Saturday, 1 December 2007

Talking to a child about dying.

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.


akconklin said...

I know that you have talked to Mog about Heaven and God and Jesus ALL her life. They are real to her because they are real to you. In her childlike faith she just believes you and believes in them.

I never have to explain to Isaac that God is "like Superman, only different." God is God to Isaac because we talk of Him constantly, just like we talk of the color "blue" and the way we talk about the wind.

I praise God that Isaac will never doubt that God is real, that He lives and that He lives in the hearts of those who believe on Him. Some days I feel like Isaac knows God better than I do - or at least accepts His will without doubting or complaining better than I do.

Our children have perfect faith. They do not (I believe) know right from wrong. They DO know what pleases us, or displeases us.

The fact that Goldy is in Heaven and perfect and running and playing and talking with Jesus pleases you. So, then, to my way of thinking, it will please Mog too.

You are still sad. She senses that. She sees you crying, maybe. We can still be joyful even through our tears. Maybe that's what she needs to hear. We are sad because we miss Goldy, but we are so very, very happy she is living with Jesus now. And one day, we will both go to live with Jesus, with Goldy, too.

I don't know...maybe that's just too simply. I hope not. Because I know one day, I'm going to have to explain to Isaac the death of his Grammy or his Papa. I hope with God's help I can help him to be peaceful about it, because I can be peaceful about it.

The separations from those we love who have gone on, may be long, but thank God! they are not forever! We will see them again!

I hope this helps,

tina said...

Safe in the arms of Jesus! But my arms are empty and my heart aches!
I really do understand that! I have talked with you often of my certain Faith and the confusion that causes me in my grief as a bereaved parent!
I have no pat know them all too well anyway! I know j and C have the language and the undrstanding but still struggle with the grief, and not knowing when it is ok to talk and when not.
The Water Bug's and dragon flies book may be of help with both girls...and you too for that matter...I like it!
Wish I could hug the hurt away Tia really I do but ALL I can do and keep doing is praying.
Let me be a channel of Your Peace!
I do pray for you to know the peace that paseth all understanding, and that you too can rest in the everlasting arms.

With all our love.

Anonymous said...

from here ... just my eyes you understand .. little fish swims in your water ... you are her world its clear to all and your theory about her age and her understanding of things i would agree with .. while the water is so murky a fish may struggle to find to find its way dont you think ?? .. but the water will settle and things will return to thier own kind of fishy normal soon .. for the fish at least ..

Mog ... ah the enigma that is mog .. so much of what i want to call electrical interferance but not sure if thats offensive it ?? .. its hard for those not as close as you to truly KNOW how much she is understanding .. but i raised a smile yesterday ... my kisses raised a smile and talk of my girls raised a smile too and i for one believe that she is totally aware of the changes and the people in her life and whether she thinks heaven is down the road or a million miles away she will most certainly have realised that she cannot visit anytime soon.

when to talk about it .. when you are sad she will know ..even if she is smiling and watching her crumple might be inevitable but her smiles and happiness may be hiding her grief or even more so trying to console yours .. i know so many little ones who try thier hardest to protect thier loved ones .. letting them know its OKAY to be sad to cry and laugh and remember and even for a while to forget because you are living your own life is so important .. i know you will follow your heart and I know you will decide when the time is right for you both. and it will be right .

have faith in yourself .. I have so much faith in you

S xx


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