Death, dying, dead. It doesn’t matter how you say it, it’s never easy to explain to a child. I mean, it’s difficult for an adult to really understand but as a child it’s so much more confusing. When I found out my moms diagnosis had a timeline to it, I knew I had to start thinking of ways to explain it to my kids. I googled all the things to do and what to say and how to keep it as least confusing as possible, but honestly nothing really prepares you for what will come out of their mouth and how to respond on the spot to things. You really just have to do the best you can and hope you say the right things.
I’ve been praying that when we would talk about it, I would be able to do just that. So I’ve spent the past couple of months trying to slowly explain death to my kids. Hunter is four and Maddie is two. They are at that age that you have to make it very cut and dry and not use too many words that may confuse them.
The first time the kids saw my mom with a bald head was in a parking lot as we were all getting donuts. They pulled up beside us and rolled down the window and the first words out of Hunter’s mouth was “Mimi, why do you not have hair on your head like Papa”. I didn’t know what to say and didn’t know how that made my mom feel. I know she knows he’s just a kid and will say whatever comes to his mind, but I didn’t want it to hurt her feelings. I just came back with “Yeah, isn’t that so cool. Now she won’t get so hot outside. Maybe we need to shave your head too so you can be cool like MiMi.” Something else happened and he forgot all about her hair five seconds later, which is the best thing about kids because they don’t stay stuck on something for a long time. I was glad too because this was just the beginning of all of this cancer talk and I was struggling with what to say.
Around this same time is when my mom really was starting to get weak. She was hurting and couldn’t walk normal and would lay down a lot and sit a lot and couldn’t really play with the kids like they had been used to. I knew I had to start prepping the kids before we would see her so they wouldn’t be too rough on her or be too loud and wild. One day on the way to her house, I told the kids MiMi was really, really sick. All they knew sick meant was having a cold or belly ache and then you would get better. I tried to explain that the sickness she has was called Cancer and it doesn’t go away fast. She has to be on a medicine called Chemo. Hunter asked, “does chemo taste like blueberry or bubble gum like my medicine?”. I said, “Yeah I bet it taste like your medicine too”. Just like that the topic was over.
Time went by and we’d visit mom and the kids would play and never really say too much about how she was still sick, but they would hear me say things about her being in the hospital or doctors appointments she had when I was talking to other people about it. I tried not to really say much more about my mom being sick when we were going to visit her so they could just play and be kids. Instead, I would try to talk about things that happen normally like one of them smooshing a bug. I would explain, “now it’s dead (even though they know they aren’t supposed to purposely kill bugs) and if the bug loves Jesus with all its heart it will spend its life in Heaven”. I’d say things that didn’t really relate to people but still tie it in with the way dying works. One day we were talking about people who had died like my Memaw and PawPaw, and Hunter said, “I want them to come back to life”. I told him, “Me too but when you die you can’t come back to life. You die and get buried in the ground and then your soul that’s inside you goes to Heaven with Jesus to live with Him forever and ever”. I didn’t really get a response but I know he was really thinking about what I said. I just waited for things to happen on their own and see what I could say to still try to prepare him but not really say my mom might die soon. Until one day, I was just having a moment and was crying and Maddie came up and said, “What’s wrong Mama?”, and then Hunter realized I was crying and asked the same thing so I knew it was the best opportunity to tell them. I said, “MiMi is really sick. You remember when I told you she has the sickness called Cancer? Well the doctors are trying to fix her but nothing is helping. The medicine isn’t working to make her better and she feels really bad. If the doctors can’t fix her she may die soon. Do you know what that means?”. I could tell it really sunk in then. Hunter said, “I don’t want MiMi to die, I want her to stay here and play with me and Pat and Ryder all the time and go camping and go to their house and eat snacks”. I said, “I know, I don’t want her to either and I hope she doesn’t soon, but one day we will all die and sometimes it’s because we’re old or we’re sick or we had a bad accident happen. We never know when we might die, but when it happens it will be okay. We will get to go live with Jesus in Heaven, remember?”. That’s when it really was tough on me, He started crying and said, “but I don’t want to die. I want to be able to go to GiGi’s house and be with you and Dad and Maddie. I don’t want to go to Heaven yet”. Ughhhh. I lost it then too and somehow said, “Hunter you will be okay. I’m not saying you are going to die soon. You are not old and you aren’t sick. You are a healthy little boy. I am just trying to tell you it’s okay when people die.” We really ended it there with the conversation and he got distracted by a show that came on, but I felt terrible. Did I say too much? Should I have not said we all will die? Did he understand what I meant? I honestly just felt terrible about bringing it up and wondered if I should’ve just waited until it actually came to that point to tell him what it all really means. We really had no plans for the day and after I cleaned up around the house he said, “Can we go to MiMi’s house? I want to see her and see if she’s feeling better yet.” He has the sweetest little heart. I texted my mom immediately and asked if we could come over but she was having a hard day and needed rest so we didn’t go over and waited to see her the next day. They got to enjoy the Fourth of July with her and it was a special moment for her just to be there to sit and watch the fireworks with us.
We went to church that same Sunday morning and one of the friends Hunter usually talks about playing with in class wasn’t there. I asked where he was and he said that the little boys mom was in the hospital. I figured she was having a baby or something but honestly I don’t know this boys mom to really know why she could be in the hospital. He said “I hope the doctors fix her so she doesn’t die and go to Heaven yet”. Oh my goodness. I wanted to cry then because I knew all these talks were really getting to him and even if he wasn’t saying much about it he knew what was going on and tying everything together. I then was a little worried I had confused him and now he was going to think anytime someone went to the hospital or was sick he might think they were going to die. I just decided to tell him I didn’t know what was wrong with his friends mom, but I thought she would be okay and that the doctors would be able to help her get better.
This whole topic is just hard. Hard on adults, hard on kids. Hard on everyone. I hope I have done the best I can explaining death to him so whenever the time comes for my mom, or for anyone in that matter because we really never know when our time will come, I hope that they aren’t scared and will handle it okay. Hunter is at an age where I can somewhat explain things and he might be able to understand it, but Maddie acts like she has no idea what I’m talking about. I mean, at two I don’t expect her to, but I hope she will understand things a little better when the time comes. I wish this Blog wasn’t even something I had to feel the need to write about, but I’m just trying to do what’s best for my kids and keep them from hurting as much as I can. If anyone has been through this with little kids and has pointers, please send them my way. (You can leave a comment under this Blog). I have gotten books to read to them and hope they help them feel better about death and the goodness that comes after dying as well.
Mom is still here at this time and we hope she will be for a long time, but this is what has been going on lately in our house. Lots of talks and lots of discussions and lots of praying that “MiMi will feel better”.
Please keep praying for my mom and also our family. We’re all struggling with all of this. Her parents are watching their baby with a sickness they can’t fix, her husband is taking care of his wife (very well I might add) and loving her through her hardest days, her children are watching their mom decline rapidly and wish they could make it all better, and her grandchildren are all so young but love their MiMi and know she doesn’t feel good and want her to get better. We need prayers to help us all understand why this is happening and how to explain it all to our children as well.
Thank you! -Katelyn
She really is so lucky to have so many friends and family loving her and praying for her through everything she’s faced with. It’s amazing to see and hear about all the lives she’s touched.
Edited by: Morgan Marynissen