“Death comes to us all; we can only choose how to face it when it comes.” (Robert Jordan, The Dragon Reborn)
Death and illness have visited our family before. My Mamaw died when Langley was less than six months old after years of bad health. It was a sad time for our family, but Langley giggled and gurgled through it all oblivious to what was happening around him. My mother in law was diagnosed with breast cancer when Langley was about two. He sauntered through this experience too. Yes, Grandma was sick, but she would be OK. Grandma was laying around all the time just because she wanted to watch more movies with him right??
He didn’t notice tears or anxiety or really any of the emotional rollercoaster that the adults were experiencing in either situation. Then a few months ago my cousin died unexpectedly. He was my husband’s age and Langley had enjoyed playing with him when we visited my grandparents. Now death was a little closer, a little more scary. Could Daddy die? Mommy? I did my best to explain to him that yes that sometimes happens, but Mommy and Daddy try to be careful and we would be OK. I had to cuddle with him a few times at night to wipe away tears, but slowly, once again he had rebounded. As scary as this was he wasn’t reminded on a daily basis that Jeremy was gone.
However, right after Christmas this year my father in law was diagnosed with throat cancer. Uh oh. This is Grandpa. Grandpa who we see every day. We wrestle with him, go to work with him, and tell him about everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) that we do. This isn’t like a few years ago when I was able to say “Grandma is sick, let’s sit next to her and watch a movie.” Movie watching is for girls, not for GRANDPAS! Grandpas are for being rough with.
This time Langley is definitely picking up on every whispered conversation, every random comment and especially every tear. I am somewhat at a loss at how to proceed. I have tried to explain that Grandpa is sick and is going to get sicker before he get better, but I feel like that is more than inadequate. I am resisting the “everything is going to be fine” route because the news hasn’t been great and I want him to believe what I tell him in the future.
What if I tell him everything will be fine and everything isn’t? How much does a five year old need to know? How much should he know? How much should he see?
When my mother in law was going through chemo I tried to bring Langley out a much as possible because I knew it cheered her up. Now I wonder what kind of effect that is going to have on Langley to see his Grandpa get really sick, really quickly. Gillian (my 3 year old) is still blissfully unaware of anything going on so I still have a little time to figure out how to handle this situation with her, but I am going to have to do some serious explaining very soon to my very curious and concerned little boy.
Arielle is a mother of two making sure that her children grow up to be well balanced nerds. You can follow her nerd-developing progress on her blog, My Nerd Obsessions.
How would you proceed? Has your child experienced a loss and if so how have you dealt with it? How have you explained why God hasn’t fixed it?
Here are some books you may find helpful for explaining death to young children. *Affiliate links