Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Talking to Kids About Death

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It’s been just under five weeks since my father-in-law was admitted to the hospital with pain in his chest and trouble swallowing. It’s been exactly four weeks since he was released from the hospital and moved to at-home hospice. He’d been diagnosed with cancer a few months earlier, but we were told that, at 95, it was likely his life span wouldn’t be compromised by the cancer and that he could easily live for several more years, maybe even into his 100s. At the hospital, it was discovered that the cancer had suddenly metastasized through his bones and lungs and throat. There was nothing that could be done to prolong a decent quality of life. He died on the sixth morning of his hospice care, and we miss him very much.

One of the harder parts of saying good-bye to him was and has been trying to explain to our four-year-old son, Jackson, who was very close with his grandfather, what death means. But we started that conversation long before he could possibly have any understanding of death. We started it when we spoke about his grandmother, Drew’s late mother, Joan, who passed away in 1982. We spoke of her early and often — she was always part of the conversation. We showed Jackson photos and Drew shared stories about his mother. When Jackson started asking why he never saw her, we explained that she was in the sky and in the air around us and that he couldn’t see her the same way he could see his other grandparents, but sometimes he could feel her. “Sometimes, when the wind blows across your cheek,” I said, “that’s Grandma Joan saying hello.”

When my own grandfather died a couple of years ago, Jackson wasn’t quite yet two. He’d met his great-grandfather a couple of times, but there was no way he could comprehend that he was no longer alive. What does “alive” and “dead” even mean to a not-yet-2-year-old? Not much. I didn’t tell him, when I left town for a few days, that I was going to my grandfather’s funeral. But I did show him photos of my grandfather and told him I needed to go say good-bye and that Papa Jack was going to go live in the sky and the air now like Grandma Joan. A few days after I returned home from the funeral, Jackson told me he saw Papa Jack by the slide at the playground while he was with his babysitter. I showed him a photo of my grandfather. “Him?” I asked. “You saw him at the playground?” He nodded. A few days later, he said he saw him again.

Earlier this past summer, our friends’ dog, Lucy, died. We used to live a few doors down from our friends, so Jackson knew Lucy well. We saw her on her walks all the time and she even came over to our apartment occasionally. I thought about how Jackson’s grandfather was 95 and how time, as precious as it is, is not guaranteed to last. I wanted him to begin understanding, as best as a 3-year-old might, the finality of death, and different ways we can celebrate lives and comfort those who grieve their loss. I explained to him that Lucy was now in the sky and the air like Grandma Joan and Papa Jack and that our friends were sad because they would miss walking her and seeing her cute face and hearing her footsteps down the hall in the morning. We went to the store and bought some flowers and brought them home and arranged them in a vase for our friends, and then Jackson made a card. I told him he could write whatever he wanted, but that he should mention something about Lucy. He wrote: “I Miss Lucy,” and then he drew a picture of her. I told him that would make our friends feel better — that when someone dies, it’s nice for the people who are sad to know that other people will remember the person or pet who’s gone. “Remembering someone after she dies is the best way to keep her in our hearts,” I said.

When we found out Drew’s father only had a few days to live, I immediately called a child psychologist friend of mine and asked her what we should say to Jackson and whether we should bring him to say good-bye to his grandfather. She said it wouldn’t harm him if we did and that, given how much it would mean to Herb, it would be a kind thing to do. I told Jackson that Grandpa was getting ready to go in the sky and the air like Grandma Joan and Papa Jack and Lucy and that we needed to help him feel ok about going. “We need to go tell him we love him and that we’ll always keep him in our hearts.” And that’s what we did. My friend also recommended this book, The Invisible String, so I bought it and read it to Jackson, and we talked about how there is an invisible string from Jackson’s heart to his grandfather’s heart and that, no matter where his grandfather is, if Jackson pulls the string, Grandpa will know he’s thinking of him.

It’s been just over three weeks since Herb died and I don’t know how much Jackson truly understands. We talk about his grandfather every day, to keep his memory alive and keep him in our hearts. I’ll mention him when we eat his favorite food or listen to music he liked. The other day I talked about how Grandpa liked to keep his apartment very warm and that I always dressed in layers when I went over because I got hot easily. “I bet wherever he is now, he’s nice and cozy,” I said. And Jackson replied, “When we go to his house again, we should wear layers because it gets hot!”

While we were at Herb’s home during his hospice care, we found letters he’d saved from Jackson. One that Jackson wrote earlier this year said simply, “Hi! Love, Jackson.” We’ll save the letters and show Jack when he’s older. We’ll tell him how happy he made his grandfather, what a joy it was for him to get those letters in the mail. I’ve told Jackson he can write another letter to his grandfather some time — that he can write as many letters as he wants. “How will he get them?” he asked. I told him we can tie them to a balloon and the balloon will take them up to the sky. We haven’t done that yet, but maybe we will.

Jackson has been asking when I will die and when Drew will die and when his other grandparents will die and when he will die. “We’re all going to die!” he says, almost cheerfully. It is such a hard concept to embrace, even as an adult, but I don’t want him to fear it, and I also don’t want to lie. “We will,” I say, calmly. “Everyone dies, but most people don’t die until they are very old and have lived a long, long time and have lots of people who will remember them and talk about them and keep them in their hearts.”

I tell Jackson it’s ok to miss his grandfather — that missing him is another way of loving him. “And sometimes when you feel a breeze across your cheek,” I say, “that will be him saying hello.” I say it to him, I say it to myself.

49 comments… add one
  • honeybeenicki

    honeybeenicki November 18, 2015, 1:16 pm

    So I will read this at some point, but I didn’t make it much past Grandma Joan before I started to tear up. It reminded me that in my son’s short 4 months, I’ve already discussed death with him because his two middle names are my husband’s dad (who passed away before he and I met) and my grandfather (who passed away a month and a half before my son was born). I tell him stories about Papa all the time. He doesn’t understand right now and is really just interested in the fact that someone is talking to him, but eventually he will understand and I look forward to (and dread at the same time) getting to tell him about his amazing namesake who was my Papa and how much of an influence he had on me. Thank you for writing this Wendy. Its such an important topic.

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    • Diablo

      Diablo November 18, 2015, 1:37 pm

      I lost my namesake Grandad D just before i turned 12. Although my family was never very religious, it was a major factor in my final turning away from faith. He worked for the same company for 50 years (those were the days). He also smoked a pack a day for 50 years. When he retired at 65, he quit smoking. 6 months later, dead of lung cancer. My parents hauled us all across the country for a last chance to say goodbye. He had been sent home from the hospital at that point, as there was not much for it. (This was 1978, and treatment was not then what it is now, but lung cancer still has a very grim prognosis.) I still question my parents decision here. My youngest sister was 6 at the time. I spent a very sleepless night listening to him hack himself to death literally. i begged God to save him – I would do anything, be a good laddie, etc. After he died, i decided no one was listening. I can’t say if it is better or worse that this was my first experience of death. (Small young family, hadn’t lost anyone else at that point.) I remember I felt grown-up when my parents explained it to me, and said they were telling me the real truth because they thought I could handle it. But could i? I was devastated. It’s almost 40 years ago now, but I still remember it very vividly. But i also remember the good things, like his absurd sense of humour, which is probably much more his legacy to me than the fact that we share a name.

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  • avatar

    snoopy128 November 18, 2015, 1:25 pm

    Wendy, this was a beautiful piece (as usual). I am in tears.

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    RedRoverRedRover November 18, 2015, 1:26 pm

    Some of us are pregnant and can’t handle this kind of thing!!!!! 🙂
    .
    Seriously though, that was lovely. I wish we had an “opening” for talking to our son about death, but we’ve been fortunate to have no deaths in the family for a long time. The most recent one was my grandmother in 1998, and it seems odd to just start bringing her up. Even when my grandfather dies (he’s 97), I don’t know how much it will affect my son (and by that time, my daughter) since we see him so rarely. Our own parents will hopefully not be passing anytime soon, knock on wood, although you never know.
    .
    So unless one of our cats dies, or someone has an accident, I don’t really know how to broach it.

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    • honeybeenicki

      honeybeenicki November 18, 2015, 1:59 pm

      I would maybe find a newspaper article or someone you know but that you’re not close to? I think its easier to bring up the topic if you have something that’s not terribly emotionally charged.

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        RedRoverRedRover November 18, 2015, 2:09 pm

        It just seems odd to bring it up for no reason. I mean, no reason for him. It’s a hard enough concept to understand, I don’t think telling him that a stranger died is going to have any kind of meaning to him. All the people I know but aren’t close to are strangers to him, they would never have met him. I wish more kid’s shows had episodes where someone died. To at least introduce the concept as a regular thing that happens.

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      • honeybeenicki

        honeybeenicki November 18, 2015, 2:47 pm

        That’s a great idea. With talking about my grandpa and his dad, we have a lot of jumping off points but we also have a ton of animals (many that have shorter life spans) so I think we’ll have lots of opportunity.

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        RedRoverRedRover November 18, 2015, 3:00 pm

        Maybe in a couple years we need to get a gerbil or a goldfish. That should do it. 🙂

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        SasLinna November 18, 2015, 3:09 pm

        Maybe a children’s book that deals with death?

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        RedRoverRedRover November 18, 2015, 3:17 pm

        Yeah, it’s a good idea. I’ll start looking for one.

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      • kare

        kare November 18, 2015, 4:52 pm

        Adventure Time has an episode where the main character’s hero dies, so they decide to complete his bucket list to honor his memory. There’s also an episode that’s an allegory for dementia, multiple episodes about growing up without a father, etc. It’s probabaly not the best for younger kids, but it tackles a lot of serious topics without coming across as preachy.

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        RedRoverRedRover November 19, 2015, 8:13 pm

        That’s too old for him still, but thanks, I’ll try it when he gets there.

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        freckles November 19, 2015, 3:00 pm

        RedRover, there’s an episode of Sesame Street where they talk to Big Bird about the death of Mr Hooper. I can’t find the full episode, but here’s a clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxlj4Tk83xQ

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        RedRoverRedRover November 19, 2015, 8:13 pm

        Oh thanks! Too bad my son doesn’t know Mr. Hooper though. I remember when he died. But I’ll show him this.

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      jlyfsh November 18, 2015, 2:43 pm

      I’m sure unfortunately there will be death somehow attached to you, like examples that Wendy gave that you’ll be able to touch on. That or I don’t remember how old your son is but at some point I’m sure someone will mention death or someone dying to him at school. It’s basically inevitable.

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        RedRoverRedRover November 18, 2015, 3:01 pm

        Yes, that’s true. It’s just that it would be a good age to start it now, I think (he’s 2.5). But on the other hand it would require a death, as you say, so I guess I should be thankful to have this problem.

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    • Miel

      Miel November 18, 2015, 10:37 pm

      Actually fairy tales, some kids movies and stories can be a great way to introduce the topic. Some adults don’t remember how many character dies in kids stories… Little Foot’s mother in the Land Before Time, Bambi’s mother, the wife in the pixar movie Up… There are really a lot of deaths.
      I remember as a kid, I didn’t really have anybody leave us until I was older, like 9 or 10 years old. But I remember watching and re-watching those classics fairy tales and asking for the same books to be read over and over again. I do believe that I understood “something” was happening with Little Foot’s mother… At 3 years old I probably didn’t know what it was, and by 5 I understood more of it. Kids can cherish characters and be saddened by their deaths. It’s a way to explain what death means and that real people and real animals die too. I think that would be a lot more meaningful than talking about the general, abstract concept of death.

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    anonymousse November 18, 2015, 2:22 pm

    I love the ways you’ve discussed death with Jackson and where your loved ones go. It’s beautiful.

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray November 18, 2015, 2:28 pm

    Tears, everywhere!

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  • Addie Pray

    Addie Pray November 18, 2015, 2:33 pm

    Out of curiosity, any atheist parents out there? How do you / did you discuss death with your child? When you don’t believe there’s an afterlife of any sort? Pretend to believe so the concept isn’t as depressing for the kids?

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    • Dear Wendy

      Dear Wendy November 18, 2015, 2:45 pm

      This has been a little difficult fir me because we are raising our kids Jewish and Jews don’t believe in heaven or, necessarily, an after-life (I’m not Jewish so I may be a little off about this, but my understanding is that they aren’t sure what happens after death and so they embrace the uncertainty rather than believing anything definitively). I have to refrain from saying ‘heaven’ and have to be careful about the language I use, which is super tricky when discussing death with a 3-4 year-old.

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      • Addie Pray

        Addie Pray November 18, 2015, 3:02 pm

        Oh that does make it tricky. And kind of the opposite problem: you may want to talk about heaven and your beliefs but can’t. Not yet when kids are so young they take what you say as the truth. I think what I’ll do is talk about death like you have. When my son is older I think I’ll tell him that some people believe there is a heaven” etc. … After 12 I think if he asks what I believe I’ll tell him. Or I’ll just see what feels right in the moment. Parenting is hard!

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        SpaceySteph November 18, 2015, 3:35 pm

        You know Jews, they have so many interpretations! Basic Jewish philosophy is that everyone winds up somewhere post-death, and it is usually called either Gan Eden (literally “garden of eden” but more colloquially “paradise”) or Olam Ha Ba (“The world to come”) and it’s similar in concept to heaven. Judaism, especially Hasidic tradition, allows for reincarnation as well.
        Some believe that the dead don’t go anywhere right now, but that the dead and living will be reunited once the messiah comes. In this interpretation (Hopefully not in a Walking Dead zombie apocalypse kind of way, though!)

        So I think you are fully justified using heaven-type imagery, and assuring him that you’ll all meet again one day and still remaining within the confines of Jewish belief. If you feel like you want to give it a name, try “the world to come.”

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      • Dear Wendy

        Dear Wendy November 18, 2015, 4:13 pm

        This is helpful, thanks, and it’s a little different than what I’ve been told and have researched myself. I guess there really are many interpretations! I loved the rabbi from my FIL’s synagogue who came and spoke to us at hospice and who delivered the eulogy, and he said that Jews aren’t sure what happens after death — only that the soul is at peace.
        .
        One of the last verbal interactions I had with my FIL was a few days before he died. He was on a lot of morphine and was moving in and our of lucidity. At one point, he asked when the jazz musician we were listening to was going to be playing his next concert. I lied and told him Lincoln Center. He asked if it would be nice and I assured him it would. He alluded to being scared and I told him not to be and said that he would enjoy the concert — that the music would be wonderful. I like to think he’s in some grand concert hall listening to all his favorite jazz musicians — all the greats of his era who have passed over “the world to come.”

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        ktfran November 19, 2015, 3:52 pm

        I gave the eulogy at my Grandpa’s funeral two January’s ago. We were raised Catholic and my Grandpa was a very strong Catholic, but in the eulogy, I didn’t mention heaven. I just said he was up there somewhere, sitting on the family farm, playing Euchre with his brothers and my uncle, who passed away about nine years ago. That’s how I’ll always picture him and I know that’s where he was most happy. Especially when his children and grandchildren and wife would accompany him to the farm.

        Also, he passed shortly after my grandma told him it was ok to go. My sister, mom and I were actually walking into the nursing home when he died. I had seen him the day before though, and said my goodbyes.

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      • Portia

        Portia November 19, 2015, 5:08 pm

        What’s the saying, 2 Jews, 3 opinions? (I think my rabbi said something like that over the high holidays). Anyway, I feel like I’ve heard the term Olam HaBa before, even though the idea of heaven or afterlife wasn’t really mentioned. The way my mom, a Jew raised by a Jew and Christian who converted to Judaism, talked about it was that these people live on in our memory. Not sure if that’s the norm, but it what my mom said and it was always very comforting. And as a kid, it encouraged me to think of the good times we shared, thinking maybe they were reliving it too.

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    • honeybeenicki

      honeybeenicki November 18, 2015, 2:50 pm

      I’m more of the belief that there has to be more than one god(dess) out there. I suppose I most closely relate to Wicca. I’m pretty sure that either there’s nothing or its some form of reincarnation. And I guess that’s what we’ll kind of teach him too. I want him to believe whatever he wants to believe. My husband is atheist and believes there’s nothing. My dad’s side of the family is Catholic… soooo there’s that.

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      RedRoverRedRover November 18, 2015, 2:51 pm

      I’m an atheist, and as I made clear above I haven’t started this conversation yet. 🙂 But I’m not going to pretend there’s a heaven or anything. I’ll say that we don’t know, but that they’ll always live on in our hearts and memories, along the lines of what Wendy told Jackson. Also as he gets a bit older I might tell him that we’re all made of pieces of the universe that come together to form our bodies, and when we die, we go back and float around the whole universe. Which is totally true. 🙂

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      RedRoverRedRover November 18, 2015, 2:59 pm

      Oh also atheists don’t necessarily believe there’s “nothing”. They just don’t believe there’s a god. It’s completely consistent with atheism to wonder if, for example, we’re all part of a multi-dimensional being, and when we die it’s just a piece of that being changing form or withdrawing from our dimension or something like that. Or to wonder if whatever “spark” gives us life (which science doesn’t understand) continues on after death in some way. There doesn’t have to be nothing at all.
      .
      There’s so much we don’t know about science, about time and space, about energy. We really have no idea what causes life and death. The point of atheism is just that we don’t believe there’s a creator who basically uses magic to cause life and death (and after-life). But it doesn’t stop people from having hypotheses based on the existing known science. So I’ll probably bring up some of the many possibilities with my kids once they’re old enough to understand those kinds of scientific concepts. Middle or highschool, maybe.

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      • Diablo

        Diablo November 18, 2015, 6:40 pm

        I second this. Atheism isn’t the denial or absence of wonder, hope or curiosity. It is simply a rejection of certainty about systems of belief that originate with and are interpreted by humans. I can’t be sure there is nothing beyond our natural world, but God as it has been explained and revealed to me is a human idea and a flawed one. If there was any such type o’ thing, it wouldn’t be a thing we could describe adequately with human brains and human language, nor is it adequately alluded to by the available interpretations, like St. Anselm’s “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” My atheism could be expressed as simply as I don’t and can’t know the unknowable, so I won’t pretend like your claim that you can makes any sense to me. Consequently, i tend to focus more on what is known and appears to be knowable.

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        freckles November 19, 2015, 3:05 pm

        I love this. I’ve been struggling with my beliefs, and finally decided I fall somewhere between atheist and agnostic. But sometimes I think to myself that I wish I were religious because it would be nice to believe in an afterlife, or reincarnations, or something. That death isn’t just final. I find that depressing. But you’re totally right that being atheist doesn’t mean we have to believe in NOTHING. I love the idea that we can believe that our spark of life carries on. Either in the universe at large. Or to be reborn as someone else.

        Thank you for your perspective. I find great comfort in that way of thinking.

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        RedRoverRedRover November 19, 2015, 8:10 pm

        I find comfort in it too. Also read some of Carl Sagan’s stuff, like how we’re all made of stars. Like, literally, stars exploded and became all the material of the universe, and we’re made of it. And after we die we go back, all the material eventually gets recycled. We never end and we never begin, we’re all part of the universe, always. I love that kind of stuff.

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    • TaraMonster

      TaraMonster November 18, 2015, 6:52 pm

      This has been on my mind lately too. As an atheist, I’m unsure what I’d want to tell them. And when I brought it up with my boyfriend (also an atheist), he was uncertain as well. I like how Wendy approached it and RedRover’s suggestions. The whole raising kids thing has recently come rocketing to the forefront of my thoughts since I found out I might not be able to wait as long as I wanted to start trying due to some health issues. All this stuff though has me mildly freaked about what it will mean to become a parent. And by mildly I mean completely and utterly.

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    • Miel

      Miel November 18, 2015, 10:43 pm

      I guess I had atheist parents. I think the most comforting part to me was, as Wendy said, “they’ll always be in our hearts” and “if you miss them, you can think back about all the great moments you had with them”, and also “if you don’t know what you should do, you can always ask yourself “what would X have done ?”.

      I think when kids ask “but where did they go ?” it’s fine to say “I don’t know”. And “wherever they are, I’m sure that they are happy and thinking about us”.

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  • Moneypenny

    Moneypenny November 18, 2015, 3:02 pm

    This is so sweet, Wendy. I love the thought of the wind blowing across your cheek being Grandpa saying hello!
    I don’t recall how my parents ever explained it to me, but I did lose a number of relatives at an early age. Between age 4 and 10 I had 5 relatives pass away (grandpas, great aunt, and 2 uncles). My grandmothers and another great aunt passed away when I was in high school. I grew up believing in heaven, where everyone was happy and without pain anymore. Which was a reassuring thought for me, having seen my family members while they were sick and dying. I guess I was just more aware at an early age, even though it made me really sad to experience. And to this day my mom will talk about her brothers and parents and I think it helps them stay alive in our memories. (My dad less so- I usually have to ask him about his family.)

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    • Addie Pray

      Addie Pray November 18, 2015, 3:20 pm

      I had a grandma die when I was 10 or so and I was so sad. I can’t remember how my parents talked to me about death. I’m going to ask my mom when she comes up for Thanksgiving. I think a lot of conversations I need to have with my son will happen organically. But there are a few things (not just death) I want to have given lots of thought to ahead of time and I want to make sure I talk to him about those things early and correctly. “Correctly” being the way that ensures he’ll grow up healthy, self aware, happy, confident, caring … Shit does anyone know how to do this??!!

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        RedRoverRedRover November 18, 2015, 3:22 pm

        Don’t worry, you’ve only got sway for the first few years, and he’ll still be too young to screw up completely. After that, his peers are going to affect him a lot more than you do. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway. 🙂 You can only do so much, as long as you provide love and support, it’s good.

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    Andie November 18, 2015, 4:36 pm

    Hello Wendy, I am not a regular commenter, but this was a lovely piece. It made me think of the children’s book World On a String . It’s a lovely children’s book about loss. It’s not religious, nor does it talk about God or heaven or even death in an overt way. It’s very sweet and touching; I read it to my children even though they have not dealt with death yet. I wish you and your family all the best.
    http://www.amazon.com/World-String-Larry-Phifer/dp/0988698404/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1447882204&sr=1-1&keywords=world+on+a+string

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    ktfran November 18, 2015, 5:53 pm

    I grew up from the day I was born around death. Ok, a few weeks after I was born. My older sister passed away when she was nearly two from a rare liver disease and I was three and a half weeks old. Since I can remember, I’ve visited her grave site with my parents to say hello and that’s she missed. My parents names are on her gravestone as well. I don’t remember exactly when my parents told me about her. Ever since then, I’ve felt somehow close to her even though I barely met her. So, because of that and how much it’s a part of my parents lives, I’ve always been comfortable with death.

    Also, my one of my grandpa’s passed away when my niece was I think three. She went to the funeral And for several months after, she said she would see him in the sky. Like Jackson. I think kinds minds are more open and as such, perhaps see things we don’t.

    Also, my nieces know that they have my older sister’s namesake. The older niece has the same middle name that was my sister’s. My younger niece has her first name. They both know why they have the names they do and what it means to my family.

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  • veracityb

    veracityb November 18, 2015, 6:58 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Wendy. A difficult topic for anyone to get comfortable with, but in reassuring Jackson, you’ve also reassured me. Perhaps we’re all just children after all when it comes to the big questions.

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    Bondgirl November 18, 2015, 7:14 pm

    It just got so dusty in here. I wish I had the opportunity to say goodbye to my grandfather when he was dying. My parents denied me that and I was 17. Never quite got over it. Despite such a young age I applaud you for taking your son to send off his beloved grandpa. Beautiful words. Great read.

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    Jane63 November 18, 2015, 8:15 pm

    Beautiful, Wendy. My grand parents were all gone before I was born. So nice Jackson and Joanie will have those memories – even if too short.

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  • Monkeysmommy

    Monkeysmommy November 18, 2015, 10:17 pm

    Thanks for this, Wendy. Though our situation certainly pales in comparison to yours, we are getting ready to put our 13 year old chocolate lab down next week. I am feeling lost on how to explain to our five year old son that the dog he has had his entire life is no longer going to be with us. Our teenage kids are upset, but they see and understand why, but Monkey doesn’t. Also, given that my husband and I both still have all of our parents and grandparents, it is inevitable that we are going to have to face this issue at some point.

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    SasLinna November 19, 2015, 1:57 am

    There’s a TAL episode where they address this topic, with a segment on group therapy for children who have lost a loved one (a parent in most cases). It’s interesting because they talk to the kids in a very frank manner that would be unusual even among adults, so that they can understand what happened to their parent and ultimately recover from their grief. Fair warning though: I was crying throughout the second half of it, it’s truly hard to listen to, but very worthwhile still.

    I was first confronted with death when one of my grandmothers died, I was around 5 at the time. I remember my father getting the phone call that she had died, but wasn’t involved beyond that. I do think I already understood what was happening though.

    When I was around 10, we were visiting our grandfather for the holidays and he died during the night. In the morning, he just didn’t come out of his room as usual. My parents went to check on him, suspecting something had happened because he always used to get up early, and he had died in his sleep, likely from a stroke.

    For me, the whole experience wasn’t traumatic at all. Our parents told us what happened and we got the chance to go into the room and say goodbye to dead grandpa. My parents framed it as “he wanted to go while we were here with him, and he left peacefully in his sleep”. My brother was younger than I was and I think he was fine as well (though he, being a smartass kid, immediately asked “so who is going to inherit grandpa’s money now?” – I remember chiding him for that, haha).

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    mirage14 November 19, 2015, 10:41 am

    I was around Jackson’s age when my grandfather died, and we were also very close. Towards the end of things when he was in the hospital, I was the only person he would voluntarily get out of bed for. We would walk around the floor, and I have some really distinct memories of holding his left hand, as his right pushed his IV stand, and he wore his green robe. I experienced another 3 family deaths in the following 10 years, and another one in college that was completely devastating. I think my young age when my grandfather passed keeps my memories of him very warm and positive. I don’t remember finding out that he had passed away, and while I spent a significant amount of time with him in the hospital, I don’t remember being scared by what was going on, I was just with my grandpa, I didn’t really understand what death meant yet.

    As I got older, I started to believe more firmly that those we have lost are still watching over us. I have a lot of issues with my own religion, but I truly believe without a doubt that the people I have lost are still out there. Comprehending death as a kid can be a really difficult thing, but I think children in general are more open to imagining their loved one being in the sky.

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  • courtney89

    courtney89 November 19, 2015, 11:44 am

    So hard. So hard. i was 9 when my grade school best friend actually passed away from liver disease (I still am not clear on what she had, I was too young to understand.) My mom took me and a few of our school friends to the funeral and that was the first time i really lost someone i knew and cared about, alot. I had lost pets so i had that experience but it was really hard. I never met my grandfathers, both long gone before i came along and my maternal grandma passed away when i was 15 (And my paternal grandmother passed 10 years later) I think my parents took the approach that people we care about go to heaven but are always with us, even when we cant see or hear them. I had a rough go of it in March-April, and my mom just told me — talk to your grandmas. They can’t answer you but they are always going to be there. I recall when my gram passed this year, there was an absolute amazing sunset that night (I like to think of it as it was heaven welcoming her in) and whenever i see a beautiful sunset, i think of her.
    So hard.

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    Kerry Ann Lewis November 19, 2015, 12:37 pm

    Thank you for responding Wendy. I was pleasantly surprised. Things are still the same unfortunately. But I’m hoping for the best. Kerry Ann

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    karenwalker November 20, 2015, 9:44 am

    Yesterday was Children’s Grief Awareness Day. Here is their website: https://www.childrensgriefawarenessday.org/cgad2/index.shtml

    The Child Life Specialist on the pediatric cancer unit I used to work on shared this: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=t0ceoONwP5E&feature=youtu.be

    A friend who is a grief and bereavement counselor shared this: http://www.whatsyourgrief.com/childhood-grief/

    Seeing these on Facebook yesterday made me think of you & Jackson, Wendy. I thought I’d share these resources, and hope people find them helpful!

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    Elise November 23, 2015, 9:05 pm

    Wendy, thank you for this. I lost my grandfather last week, and this was so wonderful to read, even through tears. Thank you. I’ve been a fan since The Frisky days, but never commented. Thanks for sharing your spirit through this site and community. I’m glad you’re here!

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