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TAL Newsletter September 2019

My little Jessie dog crossed the rainbow bridge yesterday. My son who is 21 and I were with her at the time and that allowed us the opportunity to wish her well, thank her for the time she spent with us and let her know how much we love her. So this sad occasion brings me to death and how we talk about it with our children and in front of our children.

My husband died when my son was just 5 years old. It was incredibly traumatic for me not only because he wasn’t there any more, but because I had to find a way to tell a little boy that he wasn’t going to be able to talk or play with this man who had been an integral part of his life up until then. My first impulse was to hand the task over to someone else, but that is the coward’s way. I am his mother and I believe we should be able to talk to our children, so how to handle it? 

The only thing I could think of was to ask a psychologist. I picked up the phone book and chose one at random. Fortunately she gave me advice which was practical and doable. She suggested that I liken it to something he could relate to such as the sore tummy you get when you have to do something you don’t want to. So when I sat him down I told him about my sore tummy because I had something that I did not want to do, and then went on to tell him that his Daddy had died. He was incredibly accepting because I did not sugar coat what it meant. I did not tell him at that time how he died, just that he would not be seeing him anymore, that I was very upset, that he could talk to me about it at any time, ask any questions he might have and that I hoped that I would be around for many years to come.

He was accepting of the news (tears, cuddles etc) and went off to play (while I moped and sobbed!). However, the psychologist also told me that there would be times as he grew older when he would want more information and that perhaps he would need to talk to a professional as he reached each growth milestone. This was, in fact, how it happened. As he grew older, every now and then he would ask for more detail. I only ever answered his questions, never giving more than he asked for until he was about 14 or 15, when he wanted specifics. My husband was murdered in a home invasion and was stabbed to death by one of the 4 criminals who were eventually caught, tried and convicted. 

In order to show my son that death is in fact a part of life, we had a ‘ceremony’ with his friends (I did not think it was appropriate for a 5 year old to go to the funeral) in which we mixed his father’s ashes into some soil and planted an apple tree. Each year, this apple tree grows flowers, fruits and goes to sleep for the winter, coming back each year to bear the most delicious apples. This apple tree has moved homes with us several times and still prospers. When he was younger, my son would go out to the apple tree whenever he felt the need to be near his father or to chat with him. The apple tree was something real that he could understand, although I do believe that children understand and accept death far more readily and completely than adults ever will. 

So the question this month is have you thought about speaking to your children about death? How would / did you handle it? If someone has died, how did you speak about death and the deceased in front of your children? What advice would you give parents on this topic?