When a loved one dies

Written by Ozma Bryant

I have a five-year-old daughter who recently lost her great-grandfather, the only grandfather I ever knew and loved, and I was tempted numerous times to hide his dying from her. She knew he was sick, but at some point I realized telling her that wasn’t enough. I certainly didn’t want her associating all sickness with death, because how many colds do we catch in a year, or for that matter children’s natural virus catching bodies that are working hard to build up tolerance and immunity to it all? After speaking with him on the phone last month I hung up and turned around to see my daughter staring at me. The kind of intuitive stare that children have when they know you are withholding information somehow, because they feel pain from our bodies and it resonates in theirs.

I shared with her, “Paw Paw is so sick he does not have much time left…. here.” She continued to stare patiently, waiting for me to explain further, “…He has a type of disease in his body and it is called cancer. His body is very old and can not keep the cancer away. He may die soon. You don’t have to worry about that kind of sickness, and mommy is very healthy and young too so I am also okay. He loves you so much and wants you to know that.”

Olivia came and gave me a hug and looked up at me with her chin rested on my hip, “He is going to die and go to Heaven? When is he going to Heaven to be with God?” I smiled and said, “Yes, honey, I believe he is going to Heaven, and then his body will finally have rest, he won’t be sick or in pain anymore. I don’t know when it is going to happen, so mommy needs to fly out on a plane to see him soon.”

We made a calendar together for the month of August and I put stickers on my start date and a plane returning sticker on my end date. She loved her calendar and wanted to put it right next to her bed where she could see it every night. We talked about how many nights she would sleep until I came home to her, and that she could mark off the days and keep track.

Two days before I came home her great-grand father died peacefully in his sleep while I lay curled up next to him holding his hand. When I came home, and since then, Olivia has confidently and peacefully reassured me that he is happy and safe now. How does she know?

I would like to think that a part of her confidence comes from the information she had, and the open communication we share around the topic.

I wonder why I have not done that on other occasions as well, because she was more hyper alert, vigilant and uneasy not having the awareness connected to the pain I may have been experiencing.


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