Tuesday, July 24, 2012

DEATH & Children... How We Approached It

I apologize now for the length of this post but I feel that this subject matter isn't something that can be summed up in under 500 words.

Let me start by saying that my husband and I were both raised Catholic and while we don't practice like we should we are still strong in our faith. I have been so lucky and blessed that I was brought into this world when my parents were young. This has allowed me to come to know and love my grandparents and great-grandparents, which not many people can say some don't even have their parents. My husband's life was different in the fact that he only had one living grandparent when he was born and lost them at a young age. When we started dating he used to say how lucky I was to have all four grandparents, and two great-grandparents in my life, and while I loved all of them dearly I didn't quite understand what he meant until almost four years ago.

Time had passed we had gotten married and had our son. These were both beautiful times in our lives and I felt very blessed to have my two living great-grandparents around for both events. It was Christmas time and my maternal great-grandparent whom we all called "Grand-Dad" was preparing to celebrate his 99th birthday on 12/26! 99  that alone is a feat in itself, but he was still active and showed no signs of not making it to his 100th birthday or beyond. So you can understand when it came as a shock to us all that he became sick on the 23rd and passed on the 27th a mere 3 hours into his 100th year on earth. As sad as we all were to lose a great man we knew that he had lived a FULL life and that he was now up with his 2 deceased wives. Our son was only 20 months old at that time so while he recognized we were sad, we really didn't have to answer any questions from him.

After that life went on and we did have to put a family dog down and while that needed to be explained he was 3 so he was comforted by being told that he was in heaven with Grand-Dad. It was always interesting to hear his take on heaven as he got older. As he told it I pictured it as everyone that was in Heaven was floating around up in space having a good ol' time. Hey not a bad thought for those who believe that's where they are going!

This past December we found out that my maternal grandfather (Pop as I called him/Poppy what JJ called him) had Lung Cancer and it had spread to his brain. As you can imagine Christmas was a tough time for his whole family but we sought comfort in the fact that he believed this was all part of what God had planned for him. You could truly see that he wasn't afraid of the cancer and that he left it all in his strong faith. In March he finished his chemotherapy and celebrated his 74th birthday! April brought news that his tumors had shrunk and that the plan was to do a full month of chemo/radiation treatments to knock it all out. While it was a tough decision he decided he would go through with the treatments. He had just finished at the end of June and seemed to be doing well except for one hospital trip for low oxygen levels.

Then the holiday weekend was upon us and I received a phone call from my mother informing me that pop was sick but didn't feel that he needed to go to the hospital. Quite a few updates and pleas from my aunt who is a nurse to go to the hospital on Sunday he went without a fight. The last updated I heard Sunday night was that he was being transferred to the ICU and we should know more in the morning.

MONDAY came and this will be a day I will NEVER forget! The first update was he had his breakfast and was scheduled for some testing later in the day. Not even an hour later I learned that pop had declined and needed to be put on a ventilator. My husband and I rushed to the hospital and by 9:30pm we said our final good-byes to a man who meant so much to so many. As I ran down the hall unable to control the tears it hit me like a brick wall-

"How was I going to tell JJ that his Poppy was gone?" 

He thankfully had spent Sunday night at my in-law's and they had agreed to keep him until the following day. I woke up with every intention of picking him up and facing the fact that he had to be told. But as I sat there trying to prepare myself for what was to come I realized that this was the first death and the fact that he was extremely close to Poppy I didn't think I could do it. My husband noticed the stalling tactics I was using and finally said "As hard as this is going to be for us and him we have to do it...let's go." This was it no time left to prepare myself, no time to put it off anymore, and no time left to let him enjoy his day like nothing else had happened!

I needed to walk away for minute because the tears I am shedding writing this were starting to fall on the computer....

Unfortunately for me my in-laws live a few short blocks from us and it took no time at all to get there. We walked in and I was immediately comforted by JJ's big blue eyes and that smile that could stop traffic, coming towards me with true joy to see me! In that moment I decided that I wouldn't tell him there that we would stop somewhere on the way to Pop's house and tell him that he wouldn't be there.

We started our journey and I began stalling again really because I couldn't think of a place that was appropriate to tell him. When we were running out of time and places to stop hubby asked me what the plan was. That's when it hit me Dairy Queen! It was hot out and we could sit privately and tell him. The three of us all got ice cream and found a private bench to sit on. About 2/3 of the way through my milkshake I got the "look". It was time...it had to be now...how do I even begin?

In that moment I decided that some of the advise family and friends had given me about being open and honest and allowing him to ask questions was the route I would take. I started off by asking if he remembered that Poppy had been sick and he said "yes" it then went something to this effect...

"JJ Poppy has been sick which you know and the other day he had to go to the hospital because he was having trouble breathing." He continued eating his cone but was looking at us both with inquiring eyes. I continued by saying "Well we are going to Poppy and Grandmom's house but he won't be there because last night he got too sick and he went to Heaven with Goldberg." Before I could continue he looked at us both with tears in his eyes and asked "Poppy died?" When we responded yes he began to cry which of course made both of us cry. We told him it was okay to be upset that we all were and that it was okay to cry. Hubby then told him that he could still talk with Poppy by praying and that's when the most remarkable thing (in my eyes) happened. He asked if he could right then and we said yes, he went beside the bench put his head down and spoke under his breath so we couldn't hear him. After a minute he lifted his head and with a smile said okay I am done and ready to go see Grandmom!

It was so healing for me to know that he was able to pray to him and that it actually helped him :)

Here are some thoughts from other bloggers and the way they handled death with their children.


  1. This is such a raw, honest and sweet post - you handled the situation with care and grace - and I think JJ's response is a reflection of that!

  2. Well, you brought tears to my eyes, too. I think you handled a tough situation wonderfully and it speaks volumes to your strength as parents to see the resiliency in JJ and his reaction. I think the more honest you remain with JJ about your own feelings as you continue to grieve yourself will help him, too. Thank you for letting us all share such a difficult moment with you and your family. Hugs to you all.

  3. OMG that was perfect. Poppy is a great name.

  4. Great post! I have tears in my eyes as I read it. I remember the first time we had to explain someone close to us had died to our daughters (they were young (though not as young as your child, and it was compounded by their intellectual disabilities, we were very unsure how to proceed.) It wasn't even so much explaining death as having to take them to the funeral home. We were a wreck (it was my husband's dad who had died but he was as close to me as if he had been my own.)So we put Kate and her sister C. in charge of getting together some photos of PopPop as they called him and making a display. This greatly comforted them. It was their last gift to him. But as people came to comfort the adults in his life, my children greeted them all and showed them their photo display. It eased everyone's grief to see these two children politely greet each adult, shake their hands and then be sure they saw the photos. They were so earnest. Giving them a job to do made it much easier for everyone--it's not that they weren't sad and didn't cry at all, but they made it much easier for all the adults. Funny isn't it? I worried about them, when in fact they eased everyone's pain by their acceptence and graciousness. Sometimes you are just so proud of your kids, y'know? This was one of those days.

  5. Very well-written, friend. And definitely something that needs to be addressed! I'd love for you to come visit me at Two In Diapers and link up this post to the Mommy-Brain Mixer! It's tons of fun! :) http://www.two-in-diapers.blogspot.com/2012/08/mommy-brain-mixer-2.html


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