Death is a difficult thing to explain, especially to a child. Unfortunately, it is something that we all have to deal with at some point.
Our sweet daughter is very inquisitive and her questions are becoming more and more challenging for me to answer. I want to tell her the truth always but I also want to find a balance between the whole truth and partial explanation. I don’t want to over explain things and make her feel worried or cause her to have anxiety about death and illness.
A few weeks ago in the car we were listening to Isreal Kamiwamiwo’ole and she was looking at the album cover. She loves his voice and loves the cover photo of him swimming in a pool that looks like the earth. She asked “Mommy is he still alive?” I answered that he wasn’t. She asked “Did he swim too much and then he died?” I told her he died from heart problems. Then she said “Maybe his pants were up too high and then he died.” Her questions went on and on and I tried to explain to her that some people get sick and get better and some people get a very serious sickness and their bodies can’t recover so they die. She seemed concerned but she was able to move on without dwelling on it for too long.
So far, no one that Violet has known very closely has passed away. We lost friends in the tsunami 2 years ago but she wasn’t quite old enough to know what that meant . She knew that life was different for a while and we had to move to a new house with new books and new toys and new clothes but the loss of life was not something she could comprehend at the time.
When my friends sister passed away a year ago, she saw that I was sad and cried a lot. She was so young and left 2 young children behind and a loving husband, sister and parents and countless friends. I tried to explain my sudden bouts of sadness to her and tell her that mommy was sad because her friend had gotten sick and couldn’t get better. She would pat my back and tell me it was o.k. to cry. Her death reminded me of my own loss. The loss of my dear, sweet mother. I was 21 years old when my mother was taken from me. Her children were only 4 and 6. I grieved for them and each time I looked at my daughter I saw her daughter searching for her mother, crying out for her and not understanding why she didn’t come. At 21 years old I felt that same pain but my mind was more capable of comprehending her absence. My heart felt like it was breaking all over again and I felt all those feelings over again. Anger, sadness, frustration, fear and pain.
About a month later I was blessed with an experience I had never had before. As I was nursing Violet to sleep I was overcome with the feeling that my Mom was surrounding me with her presence. I saw her face so clearly in my mind. Usually when I picture her I see her as she looked before she had cancer. With her beautiful brown hair. That night she had her post chemo hair (a beautiful purplish grey). She was smiling so wide and she was glowing. I felt so warm and full of light. My eyes filled up with tears and I whispered “Please don’t go Mama. Stay here with us a little longer.” When I started to feel her slipping away, I whispered it again. I felt her there with me for the entire time I was nursing Violet to sleep. I felt like she was holding us both and looking at her beautiful granddaughter. I don’t know how to explain the feeling I had except to say it was close to perfect happiness. I couldn’t stop crying and my tears were dropping onto Violet’s tummy. She didn’t seem to notice that I was crying, thankfully, and fell peacefully to sleep.
There are more times than I can count that I wish I could call out to my mom and seek her reassurance, her love, her understanding, her praise. Since becoming a mother myself, I feel it even more frequently than I did before. Since she left this world there has been a constant hole in my heart. Every occasion and celebration is missing her presence. I know how much she would have loved to be a grandmother. She never got to be “Mimi” (that is what she wanted to be called by her grandchildren). She never got to hold her grand-babies and shower them with her unmatchable love. Her sweet grandchildren will never know how her hugs could calm any fear, how her smile could brighten even the darkest room. They will never get to laugh at her corny jokes or be comforted by her heartwarming words. They will never know how much she loves them.
At the same time, I feel so much closer to her now than I did in the immediate years following her death. I can understand in a way I never did before how much my mom loved me. I remember her telling me “when you’re a mom one day, you’ll understand…” There was no way I could understand that until my own daughter was placed in my arms and I knew that I would walk through fire for her. I now know how deeply it hurt her to see me hurting and how overwhelming the love in her heart was for me and my brothers.
A mother’s love is like no other love. No one will ever love me like my mother loves me. I was perfect in her eyes,though she knew I could and did do wrong, she knew I was not a bad person. When I broke my mother’s heart with poor choices in my teen years, I couldn’t understand how she could forgive me and keep loving me. Now I know why. When you carry life inside your own body, although they enter the outside world at some point, they are always a part of you and the love you feel for them can never be taken away.
My mother’s love surrounds me now. No matter where I am or what I am doing, she is there. When I lie awake watching my daughter suffer through an illness, she is there worrying with me. When I hold my daughter close to my breast and nourish her with life giving milk, she is there holding me. When my heart fills with the purest joy at seeing Violet accomplish something new, she is there celebrating with me. She is there. She is there. She is there.
Though Violet never got to meet her Grandma Pam, Grandma Pam is there. She is always in my heart and so I know her love is pouring out to Violet through my love. Violet has been very vocal about her and asks questions all the time about her life and why she had to die. She misses her. She has even cried for her before, crying out that she misses Grandma Pam. As she grows older and asks more questions I can see her grieving for the loss of the grandmother she never knew. I wish that I could protect her from ever having to experience the pain of loss and heartbreak. But I cannot.
My dear friend put it so eloquently in a post on her blog saying, “Daily, I wish I could protect my children’s innocence. I wish I could shield them from the harshness of this world. I wish I could always protect their hearts, their minds, their souls. I wish they knew nothing of the sin, brokenness, and ugliness of this world. I wish I didn’t have to tell them that they can’t trust everyone, and that there are people in this world who are not good. I wish they knew no sadness, experienced no loss, and lived carefree and happy all of the time. That is Heaven though, and not Earth. As long as they live on this Earth, they will experience all that we experience – they will break hearts and their hearts will be broken”
I fear losing Violet or her losing me or her daddy. I try not to worry about it but I know that one day one of us will be gone from the other. I cling to the hope though that we will be reunited. Just as I cling to that hope that one day I will embrace my mother again. I am trying to help her find ways to understand pain and to deal with it in a healthy way. Teaching her that it is ok to cry and it is ok to miss someone. These are natural feelings. We are also trying to teach her to look for love and joy and peace and beauty to bring her out of sadness and darkness.
Talking about death with her has allowed me to realize that there are not always answers to every question and I don’t have to pretend to have the answer to it all. I am praying that as she grows older she will come to understand in her own heart what happens after we die and that even though we don’t know for sure, we don’t have to be afraid of it. Love will live on, Love will always live on.
How do you talk to your children about death?
Has your child asked you questions that you don’t know how to answer?
Thanks for stopping by today,