Our Story Begins:
On Death And Dying.. What Do You Tell Your Kids?
What is it about losing someone that affects us so?
I’m not trying to get you to think about religion or heaven. It’s not a question of atheism or faith. This is a question of death.
You might think this is because I’m filled with regret and sorrow with the grief my children have faced. My wife passed away 2 ½ years ago, after all. I have no regrets with the decisions I’ve made since my wife died, though.
Still, events in the last several weeks have had me wonder the impact of those decisions. I talk with my kids. They talk to me, sometimes incessantly. My daughter, Hannah, middle of the four kids, came to me and asked to read me a writing prompt that she had finished for her English Composition class. It was supposed to detail a terrible event that ended up having good consequences.
Hannah, Noah and Sam
The obvious is losing her mother. When Hannah recounted the day her mom died in her story, I held my breath. Where I mention a lot of emotional material in my writing, it’s not on display for daily consumption. I have only broken down in the kids’ presence a handful of times. It’s not putting down anyone who does, I just don’t do it.
“My dad had prepared us, telling us that mom was not well and he wasn’t sure what would happen next,” Hannah wrote. “He was hopeful she was getting better, but all four of us were really worried.”
Bear in mind, this is the first I’ve heard Hannah’s description of how she felt about the day her Mom passed away. I was terribly worried about what her next words would be because what happens next is my coming in the door and tearing down the foundation of their world.
“My Dad left the house in a hurry that morning and we all thought something was wrong. When he came back in the door he’d confirmed our fears because he couldn’t look us in the eye and wasn’t able to say anything. In my whole life I’ve never seen my dad cry, but when he finally looked up there were tears coming down his cheeks and he said, ‘Mom didn’t make it.’ He couldn’t say anything more but we knew. We all cried.”
Just a few months before Andrea passed away, my grandfather died. My kids knew I was sad and talked to me on the phone while I was at the funeral in Nebraska. When the boys asked what was going to happen I told them that my grandma, Lanone, was alone and sad because the man she loved was gone. We talked about the fact that sometimes people just pass away, bad things happen all the time, but that doesn’t mean we forget the people we lose. My sons remember the stories he told about working on the railroad and his pocket watch and the electric train set he wanted my son to have when he did pass away. I had a ton of stories about my grandfather and telling them about him made me feel better, which made them feel better.
I bring this up because, in so many cases, we have de-personalized death. Talking about it when it happens doesn’t prepare kids for the possibility that it can happen. The National Institute of Health even details how parents should have discussions, be it a family pet, the squirrel hit by a car or a relative’s passing as they grow. Closing down when it happens, they say, makes the kids think they aren’t allowed to talk about it. Believe me, not talking about it doesn’t help. The more they understand that people can and will die the better they will cope when it happens.
My biggest fear was that my children resented me for being the one who told them what happened. Every fiber of my being wanted to find a way to not utter those words and see them hurt, but there was nothing I could do.
This week we faced yet another loss, another in a very long list of losses in the last 3 years. It started with my grandfather, then Andrea, next my grandfather, then Andrea’s father, Hal and now this week, Andrea’s mother, Laurie. My kids have seen more death in the last three years than any child should have to face.
Still…we have had the discussions. We have each other. The bright side is that we keep them with us even after they’re gone.
What about you? Have you talked with your kids? Do you hide the idea of death or face it head-on?
Dave Manoucheri is a writer, journalist and musician based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.