Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When a Hero Dies: talking to kids about death

We are blessed to have many amazing people in our lives.  Not a day goes by without a wonderful reminder of how truly fortunate we are.  And then there are the days when the reminder isn't wonderful - it's tragic.  That was the case on Saturday.

We had a fun and busy day filled with doula education, a soccer game, a downtown festival, lunch at a great local pizza shop and a fantastic birthday party.  After a day like that the kiddos were tired.  Eli (yup that's Bobeezer's real name) passed out in the car and needed only a brief cuddle from me to go right back to sleep.  As Leon (yup that's Lou's real name) finished a snack I took a quick peek at my email as I was waiting for a response from someone.  I saw an email from the wife of a dear friend and excitedly opened it without reading the subject line.  My heart began to pound in my chest and my stomach felt like it sank clear to the floor.  Our dear friend, and Leon's hero (our family's hero), had passed away.

How could this be?  My first thought was that I had misread the email - not the case.  My second thought was that someone was playing a not-at-all-funny practical joke.  Again, this was not the case.  Our hero was really gone and his beautiful new bride, clearly the love of his life, had graciously written to let us know.

I struggled to compose myself as I kissed my dear boy goodnight and made sure that kiss lasted extra long.  I knew what was coming.  In addition to my own grief, I would have to find a way to explain to my 4-year-old that his hero was dead.

We do everything we can to protect our children, but there was no way to protect him from this.  The best I could do was try to find a way to explain this to him in a simple way that did not scare him, but conveyed that we would not be seeing our hero again in this physical world.  A dear friend sent me two links:

I miss you - Speaking about death to children
Helping Your Child Deal With Death

They were helpful and reiterated things I had already heard like not telling the child that the deceased person is sleeping, which might make them fearful of falling asleep and not focusing on an illness, which might scare them next time they or someone they love is sick.  So after a lot of tears, lots of talking, and lots of reading my husband and I felt as prepared as possible to talk to our son, but we had no idea what to expect.

On Sunday, we put Eli down for his nap and sat Leon down to break the news.  I knew that I would have limited control over my emotions and was just hoping that I'd have enough restraint so that I didn't scare him.  I cried, which I think is healthy for him to see, but was composed enough to get through the conversation.  It went something like this:

Mom: Hey, Buddy.  Mom and Dad love you very much and we have something to talk to you about.
Leon: What?
Mom: Harold, our garbage man (even though he is no longer our garbage man), died.
Leon: When did he die?
Mom: Two days ago.
Leon: How did he die?
Mom: His body stopped working and the doctors couldn't fix him.
Leon: Did he go to the hospital?
Mom: Probably.
Leon: Oh.  How old was he?
Mom: I'm not sure, but I think he was less than 40 (I wasn't sure of his exact age.  Turns out he was 37).  His body stopped working earlier than most.
Leon: Can we count to 40?
Mom: Sure.  (And we did)
Leon: That's not a lot of numbers.
Mom: No, Baby, it's not.  His body stopped working much too early.  Harold would want you to know how special you are to him. (Insert Dad tears.  I've only seen my husband cry two other times - once at our wedding and once when our first son was born.)
Leon: I still feel his love in my head.? (This was both a statement and a question.)
Mom: And you always will.  His body stopped working, but his soul will always be with us.  He was a great friend to us and we should always remember him and keep him in our hearts.
Leon: I will.

We all will.  We made the trip to Maryland for his funeral service.  It was beautiful, sad, inspirational, exhausting, comforting, and final.  He can rest and his loved ones can try to heal.  It was so moving to hear about all the people he touched in his short life.  They mentioned Harold's special relationship with Leon during the service and that made Leon smile as he shyly snuggled closer to me.  We had the pleasure of meeting Harold's mother, his twin sister, his other sister and many friends and cousins.  We were able to hug his beautiful wife.

They handed out a program/obituary with a large picture of Harold.

Leon: Can I keep this?
Mom: Yeah.  Would you like that?
Leon: Yes.  It will help me remember him.
*Mom hug and hair tousle.*
Leon: Mom, I think he's smiling at me.
Mom: Yes, he is.

I'm sure of it.  His smile was infectious.

I know that Leon does not and can not completely understand, but I feel like he knows enough.  I hope this was the hardest step and that as the questions come I will be prepared to deal with them.

I linked up at The Mob Society where you can read other inspiring posts about the amazing world of boys.

Small Things with Love

1 comment:

  1. Amazing and touching. Thanks for sharing this in such detail--the dialogue was so touching. (I teared up)!!

    Thank you for linking up with The Photo show and tell last week! I enjoyed coming to your blog and sharing in this! The next link-up will be live later tonight and this week's theme is SUMMER, so look though all those great shots you took this summer and link up your best one or two. I can't wait to see what you link up!