Kids are funny. Their minds are learning something new and how to use it every minute. The younger they are, the more they can take in. They are so dependent on us, their medial higher power. Maybe the less control one has, the more likely they are to accept change. Kids lives are already a whirlwind of transformation. This world demands they must cope and adapt and because of this, they become better at accepting change. Death is change.
When my dad was dying, we explained that ‘Poppy was going to heaven’. The younger kids (who were four and under) took it like any other news. I could have said, ‘It’s going to rain today’ and had the exact same response. I didn’t want them to miss what I was saying so I explained further that dying is when you go to heaven to be with Jesus and we wouldn’t see him for a long time, until it was our turn to go to heaven. My four year old expressed his dissatisfaction and appealed for that to not happen. I told him we all felt that way but that was just the way it was. He accepted. It was my six year old at the time that had the most, what I would term, ‘human reaction’. She cried and said she didn’t want him to die because she would miss him too much. She asked: Why?!
Why couldn’t the doctors fix him?
Why did he get Cancer?
Why do people die?
Questions are good. Answers are generic. They are the bandaid on the sore of life.
Children live in the present so it’s hard for them to feel true loss with out a concept of the future. My kids don’t even understand what five minutes are, which could mean anywhere from one minute to and hour depending on my mood. The more we can understand time and what the future can hold the more we can understand the pain of walking without the people we love.
My oldest grasped what dying meant. It meant that she would not see her Poppy any more, at least not in this life. She subsequently felt more pain. The younger children….they couldn’t see the missed birthdays, graduations and weddings. They would know all his jokes but never know where they came from. In some ways that made them lucky and in others very sad.
My own question haunted me: Is it better to know someone amazing and loose them than to never have known true loss?
All the memories I have of my dad flashed through my mind and my pain was no longer just my own. Although I envied my own children’s obliviousness, I knew the truth. I was the lucky one. We grieve because we know the truth and regard our children’s ability cope with change.
For more from Jennifer Reekie, visit her blog, Mums the Word:
I have four kids under the age of 8, at one stage it was 4 under 4 but I blacked out that year, and I work full time at keeping them alive. Although I love them and enjoy the madness, I’m going to need a vacation soon.