do we explain death to our children?


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       With death comes life

 

I’m lucky, and I mean that in the best possible way. I am fortunate that the longevity gene runs far and wide in my family. Growing up, I guess I was lucky in a sense that I didn’t experience death a whole lot. I went to my first funeral when I was fourteen, but like most fourteen year olds, I wasn’t consumed with sadness or loss like I should have been. I was consumed with thoughts of boys, hair, makeup, some sadness, and my Friday night. If my now self could go back in time and slap some sensitivity and thoughtfulness into my fourteen year old self, I wonder if things would have turned out differently in terms of how my fourteen year old self thought about death, and how everyone is impacted by it.   

A few years ago, my cat Sasha got sick. Very sick. My son was only 18 months old at the time, and I had a hard time keeping him away from her, because she wasn’t in the mood for a playmate. Clearly. Sasha was a beautiful cat. She was my shadow and didn’t take kindly to Jason when we first started dating, because he took her side of the bed. But once she got used to Jason, they were the best of friends. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case when we brought Willy home from the hospital. I once read somewhere that cats need to get used to your scent before they’ll give you the time of day, so Sasha had ample time to that with Willy, but in her eyes… no dice! As far as she was concerned, Willy was loud, needy, and annoying, but even though we were all getting very little sleep at the beginning, we still had plenty of love for our fluffy kitty cat. 

When it was time to take Sasha to the vet to have her “go to sleep,” we all said one last family good bye to the furry kitty who brought so much joy and love to our lives. Willy was pounding her tail in hopes that she would play with him, but she just picked her head up and put it back down. It was devastating. The second Willy and I walked in the door from the vet’s office, Willy went searching for Sasha. He went from room to room looking for her, and after a few heart breaking minutes, Willy came over to me and dragged me around, in hopes that he would find her. I then decided to sit my little boy down in my lap, snuggle him tight in the middle of his bedroom, and I told him that Sasha has gone to heaven. I then pointed up to the sky. Willy looked at me and said “bye bye kitty” and ran to his bed to get his stuffed hippo that he called kitty. 

I just cried and cried. It was all I could do. It took two weeks for my son to stop looking for her, and every time he couldn’t find her, he would take my hand and expect me to help him find her. And every time I had to explain to him that Sasha was in heaven, and he would point up to the sky. 

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I’m gonna get you, kitty.

 

Last Spring my grandfather died. It was awful and sad the way it happened, but when you have absolutely no control over your last few days on this earth, you try do the best you can to help make everyone around you comfortable and to keep the mood light. Willy loved my grandfather. He loved the way that he was always sitting his favorite chair every time we went to his house. Willy loved showing him all of his “Thomas Trains,” and Willy always gave him hugs, high fives, and fist bumps, every time we saw him. They were a pair… and it was beautiful. 

When my grandfather went into hospice for his last few days, I never took Willy to see him, because I just figured that he wouldn’t understand. My grandfather wasn’t himself and was heavily medicated because he was in a tremendous amount of pain. On the day that he passed, I cradled my little boy in my arms and told him that Great Grandpa N had gone to heaven. Willy just stared at me with a blank stare and I pointed up to the sky, and said that Great Grandpa N was in heaven with Sasha. He still didn’t seem to understand, but I did the best I could. He seemed to understand better when he was a baby.

Shortly there after, we went to visit my grandmother, and when she opened the door, Willy blew past her and made a b-line for the den where my grandfather used to sit in his favorite chair. Willy came out of the den with a puzzled look on his face, and then proceeded to go from room to room looking for my grandfather.  Again… it was heart breaking. My mom tried to explain to him that Great Grandpa N was in heaven, but Willy seemed to think that Great Grandpa N was out doing an errand and would be back soon. It took several visits for Willy to stop looking for him and it still breaks my heart. Even to this day.

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Great Grandpa N, you’d be proud of the Red Sox!

 

Now, my other Grandfather is sick and is not doing as well. Willy and I went to visit Great Gramps last Saturday and all I can say is WOW! Willy was so excited to see him, and all he wanted to do was get in bed with him. When we arrived at the rehabilitation center, my grandfather was in the bathroom having a hard time trying to get his hair to lay down. Willy ran into his room and threw his arms around him and then ran off. I’ve never seen him do that before and neither had my grandfather, so it was a pleasant surprise for both of us. Willy helped my grandfather shave (it was an electric razor), comb his hair, and then they snuggled in bed for a half hour. Willy watched cartoons on his ipad and my grandfather watched with him. They made little comments to each other about what they were watching, and all I could do was smile. It was an absolutely beautiful sight. After we took a short walk, Willy and I said our goodbyes and told him that we’ll be back next weekend for another visit. 

Willy made his day… well his next few days actually, because that was all that he could talk about to my grandmother and parents. 🙂 When it is my grandfather’s time to go, I have no idea how I’ll explain it to him, because he’s older now and has a better understanding of  life and where people go when their not here. But in the mean time, we’ll all just keep on visiting, laughing, loving, smiling, and listening, because laughter is the very best medicine there is. And although my grandfather is still with us, I’ve decided to refrain from posting a picture, and focus on life and all of it’s riches and wonders that it has to offer. 

Happy Hump-Day my dear friends.

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