There comes a time in your life as a parent that you have to explain death to your child. In most cases you hope that they'll be old enough to understand and start to process the news but in our case Oldest One is only 4 years old (though he'd say he was nearly 5) and Youngest One is only 1 years old.
Death is of course all around us and is served daily by the news. I must admit I don't tend to hide the news or switch channels unless it's grisly but it can give you pause to think. Not necessarily the images but the words used. Words that will infiltrate their all consuming sponge like brains. Oldest One has yet to ask direct questions coming from the news channels but I am sure that day is not far away.
However he has had to deal with death this week. For most kids the concept of death is an abstract kind of idea that only happens in films and cartoons. You know the kind of thing, Star Wars light saber action, lots of running around shouting at people "you're dead" or in his long explanations of play everyone gets their head chopped off. In these modes I tend to vary my comments from "that's nice" to "hmmmmm if you chop some one's head they absolutely would be dead". When the death occurs in real life and in the family, it's harder to quantify to a near 5 year old.
We had a head start in some respects because my husband's father died whilst I was pregnant with Oldest One and when we took him to visit the grave last year we had made references to grave stones and what happens when you die. We say that you become a spirit and part of the earth, moon and stars. And you can see the person you love in the stars. So far so simple. We took him to the grave and he shouted "hello Grandpa, are you in there?" And then he asked "does he have a duvet and pillow?" We answered as best we could.
Now nearly a year on, we have had to explain that his step grandfather of whom he was very fond had died suddenly and unexpectedly. In long discussions we had decided that I would tell him and then we could wait up for Daddy to come home. I asked my mum how best to approach this and she came up with the goods. So I approached with caution and held my breath. I got Oldest One when he was eating a hot cross bun and said that something very sad had happened, his grandpa (for privacy I have used a generic term for grandpa and not Oldest One's name for him) had died. He immediately asked how and I said that his heart has stopped. Oldest One then said that he would now be a spirit and that we could see him again when we were spirits but that Nanna would see him first in the sky as a star. A slightly wobbly breath out from me. I had already informed his school who have been great and all has been ok in that front.
However at home things have understandably been odd. The following day he wrote a card to his Nanna and drew some pictures, we've had a few comments and then today he proclaimed, after asking about how your heart breaks, that "my heart is broken because grandpa died". He keeps asking what happens when your heart comes out of your body and can every one's heart break?
So these are the things I have learnt, with help from Winstons Wishes - a great website:
1. Be honest but use the most basic detail to get message across
2. I told him when he was occupied by eating, a task that requires no brain power. So choose your time carefully
3. Encourage questions but be prepared to answer them even if it it is "has Nanna buried him yet?"
4. I found the book in the photo really helpful but try not to sob when you get to the end.
5. Lots of hugs and love and a few tears are all ok.