Although the adverts and leaflets try to persuade us, parenting isn’t all about snuggles, play dates and Disney DVDs. There are moments which depend entirely on your judgement of the situation and your parenting instinct. One of these moments is explaining death.
It’s impossible to predict when this conversation will happen, but one day it will. It sneaks up on you out of nowhere whereas the ‘birds and bees’ chat you expect at some point. I’m writing this after a lady posted on Facebook about how a relative had died and she wasn't sure how to approach the subject with her children. It struck me as a couple of weeks before Christmas, Lily’s great grandfather died and I was left in the same position.
Lily is only three and a few people urged me to soften the subject to her, say that he had gone away somewhere, somewhere nice and sunny, but my mum was quite frank. She told me to be honest with her. I did have to step back and think about it. We protect our child from swear words, but also words like death and dead, as if they are just as offensive and impolite to say, but it is what has happened.
She has always been mature for her age, even at three we can tell that and I knew that saying he had gone to live in heaven or had gone away would never wash with her. She would know I wasn’t quite telling the truth. I decided to just tell her. I sat her down in her room where she was comfortable and just said that great grandad had died, that he was no longer feeling poorly and explained that he wouldn’t be at the house next time we visited.
It was weird. Weird. It’s the only word I have for it. She sort of glazed over then carried on with what she was doing. I asked her if she was okay and she said yes. She did, however, spend the next couple of days asking questions, as if to double check she had heard the information correctly.
The hardest part though I think in the process is visiting that person’s home afterwards. I’d told Lily again on the way over, as if to remind her what had happened and that he wouldn’t be there, but when we arrived, I caught her in corner of my eye, checking the bedroom, as if to really confirm that he was no longer there. I saw her really think about it and I saw that penny drop and everything about it made me want to wrap her up in cotton wool and hide her from the world, but I can't hide her from all the pain in the world and this won’t be the first person she looses. I just went and gave her a cuddle and told her it would be okay.
And that’s all you can do. Let them know that you are there.
In all of these tough situations, as a parent, your main job is to be there for your child. Be there to answer their questions, be there to give them a cuddle and be there to show them that it will all be okay.