How do you speak to your children about death? Really, how do you? Please comment.
I find this subject extremely difficult, yet it has been unfortunately quite common place for my daughters who both live in the world of Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, liver disease, and lung disease. I'm unprepared and often searching for simple words or terms to use in the depths of my brain.
Death is familiar to my children. We talk about it so much that it runs a close second to "What did you do at school today?"
I remember the exact day it started. It was April 14, 2004. On that day, my beloved cat, Eeyore, died. From that day forward, Grace began to ask me questions about death and heaven. Eventually Meghan added her own spin on death inquisitiveness.
What I say usually entails this:
"When we go to heaven, our body stays here on Earth, and the part of ourselves that thinks and feels and knows who we are goes up to heaven. It is the part of us that knows our name is Gracie or Meghan. That part of us is called our soul. People go to heaven, hopefully, when they are very old. Sometimes, children and young adults go to heaven too. When people die, we are very sad because we won't be able to see them again. At least, we won't see them again until we die and go up to heaven.
Heaven is a wonderful place. It is a place where no one hurts or feels sad or is lonely. Heaven is the most wonderful thing ever. God gave it us so we can feel special. One really great thing about heaven is that all of our family and friends who died before us will be there.
We are very sad when someone dies, but we also know that we'll see them again when we get to heaven."
Grace and Meghan are so familiar with dying that before they sleep, they name a list well over 40 of acquaintances, loved ones, and pets who have passed on. We send all of them blessings in heaven. With birth, there also comes death. They are aware of so many disease processes, and unfortunately, the death process, too. Grace and Meghan, in typical fashion, often inundate me with questions.
Where did she go?
Why didn't they have a funeral?
Is she sad her dad had to go to heaven?
Why is he cut-in-half? (Clue: One half of the casket was open, and the other was not.)
Why is her daddy sleeping?
Why does the baby look so sad?
Why did God want the baby with him?
Why are there so many people here?
Why do we have to wait in line again?
Why are there so many pictures?
Why do I need to be quiet?
Are they going to put his bones in the ground?
Will he see his mommy and daddy again in heaven?
Will somebody get his liver cuz he doesn't need it anymore? (Yes, we've explained organ donation out of need. We know several people who've had lung and liver transplants.)
Perhaps I've shared too much? Perhaps I haven't?
What I do know is that my children don't seem to be afraid of death. I wish I wasn't so afraid of their deaths, whenever that may be.
Their Alpha-1 is morbidly real for me...a little too real. My old friend, denial, has to be around here somewhere. Come out! Come out wherever you are! Denial, that is. Alpha-1, you stay as dormant as possible for the longest possible time.
Pretty please with sugar on top. Mama Jen likes her precious daughters to have working lungs and livers.