talking with small children about death

When we sat down to plan Reece’s funeral, our funeral director looked at us and said, “It’s not very often we are planning a funeral for a child.” And it’s true. We went on to discuss how due to modern medicine (mostly), our society isn’t as familiar with childhood death as we were some time ago. We also aren’t as accustomed to the death of a spouse.  In the not-so-distant past, people got sick and died from things that we don’t routinely discuss anymore…things like pneumonia, polio, yellow fever, cholera.  It even was common to have a deceased person viewed in one’s home, versus a funeral home.  Death wasn’t a taboo topic, it was a fairly normal and expected topic.  More people worked in laborious jobs where accidents occurred more frequently. Many more babies passed away in utero or shortly after childbirth. Fewer treatments existed to rid bodies of diseases. In my own family two of my four great-grandfathers passed away, each with a wife and four young children left behind.  Death happened. It was hard, but it was part of what happened more regularly.  It still happens, but I believe we’ve become a bit tongue-tied around the subject.  Death still happens, it just takes a few more years (on average) to get there.

With my children, talking about death is of great importance. In our situation, I have only one child that will have any memory of either Terry or Reece. As hard as it must be to lose a sibling, I suspect for my children, it will be much harder to grapple with the loss of their dad.  After all, they have no memory of Reece being here.  And they’ll have very little memory of Terry.  However, they will always be faced with explaining that their dad isn’t here–Father’s Day, birthdays, Christmas, Dad-and Daughter/Son events.  You get it.  It’s important for me to try to get this right; to try to be cognizant of my kids’ need to discuss death with them, because it will come up whether I like it or not.  It will naturally come up in the safety net of our home and it will probably less naturally come up with my kids in social environments such as school, activities, and church.  People don’t want to discuss death, but they also have a curiosity about what-happened-to-so-and-so.  My hope is that I will have prepared them certain ways to be able to handle themselves when this occurs.

I watched this short clip the other day.  It is under two minutes long (so I recommend taking the time to watch it!) and captures kids talking about the loss of a parent.  It was touching to hear it in the kids’ own words…so simple, so real, so relatable.

 http://www.newyorklife.com/nyl/v/index.jsp?contentId=161824&vgnextoid=cdf27bcdeef7e310VgnVCM100000ac841cacRCRD

After watching this video, I looked into the New York Life Foundation and their efforts to support bereaved children.  Their web page is found at: www.newyorklife.com/achildingrief.  Great resources abound on this site for family members, educators, and anyone who is supporting a bereaved child.  It’s worth checking into, should you find yourself trying to support children through loss.

I find myself on the cusp of deeper discussions with Britta.  In truth, my kids will remember very little from the time when their dad was here.  Their reality will be what lies ahead of us right now.  Still, these discussions will come up, looking quite different from what they likely would if my kids were older.  They will still have grief, questions, and natural curiosities about Terry and Reece.  I’m no expert, but my plan is to remain as honest and open as I can, while considering the maturity levels of my kids.

I respect that different people choose to handle things differently than our family in an effort to cope with loss and wade through the deep waters.  It’s truly a matter of surviving uncharted territory in life and it’s unique to each situation.  However, here are some things I have found helpful in our home:

1.) I don’t lie to my kids about death.  I avoid having to undo damage from making up stories that seem a little more tidy.  Death is real, it happens, it’s a fact.  It isn’t appropriate to discuss the details of either Terry’s or Reece’s situations at this point, but my kids (basically Britta for now) do know that Reece was ill and that both Terry and Reece had “owies”.  They know that sometimes, we can’t fix things here.  We also discuss that at some point, everyone will have something happen that can not be fixed here, but it happens for everyone at their own special time.  They know that sometimes, it takes Heaven to be fixed.

2.) We openly talk about Terry and Reece.  They are members of our family.  We laugh and joke about them and remember fun things that happened with them.  We incorporate their names into play and discuss the things they liked and disliked.

3.) We talk about Heaven…a lot.  I’ve really strayed from discussing Heaven in common contexts that are inconsistent with the biblical descriptions of it.  I completely respect that other people handle this differently; people I greatly care about.  However, we never call Reece and Terry angels.  People turning into angels after they pass away seems comforting, but in actuality, it never mentions this in the Bible.  Additionally, I don’t plan on reading books like “Heaven is for Real–for Kids” to them, until they are much older.  I don’t want them to assume that because that child had that experience, that is what they should expect Heaven to be.  My goal is to talk about what it might be like for Reece and Terry in Heaven with a biblical basis behind it.  At some point, they will be old enough to own their feelings and form their own opinions about Eternity.

4.) I am trying to get better at asking Britta about how she feels about her dad.  I can tell when she’s “off” and when it is likely because of his passing, but I also realize that it shouldn’t be up to her alone to bring up how she’s feeling.  I’m not going to somehow make her feel worse by bringing Terry into our conversation.  I know this reality for myself…I’m trying to translate my own feelings about discussing things into my approach on discussions with her.

5.) I try to let Britta guide the conversation.  She often interjects something about Terry or Reece in what seems like an “out of the blue” fashion.  I have found it helpful that when she asks questions about them to remember her age.  I immediately go to a very heavy place.  She, however, is four and thinks like a four-year-old.  I try to keep things as basic as possible and often the conversation leaves as randomly as it started.  One second she is asking about Terry’s passing and the next she wants to know if dinosaurs ate turtles.  Additionally, I resist the urge to drill down into her questions.  Once she has left the topic, I rarely try to get her back there.  I know she is processing, but it seems the more I ask, the less she says.

6.)  Many times I tell Britta, “I’m not sure.”  This response is often the best I can do and is perfectly acceptable.

I recognize that my conversations are catered to the needs of very small children.  This would be entirely different if my kids were even a few years older.  I still get a bit twisted up when I am discussing someone else’s loss with that person.  It’s a hard thing to do with other people, including kids, and it’s hard to know what to say, because there is no right thing to say.  Yet the hardest thing to have happen when you are going through grief, is to have no one say anything at all.

 

 

 

 

 

update and dance and squirrels and such

Hmmmm.  Where to begin?  It’s been a crazy month life and lately, I haven’t even known what to write or say to do it justice.  It’s hard; it feels terrible.  The end.  However, life continues and so shall I.  In truth, there are just so many things I can not share over a blog.  There are so many things that are not public details and many, many things I am contending with that require I not state them publicly.  I have many mixed and layered emotions about life and to wing something out there without a bigger context could be harmful to many people, including my family and Terry specifically.  So what’s left to write?  Well, (insert long pause) I’m not quite sure.  I would have never opted to start a blog after Terry passed away, but since I have already been doing this for quite some time, closing up shop isn’t such an easy decision.  There may come a point in time when various things in life demand that I stop…my career, my family, etc.  We’ll see how it goes.

For now, I can say that I feel very lost on this journey of life.  I’m not lost in knowing who I am, but I’m not certain how who I am and what my life is fit in to anything.  They don’t fit into the life prior to Reece’s passing or after Reece’s passing.  And honestly, I’m exhausted.  I re-read my posts from months and even years ago and in some sense, it’s as though I can’t identify with the life I lived.  At times, I truly don’t know up from down when I read some of my posts.  However, I know they were written in truth.  I just don’t know what I think of some of my writing at this point.  Some things are encouraging and others seem like platitudes.  Dare I say some of it sounds naïve?

I’ve tried to explain to a few friends that after Reece passed away, at least we had the comfort of each other as our own little family.  We had immediate things we could lean into and rely on and we had each other.  Most importantly, we could rely on ourselves for daily functioning.  This situation has left very little comfort in any sense.  I’m grateful my parents have been willing to step in and incorporate my household into their home.  I’m grateful I have very close and trusted friends and advisors.  I’m grateful for the outpouring of support I’ve received.  I’m grateful that despite the difficult nature of losing a child, I know who I am and how I handle crisis because of it.  I am in a rare class that can honestly say, “I’ve been there before.”  (At least in some sense.)  But the day-to-day is quite raw.

There is no comfort in my marriage or my home.  There is no comfort in hearing things like, “You’ll do it for your kids,” or, “God can do anything.”  My kids feel overwhelming to me.  Yep, I will eventually do it for my kids, because I love them more than anyone on the face of the earth.  But right now, if I don’t do it for me, I absolutely can’t do it for them.  And I know God can do anything.  Anything includes things we also don’t want to have happen but do happen anyway.  I’ve had a lot of that type of “anything” happen, so that also doesn’t feel that great or encouraging.  I know it will get better, but better right now feels theoretical.

I’ve said a lot of swear words lately.  My mind is mush in regard to what I’m going to do going forward.  I have a lot to contemplate and that includes the knee jerk desire to try to fix everything and act from a fear response versus trust in God and His plan.  I know in my heart that he is good, but I’m just not sure how that’s going to turn out in my life.  It would certainly be nice to have some clear direction.  I’m not going to hold my breath.

The kids are doing as well as can be.  They are involved with a few things and I am attempting to keep them in a few of the activities they were in prior to this all happening.  Britta and I had our dance show earlier this month.  I say “our” because we were in a “Mommy-and-Me” class all year.  I took dance lessons as a child and I really thought it would be a fun activity for us to do together over the year.  Other than the times I had to remind her that we were there to dance together and it wasn’t just a class for me to dance and her to goof around, it did prove to be enjoyable.  The parents participated in the year-end show and, under the circumstances, I was not exactly looking forward to getting up on stage.  It turned out to be a fun and fairly normal thing for us to do together.  We danced to “Rubber Ducky” and it turned out to be pretty cute.  Here we are, pre-show, after changing in the car (ahem…every dancer must know this skill).

Dance show! Dance show!

 

One final thought.  I’m taking some liberties in this post and allowing some pretty raw feelings to come out.  Before you get too depressed and decide to never read the blog again, let me disclose my previous statement, “I know who I am and I know how I handle crisis.” I truly have been here before.  They aren’t the exact same circumstances, but there’s enough overlap.  Had I not walked through those things, I would not be able to confidently state that it will get better.  And it will.  But it is a process and this one, unfortunately, is even messier than the last.  There is more to clean up and it requires perseverance and time.  One I feel short on and the other feels excessive.  I’ll let you decide.  Additionally, there are incredibly uncomfortable feelings of depending on others for just about everything.  But seriously, there are bright spots and they will continue to increase.  It feels totally ridiculous to come out here and say life is wonderful and every day feels better than the next.  It isn’t and it doesn’t.  That’s part of this.  That’s what it is like two months into this process.  That’s why I’m exhausted.  BUT–it will eventually feel a whole lot different.  If the blog stays up, perhaps you’ll feel you can read it long enough to see those bright spots again.  It’ll happen.  If you can’t stick around, that’s fine too.  Regardless, should you happen to run into me somewhere remember–I’m just a normal person like anyone else.  Just a squirrel trying to get a nut.

feeling alive

Shortly after Reece passed away, I had this deep desire to go rock climbing.  I’m talking about the kind of rock climbing where you need ropes and spiked shoes and you basically hang off the side of a cliff.  This goes against just about everything that feels natural and normal to me.  I’m pretty risk averse and camping for me includes our backyard and the ability to go lay down in my own bed after everyone else has nodded off…I don’t like waking up in dew.  This rock climbing idea was borne out of a need to have a larger-than-life sensory experience; to feel alive when many things inside of me did not.  I also did not feel nearly as concerned for my safety.  I wasn’t reckless, I just wasn’t as worried about the “what ifs” in my daily functioning.  As life began to pull itself back together, my desire to hang off of rocks still remained, but it didn’t seem as important.  There were other ways I found to feel alive again.

Strangely, I have always told Terry that if he goes to Heaven before me, I know I will feel great peace about the two of them being together.  I have never thought Reece needed one of us to be there.  But there is something about knowing that one of his earthly parents is there with him again that gives me some sort of resolution about the transplant here.  I don’t know how else to say it.  I can honestly say that I was right, though–I do feel strangely at peace.  It is so right and so odd all at once.

I have spent some time reading through my posts on Like Olive Shoots and have found myself sick and tired of it.  Not of Reece or Terry, but of the situation.  I don’t want to read about it, wallow in it, or live in that any more.  After Reece passed away I felt this need to preserve him.  As time went on, I began to understand that Reece was separate from all sorts of emotions I had about his transplant and passing.  In the process of understanding this, I have been able to appreciate my relationship with him.  I certainly don’t mean to minimize his struggle with BMT or how incredibly strong he was during that time.  But I recognize that my relationship continues with him and I celebrate the memories I have and the future I look forward to with him again one day.  I already feel this way about Terry.  I’m already so sick and tired of the whole situation.  I don’t feel any need to prove anything to myself about him or our relationship.  But I’m tired of the garbage of this world and how it impacted our lives.  I’m just done with that.  I’ll figure out what to do in the wake that was left behind from his passing and then I’ll look forward to seeing him again one day.  But in the middle–the rest of my life here–I need to move forward.  It’s not unhealthy or too soon.  It is what it is.  I’ve been through a lot and I’ve seen a lot.  I need normal, dammit.  I’m going to find it again.  It won’t be what normal used to be and that is fine with me.  I’m not looking to go back to anything that was there; that’s not even a desire buried in my heart.

I did have the notion a couple of weeks ago that I would like to go skydiving.  Ok, let’s be honest–it’s probably not going to happen.  I’ll never say never about it.  However, I’ve realized that I again have a deep need to feel alive again.  This time I recognize I need to reclaim my life.  It will happen, but it won’t be as quickly as I would like.  I’ve had so many discussions with people who have said, “I just want to fix this for you.”  I can tell you truthfully, no one wants to fix this more than me.  There is no fixing the loss of Terry, but there is a way to repair the other things that are left behind.  I’ve been through enough life and grief to know myself in the midst of them.  Many people have told me to just slow down and take some time for myself.  Trust me, taking time for myself doesn’t include sitting around.  I am not a crazy person, despite living through very difficult circumstances.  (Or maybe I should say I am no crazier than I have ever been at any other point in my life.)  I’m not shuffling around in a bath robe or hiding out in my house.  Truly, I’m a pretty typical person, just trying to live life.

 

 

terry

I have been contemplating writing about what has been going on in my life and my family for the better part of the last three weeks.  I’m sure many people who read this blog already know this, but for those of you who do not, my husband, Terry, passed away on April 15.  To avoid speculation, I want to be clear that it was sudden, no one had any real clue that he was struggling the way he was, and that he did take his own life.  Things seemed fairly normal on the surface.  We had a great weekend in the days preceding this.  Everything, for the most part, seemed fine.

I would like to be clear about where I am at today with my thoughts on Terry.  I have a lot of respect for my husband.  He is a wonderful father and was a loving husband.  I love him.  I know he was doing his best to protect us from many things that I am ultimately dealing with now.  I have no anger about what he did in regard to the pain he must have been in.  I feel only tenderness towards him in that way.  Our marriage was strong and committed, he was doing well at work, and he has always been a great dad.  People that know him are heartbroken.  He truly seems like the least likely person to do something like this.  Most importantly I’m grateful that Terry knows and loves the Lord.  He’s with Jesus and Reece and while part of me feels very left out of that reunion right now, I do take comfort in knowing that he is a healed man.

The last three weeks have been a whirlwind.  I am recognizing all of the things Terry was shouldering, including his own difficulties in coping with the loss of Reece.  Some of the things I was moderately aware of, but much of it I was not.  If you have never met me, this may come as a surprise, but I am actually a very private person.  I honestly can not believe that so many people know about my life.  And yet here I stand in this vulnerable place, somewhat willing to share at least a portion of my own struggle, with the hope that people may be able to be helped by my sharing and understand that through it all, the Lord has been and continues to be good.  I have struggled with whether or not I should share the nature of Terry’s passing.  I don’t want people to only think of him in that way.  For all the wonderful things he added to this world, he ought not be remembered for or defined by the final day he walked the earth.  After much contemplation, I decided that I don’t want to dance around it with people.  I don’t want to hide under some lie.  There are many things that I will keep private, but I can not avoid what he ultimately chose to do.  Because here I am, dealing with it every single moment of my life.

So many people have asked how they can help.  Certainly, we need prayers.  We’ve had a lot of people offer to help with the kids and with meals and around the house…all sorts of very generous things.  Outside of the hands-on items and because of the nature of Terry’s passing, one of the major burdens on me is financial.  There were financial burdens that I was not aware of in the first place and now, there are even more financial burdens without Terry here.  Soon there will be a “How to Help” page added to the blog that will be maintained by a close family friend.  Yes, I will be going back to work.  Yes, I will be figuring this out with the assistance of people I trust.  And yes, there are good things in store for the kids and for me.  Somehow, in some way, I know I was built to handle this.  However, it won’t be without help from the Lord, my family and friends, and countless people I only briefly know or have never even met.

Thank-you for all of your support; it is a gift to my family and me.  I am truly humbled through all of this.  It has been life-changing to be in the center of a storm and see the way God works and how He has surrounded us.  There will be more to come, but I wanted to put this out there so that people understand what happened.  Life feels raw, but somewhere deep inside of me, I still feel hope.

 

 

reece’s birthday

Early on in my pregnancy with Reece, I purchased a blue onesie.  I remember holding it up as though there was a baby in it and saying, “I can actually feel him!  I know he’s not here yet, but I can imagine what it will feel like to hold him.”  Even though I couldn’t see him, I knew where he was and that I carried him with me.  I pressed on through pregnancy with the hope that I would one day hold him and know him.  Seven years ago today, that dream was realized when I held Reece in my arms for the first time.  It was even better than I had imagined.  Seven years later, I find myself in a similar situation as I was all those years ago when I was pregnant.  I still know where he is and I still carry him with me.  However, I can easily remember what he feels like to hold.  I remember what it is like to run my hands through his thick, blonde locks and what a hug feels like when he wraps his arms around my neck and his legs around my torso and squeezes tight.  I can see the sparkle in his eye when he flashes a look to signal he is about to turn around and take off running.  I can hear his voice as he tells a joke and laughs in silliness.  Those are treasures.  It’s pure parenting bliss–it’s beautiful and he’s beautiful.  Sometimes I feel like I can’t bear to wait any longer to see him again.  But it will happen and that, my friends, is a beautiful thing.  I know he’s not seven today.  There are times where I feel bothered that I can’t see him at the ages I thought I would see him.  It’s okay, though.  I remember him and I’ll see him and embrace him again.  It’s beautiful.  Really–beautiful is the only word that comes to mind.  I love him dearly.

Happy Birthday, Reece.  I love you.