One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do was explain death to my son. My grandmother recently passed away after being ill for a while. She was 92, so it was not unexpected, but the last month has been a little hard on our whole family. I feel lucky that he got to know his great-grandmother. He really enjoyed her company which always was a shock to me, because she was not the most loving person and I thought she might look a little frightening to a young child. But, he always loved to make her smile.
The words dead and die get thrown about so much in our culture we hardly think of them. I tried to shield my son from those words, because I did not want him to use them without understanding what they meant. I wanted him to be carefree for as long as possible. I wish it were a little longer, but that was not meant to be. A few things that have helped. We tried to include my son in the whole process so that he was aware that his great-grandmother was sick before she died. We didn’t want him to go cheerily along and then all of a sudden she was gone. So, we took him to the hospital and the rehab center and when she was home with hospice. It made for some long nights and messed up schedules but in the end I think it made it easier for him to understand what was going on. The other thing that was helpful was that he was learning about the body in school, so we could say that she was dying because she was very old and that her body just wasn’t working the way it should.
On to the books. The book that was recommended by my sons pre-school and by hospice was called Lifetimes: the Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children by Bryan Mellonie. This book is very simple. It explains that everything has a lifetime trees, birds, mice etc. Of course the hardest part about these books is that you have to read them without crying yourself. My husband just couldn’t do it. When I read my son the part that starts “and people?” my son blurted out,”Mommy I don’t want to die.” Aaargh! No one tells you about that when you are pregnant! Anyway, this book really helped. Another book that looks great, but I haven’t had the courage to read is called Nana Upstairs, Nan Downstairs by Tomie DePaolo. You might recognize his name from the Strega Nona books. This one is really well done and actually very similar to our own situation.