Talking about Death with your child

I am one, who ultimately, just tells it like it is…

Years ago, I was trapped in a car with my niece (then 6) in the back seat, with my brother and sister-in-law in the front. Clear out of the blue, my niece turns to me and asks “where did princess Diana go after she died?”

My sister-in-law is an atheist, so this was a tricky question. My brother, who of course came from the same womb as me, as well as grew up in the same household as me, but yet, we don’t have the same views on how to discuss anything difficult. My brother chooses silence and avoidance, where as, I just answer the question.

There was a lot of silence in the car, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to respond to my niece’s question, but I decided to leap in, and give it a go.

I said that princess Diana is now living without pain, and watching over the world, and taking care of everyone who needs a guardian angel. This wasn’t the best answer, but I had never really talked about death with a little person before. My brother ignored the whole conversation, and my sister-in-law jumped in and said that when people die, they don’t go anywhere, they are just gone.

Being a more spiritual person, and having had so many people close to me die, I don’t like the idea of the finality of just dying and not going anywhere. The finality sounds really scary, since I am not scared of death or life, I like to think that our spirits live on.

Fast forward to me becoming a Mother. I had to introduce my son to my Father, who of course passed away long before he was born. I had watched for years my brother avoiding all conversations about my Father, and never discussing him EVER to my niece. I thought that was just cruel. My Father is a huge part of the woman I have become, I think he deserves to be in my child’s life, even in spirit. From the moment I knew I was pregnant, I had vivid dreams of my Father holding a baby boy. They were so vivid, that when I woke up, my intense happiness would soon become intense sadness, I hated waking up from those dreams. I knew somewhere, somehow, my Father and his grandson had met. So I knew, my duty was to keep my memory of my Father alive, by talking about him. Even if it included any uncomfortable discussion about his death.

So, I knew the uncomfortable conversation was coming. It has to at some point doesn’t it. It finally came after the Terry Fox Run at school. My son came home and asked about my Father’s death, how and why he died.

First, I told him that my Father died of Cancer, and that years of working in the kind of environment he worked in, gave him very little chance to fight the cancer. He battled cancer bravely, but finally decided it was time to move on, and live without pain, but he was lucky, he was going to be reunited with friends and family he hadn’t seen for a long time. My son wasn’t completely satisfied, he asked more questions.

He asked me why it was ok for me to have let him go. I told him the only thing I could. I looked into my child’s eyes, who incidentally inherited my Father’s very blue eyes and replied “Every once in a while, I get very sad that my Father isn’t here anymore, that he didn’t get to hold you, or take you for ice cream, or tell you stories of far off countries. I get sad that he never got to see me graduate from University, or meet your Daddy, or walk me down the aisle, but you know what. He lives in my heart, and I am grateful to have had the years I did with him. Somehow though, I know in my heart, he was with me in every single one of those moments, and when things get rough, he talks to me in my dreams. You know what? He put a pretty huge mark on this earth, and left so many people better off for knowing him, that it would be selfish of me to think that maybe, he had a bigger calling and was really needed elsewhere.”

To this, my son said “Mummy, I love you, and maybe if I really try, maybe Grandpa will visit me in my dreams.” That made me smile, because I honestly think that they already met.

So here it is, no matter what your faith, being open about the discussion is pretty important, little people have big minds and big questions that need to be answered.

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