Life is full of amazing learning experiences for kids. It’s also full of sudden experiences that you might not feel well equipped to handle.
One such experience, for me, is death.
We received some grim news. A very close family member has been diagnosed with cancer. Not to go into too many details -it is not good. Not good at all. :(
We sat down and talked with my nearly twelve year old. We told her the truth. We explained the situation and answered her questions as best we could. Of course, she took it hard. Very hard. But she does understand that the only thing certain about life, is death.
She comes to me or to her father from time to time for a hug. For a reassurance that we’re still here. Sometimes she asks us about death, about life, about our existence on this blue planet called Earth. It’s these tough questions that we have to muddle through. We don’t have definitive answers to what comes after death and that is hard.
We don’t use religion to find comfort, so it seems especially hard to answer her very difficult questions. A lot of the discussions are led with the following question to her, “What do you think happens after death?”
One thing my husband and I have been very clear about from the very beginning, was that we weren’t going to dictate what our children believe or disbelieve. We will present them with the facts -the scientific facts as we know them. We will learn and explore other cultures, other religions, other beliefs, etc. But, in the end, it will come down to them making the decision on what they want to believe in.
I come from a religious background (I am currently a self-proclaimed agnostic with strong atheist tendencies -although, if I am being completely honest, I really dislike labels), so I recall the comfort one could find in religion. Cold hard facts are not as comforting. However, I do find comfort in knowing that our life is filled with wonderful memories, traditions, events, etc spent with said family member. I will carry that in my heart always. I need only think about someone who has passed, like my grandparents, and feel warm and fuzzy remembering them.
Still, I do understand the plight she must feel as she struggles to comprehend death, thereafter, and the purpose of ones existence.
It will be especially hard to sit down and explain death to the little ones when the time comes. The little ones have no idea on what is happening. They know the family member is sick and to be gentle when around them, but that is all.
To somewhat prepare them, I borrowed a book from the library called Gentle Willow. I sat with them both and read it to them. We talked about it. They grasped the concept that the tree was dead/gone/is no more. But I did not delve into it. It was just like reading any other book. It was read to them and that was it. I didn’t want to call such great attention to this book.
When the time comes, my hope is that they will recall this story and hopefully be able to make the connection. I am not certain this is the right way to go but for now, it will do.
It is definitely not a topic that should be avoided and it is definitely not a topic that should be ignored. It is simply a topic that I am hoping to discuss with them when they are ready, when it actually occurs, when the time is right. I will not skirt around it. Of that I am certain. But I won’t lie -it does intimidate me.
There is nothing worse for a mom then to see her children hurting. And knowing I cannot take away the pain that is to come with the death of a family member… well, it’s hard. Most incredibly hard. A mother’s job is to protect, to shield, to love, to hug, to keep safe her children. Although I will not avoid the topic of death, it is still a hard topic to deal with when it involves a very much loved family member. I know my kids will hurt. I know it will be painful. I ache for them. However, we will trek through this together -as a family- and we will be there for each other.
Part of life is death. It cannot be avoided. It is the only certain thing in life. Hopefully they will also be certain of the love we have for each other and will know I’m there for them. Not only is there life and death, but there is love there too.