How do you talk to a toddler about death?
How do you talk to a five year old?
Conventional wisdom says to be led by the child, let the child ask the questions, tell the truth and answer the same questions as often as they are asked.
My five year old cannot talk. She can smile and stick her tongue out for yes, she can frown for no, and that's it. Oh - she can laugh and cry and coo, but as far as conversational language goes, that's it. She can't ask me about Goldy; I have to ask her if she is upset about Goldy. Which in itself is not necessarily a problem, but if she's upset about something else, then I'm adding to her upset by reminding her of something else which is sad. Or reinforcing the idea that remembering Goldy has to be sad, when in fact I'm sure she, like me, remembers the fun and silly times as well as the sad ones.
So do I bring it up when she's happy instead? And then watch her crumple, because she was just enjoying living in the moment and I've just reminded her of the sadness?
It would be so easy to go the "pas devant les enfants" route with her, knowing that she cannot possibly raise the subject herself so go along with certain people who assume she has no understanding and no memory of Goldy herself. Easy because I wouldn't have to upset her or myself. But selfish too; I know she is wondering where Goldy is and why we don't see her any more.
Mog has been unhappy since yesterday, since the funeral. We tried to explain before she came that this was a time where lots of people would meet together to remember Goldy. Did she expect to find Goldy there? I don't know - I don't think so, but I don't know. Is she mourning Goldy herself? Or is she picking up on the sadness around her? I don't know. She's always been tuned in to my emotions; I can make her laugh by laughing myself, I can make her tense by being stressed myself. She's not had an easy few months.
She's coughing a little, she's a little flushed, she's a little uncomfortable. Is she ill? Or is she just sad? She's got a sore tummy and she doesn't want to eat. Nor do I - but I'm not physically ill.
How do you talk to a five year old about death? Little Fish is content with the explanation that Goldy had an accident, she died, and we can't see her any more but we know she is safe and well and happy and not in any pain and is probably excited that her legs work now. Mog is older. Little Fish knew Goldy for 5 months only. Mog has never known life without her. I'm pretty sure both girls think that Goldy is still living in the home she moved to shortly before she died; that this home is that mysterious place we call heaven, and that therefore it's all wrong that we don't just drive there for a visit.
How do you talk to a child about death, when that child has medical conditions which are likely to dramatically shorten that child's life? Less scary perhaps since she's got a sister waiting for her now. But too, she's seen for herself the devastation death causes - the tearing apart of the lives of those still living. It isn't going to be easy convincing her that it's hardest on the ones left behind.
Or am I reading too much into her? Does she actually have the understanding of the 6 month old baby she was assessed as having by the so-called experts who looked at her physical disabilities, looked at the holes in her brain, and decided on her future? There are times when it would be easier to believe that. There are plenty of people who do believe that. Shame it isn't true, really.
Safe in the arms of Jesus I know, but both she and I would rather she was safe in my arms for now and for the foreseeable future.