Watching My Daughter Process Death

I love watching my children grow and learn, it’s one of the great joys of parenting. But I have to admit, watching Sassafras figure out the whole death thing has been interesting in a different way. My husband’s uncle passed away in November. While my kids knew him, they weren’t especially close to him. My Irish-Catholic husband comes from a large family (seriously, fewer than 50 people and we wonder where everyone is), so it’s hard for the kids to know everyone well, unless they run in the under 10 crowd.

I suppose in some ways it’s good that she was able to experience losing someone in the family that she knew but wasn’t close with. It’s introduced her to the concept, let her see what happens, experience a viewing and funeral without being too upset and sad. The hardest part for her was when I cried because that scared her. Otherwise, she soaked it all in.

The experience has stayed with her. She speaks of it now and then, usually in surprising ways. I expect it at night when we say prayers because we talked about Uncle Tom and prayed for him when he was sick. She’ll randomly bring it up in conversation, now more than 4 months later. She repeats the things we told her: that he had boo boos on his lungs and the doctors tried really hard to fix them but they couldn’t, that her GiGi is really sad because her oldest son died, that her Pap Pap is sad because his brother died.

Recently we were running errands and she was drawing on an old invitation in the back seat. She drew a picture of our family and didn’t know what to draw next, so I suggested drawing her uncle and his fiancée on their wedding day (it’s a favorite topic of hers). She did that, then drew her and her brother with them. Then she announced she was drawing Uncle Tom when he died. I let it hang in the air for a moment, partially because I was surprised, but also because I didn’t want to give her a big reaction. We talked briefly about it and how it made her feel. In typical kid fashion she moved on pretty quickly.

Those little nuggets that they soak in come out in the most unusual and surprising ways at times, but they do come out. It’s a good reminder that they do pay attention, they echo our words back to us, and they do what we do.

I’m hoping this process helps her be better prepared when we do lose someone closer to us. I pray it won’t be any time soon, but the reality is, it’s inevitable. I’m glad she realizes that too, even if it is as hard to understand at 4 as it is as 35.

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