Thursday, December 29, 2011
Just Like That.
Will they understand? Will they be affected or not? Our family is not religious, but I also realized they would overhear things at school. Words like ‘soul’, ‘heaven’, ‘angel’, ‘die, ‘death’ and more. I am not opposed to using any of those, but as with so many of life’s uncertainties, I had expected these would be used at a later time in their little lives. And maybe not all at once.
At first I told them simply that she would not be there when they got back to school. I figured telling them as soon as possible would give them time to digest it. Then I reflected that they had had therapists who stopped working with them, babysitters who were suddenly no longer there and grandparents who live far away that they don’t see often. So maybe this wouldn’t be a shock to them. I told them she had to go somewhere else, and that she loved them and was so very happy to be their teacher. I asked them to draw pictures and ‘bye bye’ cards for her family, and they did. Then they asked if they could resume playing. Just like that.
The school has given us guidance information about what they will be sharing with the kids. Brief, truthful statements, and a ‘we don’t have an answer for that’ if something gets questioned beyond what the school wants to say. They are being very respectful of different people’s personal beliefs and I am grateful for that. In About Dying, An Open Family Book for Parents and Children Together, Sara Bonnett Stein offers some good advice: “It is the job of parents to support and explain reality, to guide a child toward the truth even if it is painful . . . it is only straightforwardness that gives children the internal strength to deal with things not as they imagine them to be, but as they are.” One of my favorite quotes from Anaïs Nin is, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are”. Would that we lived in a bubble that protected our children from the big bad world forever. Somewhere in between these two quotes lies dealing with life.
Tomorrow is Kelly’s funeral. Although I am sad she is gone, I’m not sure it has truly hit me. When school begins again next week, my children will be exposed to others’ grief, and my instinct is to shield them from it as long as possible. But I know kids are very resilient, and learning to deal with life’s eventualities, some harsher than others, will help them be strong as they grow. So tonight we sat down with them and said the words, “Miss Kelly died”. They stared at us. “Miss Kelly’s body stopped working.” More stares. Then, “Miss Kelly’s body stopped working so she had to go somewhere else Mommy?” I swallowed hard. “Yes, baby.” They repeated this question a few times. Then, “Mommy, can I play with my toys now?”
I will follow their lead, and be there to help them. We will honor her memory, and we will go on.
Just like that.