Sunday, November 18, 2012

Saying Goodbye

We just returned home from a trip to honor the passing of my husband's grandfather.  It was important that we go, that we be there with our family and remember- together- all of the wonderful things about this man.  That we grieve- together- and say goodbye.

I am so glad we went and it turned out to be an incredible opportunity to spend time with family members we love but rarely see.  But it also brought up a lot of things I wasn't prepared to talk about with my young children.  We had to explain to our 3 year old, for the first time, what death is.

It was a startlingly daunting task- one I knew we'd have to tackle soon, but I didn't expect to have to explain it in reference to us- to one of our own.  Explaining to a 3 year old that one of their family members has died is strange moment in the life of a parent.

I sought out the help of the parent educator at my son's co-op preschool, and I'm incredibly thankful for all of her advice.  She guided me through how to speak about death to a preschool aged child (use clear, simple language- avoid phrasing like "passed away") and how to explain what happens ("when we get old, our bodies stop working, so we die").  When we discovered that there was to be an open casket viewing, both my husband and I worried about how the Big One would react.  The Little One wouldn't really understand what was happening, but the Big One has frequent nightmares and scares relatively easily.  I worried about how he would handle seeing a dead body for the first time and the trauma it could cause him.  Our parent educator was so reassuring and gave wonderful advice about allowing the child to lead the way and choose what they want to do.  As a result of her guidance, I felt much more comfortable as we left for our trip.

In the end, both kids handled it SO much better than I ever could have expected.  They spent long hours in the car and in the funeral home, behaved very well for exhausted kids at both the viewing and the funeral, and, in their own ways, said goodbye.  The Big One understood that something serious was going on and that people were feeling sad.  He sat quietly through the funeral as his family members cried softly next to him.  He climbed into the lap of his grandfather as we said our final goodbye at the cemetery.  As we drove away he said, "I'm going to miss my old Grandpa."

I often forget how much we underestimate our children.  We don't realize how much they really understand.  How much they see and hear.  How closely they listen and how much they get it.  We may have had to explain what death is, but we didn't have to explain the sense of loss that comes along with it.  We didn't have to explain that the people around him needed a little extra quiet and little extra love.  We didn't have to explain that family is important.

This experience gave us the opportunity to show our children how we rally together when we need to.  How, through death, we can celebrate life.

As worried as I was about the entire experience and as sad as I knew it would be, I could not be more grateful for wonderful things that came out of it.  We were able to honor and celebrate a wonderful man- a leader in our family- and to show our children what love and support look like.  We were able to be together, as a family, and say goodbye.

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