Talking to Your Kids About Death, Part II

A few years ago, I wrote about talking to kids about death. The only time I have ever had to talk to my kids about death is when it was someone that they didn’t really know much about, outside of stories I would tell. In that blog that I linked, I discussed talking to my oldest about his biological paternal grandfather dying. Otherwise, it was all abstract talk. I tell my youngest about my grandfather, his namesake. I keep my memory of him alive by telling these stories and my son likes to hear about “Grampa George”. I have never had to tell them about someone that they actually knew dying. Death was sort of abstract to them. They knew it existed and that it’s inevitable. But they never had to experience the actual feeling of true grief and figuring out how to process that.

That was until recently. A schoolmate of my youngest lost a battle that no parent should ever have to watch their child go through. How do you tell your child, especially a child with anxiety issues and has trouble processing/dealing with emotions, that someone they knew and regularly interacted with has passed? A child that’s the same age as he is? I’ve seen cancer and what it does to the people suffering from it and the people around them. It’s a slow and agonizing spirit-crushing illness. And to have to tell your child that another child they knew has passed from it isn’t something you prepare for. You prepare for the passing of their grandparents. Great grandparents. Older relatives. Not for their friends. That’s too tragic to consider, let alone plan for.

I tasked my husband with it. His personality and temperament more closely matches our youngest, which made him much better suited for the task. Plus, if you read the blog linked here, you can see that tact isn’t my strong suit and I would have made matters much worse. Part of being a parent in a partnership is that you get the ability to pick the tasks that are best suited to your skill set. My husband was a rockstar. He eased into it. “Remember your friend that was sick?” Our child responded, “Yeah, he had an illness that made his hair fall out.” My husband paused for a moment and told him the sad news. It took our son a few minutes before he realized it. “But, he’s young. Kids aren’t supposed to die. Parents are supposed to die first.” My son wasn’t wrong. “It’s sad. We talked about video games a lot.” My son seemed fine after talking about it, until it was time for bed. Then it all came back to him, as nighttime is perfect breeding ground for anxious thoughts to take over your brain. We didn’t sleep that night.

Books can tell you what they think you should know about having this conversation with your kids. But your kid is unique. I always say that you can read all of the parenting books that you want, but the problem is plans are great until you have kids. There isn’t any cookie cutter solution for dealing with life, especially life with kids. They don’t follow a rule book. When dealing with sensitive matters like death, you need to focus on the best approach for your kid. My husband is better with easing into the hard conversations, where I’m more of a “blunt, to the point” person. And I cannot stress this enough, there’s no way to plan for telling your child that a schoolmate/classmate has passed away.

After the fact, while my son was processing the news, he kept asking “Why?” The simple answer would have been (excuse the language) “Because cancer sucks. Fuck cancer.” He kept saying it wasn’t fair. It isn’t. In times like these, I revert to my Catholic-ish upbringing. “Because it was his time to be an angel.” “You can talk to him anytime because he’s up in heaven.” “Maybe your Grampa George can help take care of him now.” Even if I don’t actually believe in this, it doesn’t mean there’s no comfort for my son in hearing these things.

Talking about death with your kids is as hard as it is inevitable. It’s a delicate topic to address. I don’t think it will get any easier, but it’s important to be as open and compassionate as possible. Answer any questions in an age appropriate way. Show your support. Remind them that it sucks but how their loved one would want them to live their life anyways. That they will always be around them in their heart and memories. That grief sucks and never gets any easier. That there’s a part of you that will always be sad in some moments, but that there’s also a big life of experience that the deceased would want them to live.

Cancer sucks. But I’d like to point out a couple of my favorite causes to support, which are very close to my heart that could always use a little help.

The Jimmy Fund

Make-A-Wish

Grief, Religion, and Other Unmentionables

I had a friend that for about 7 years that I spoke to daily, and though (as geeky as this sounds) we had only known each other from playing a game together, he was a very cherished friend and a big part of my life. I posted a while back about his death, 6 months to be exact. Normally when someone I knew passed away, it was just a person that died and that was that. My husband, always remarked my terrible habit of never actually grieving. What was grief? It was just being sad that someone passed. What good would that do? Someone died, and that was that. I’m far to analytical to think any more of it than that. You go to a wake, you go to the church service, you stand around a coffin in the middle of thousands of coffins already in the ground, and then you go to some reception afterwards and eat and forget the whole thing happened. That’s what happens. Then they are put in the ground or burned to ashes, and that is what happens when you die.

I don’t think I need religion to be a good person, though some would argue that I’m not even a good person and I might actually agree with that fact. People try to console one another when someone dies: God made a choice to make an angel because they were such a good person and he needed him. First of all, who are we to assume that God is a “he” or even a “she”? We shouldn’t put a pronoun to this notion because God is an ideal first and foremost not a person. If you are religious, you would believe that God created people and how could he have created people if he was a person already? Wasn’t Adam the first person? Therefore God is not a “he” or a “she” because that applies to mammals and other creatures with gender which was also said to be created by God. Tangent on God = ended. This isn’t to discount people who have faith, I just can’t get behind things that I can’t find logical. (Don’t worry, I nail Atheists too.)

If God was so attentive to pick a loved one to be an angel to help up in Heaven, why isn’t he attentive enough to stop a toddler for being murder by some punk kid? If God was going to take an innocent child, shouldn’t it be done in a less horrific way? Fine, that’s only one child and that God can’t be everywhere at once. What about mass genocide? I’m supposed to believe that a loved one was taken from me because it was in some greater plan but genocide is some horrific act that can’t be stopped? There’s no comfort in any of that for me.

And so religious people do not feel attacked (and I hope that people don’t assume that I’m someone misguided by grief, that would assume that I went through a grieving process, I assure you that I unfortunately did not and probably would feel better if I had), I actually dislike that National Association of Atheists more not organized religion. I’m a non-believer and that’s my choice as it is yours to believe. I actually admire you for having the ability to trust in something so intangible. I don’t even mind atheists but as a principle, I have a problem with this group claiming atheism. Atheists are people who argue whether or not a God exists, not feign offense at a cross  in legal battles. Atheism, in this form, is no better than religions that place their beliefs above others. That’s not atheism and it makes you no better than those Westboro Baptists that do things for the sake of free publicity and sue people to fund their idiocy. Atheists also don’t agree with organized groups based around religion, and as a result their being a group of Atheists fighting for a cause with a leader is in itself hypocritical since if your main platform is a non-belief in religion based groups you are still a group based upon a religion. A lack of religion, sure but it still involves religion. Moral of the story: You can be a non-believer without being an asshole. If someone wants a cross up, let them fucking have it. No one tells you that you can’t put a spaghetti monster shrine up, don’t knock them down because you want to make the evening news.

My rant go out of hand, but it felt necessary as I wrote it. So why do people die? Because tragedy and illness exists. Because people need to because of overpopulation. Because sometimes your best friend has to die and you have to be okay with that and move on. 6 months has passed and somehow I still expect him to show up and give me some geeky speech about in-game lore or how I’m not a true geek because I have not seen Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. I still expect him to show up and let me throw ideas off of him for stories or vent about how something happened and it sucked. But he won’t, and we have to learn that you can wish it to happen and you can dream that they are in Heaven watching to make sure you get the house that you wanted or that job that you wanted or the you were saved from something because they were watching if that makes you feel better. And I sincerely hope it does.

The Act of Bereavement

Once my husband did his usual psychoanalysis of me, which if you ever met me you’d know this could be a feat to figure out just one thing wrong with my mental state. In this analysis of me, he said the lines “you don’t grieve; you just try to take the strong road. Some day you’re going to have to.” That’s a loaded statement, especially for car ride talk. I considered what he said years ago and today I sit here and I’m reminded of it again.

I could argue people grieve in their own way at their own pace, that’s true. I think about it though, and I don’t remember ever going through that famous 5 stage process of grief. It’s almost like telling a brick wall someone they cared about just passed. I never analyzed myself to consider why. Do I just lack a bond with people so when I hear someone just died, I don’t react at all? That can’t be right; I have remotely normal relationships with people.

Maybe, growing up acknowledging that death existed and no one was immune from it from a young age made me less shocked about it. I could argue that maybe at some point, I became so desensitized that I miss out on the “shock factor” of hearing those words. Or to make myself feel better, maybe since most of the death I’ve experienced in life were never unexpected, that I was able to slowly prepare myself so when it happened I wouldn’t be as upset.

The real moral of the story here is people deal with tragedies in their own way, even if that way may seem incredibly screwed up to you. Doesn’t mean that they are heartless, soulless people, it just means that some people cry and some people joke around. Anyone going through the process needs their own time and hopefully are lucky enough to have people to love and support them while they grieve, even if it doesn’t seem like they’re going through the process like people think they should.