Sunday, March 8, 2015

Children: On death and dying

So, hi everyone. Long time, no talk. Yes, it's been nearly 2 years since I've added anything to this blog.
Life has been mostly good. And occasionally terrible. Because it's life and that's the way it goes.

Robbie is almost 7, which is amazing to me. Charlotte is 3.5.

Robbie had to repeat kindergarten this year. I wish they'd test his IQ because holy shit, he's SO smart, but we did finally get an ADD diagnosis because the kid has the attention span and impulse control of a drunken gnat. The meds help, thankfully.

Charlotte is so funny and sweet and verbal and feisty. She is the most compassionate, caring, nurturing little thing.........until she's pissed. Then you better look out. Holy shit, that girl has a TEMPER. Phew!

But really, what I'm here to talk about is death. We had to have one of our cats put to sleep yesterday.
Now, we've actually lost two pets since we've had kids, but Robbie was pretty young for both of those and didn't really get it beyond occasionally wondering where our dog or cat had gone.

This one, though, has been different.

Robbie has been asking and talking about death a lot lately. Several friends with kids his age have expressed the same thing, so maybe this is just when that level of understanding really blossoms. But adding in the loss of a pet at this age has been really hard.

We sat down on Friday night and told him the news. I tried to use plain language and speak clearly. "Robbie, Chunky cat is going to die."

He said "awww, but I'm going to miss her." and then he just got quiet. Then he kept saying "awww.. I'm so sad. I'm going to miss her." We both cried. I told him it was okay to be sad. We hugged a lot. He asked a lot of questions. He was confused that she was sick and going to die, versus when he gets sick. Eventually I explained the difference between "fatal illness" and "non-fatal."

At one point, he got down in the floor to talk to our other cat (Devil Cat. No, that's not his 'real' name, but yes, that's what we call him. He was a feisty kitten, okay?) "Devil. I have to tell you some bad news. Chunky is going to die. I'm sorry. You're going to miss her. I'm going to miss her. I'm sorry your friend is going to die. It's okay. We're going to be sad."

Man, I just lost it. (Truly, crying again even as I type it out.) In that moment, I've never been prouder of him or wished more to ease his pain. To be sad himself but to take a moment to tell Chunky's friend and comfort him, too, I couldn't love my compassionate little man any more.

He had a hard time that night. I let him come lay in our bed and we talked for a few hours. He had lots of questions about death, heaven. I think things that he has learned in church were finally clicking into place a little bit. He had lots of really deep questions like how God sent Jesus here and if God and Jesus were the same, but Jesus died, couldn't God die?

He also had lots of questions about when we (Mommy and Daddy) are going to die, when he's going to die and all of that.

Chunky came in to sleep at the foot of the bed and he talked to her. Told her how sorry he was that she was going to die and how much he was going to miss her. Cue more sobbing from me.


After the appointment at the vet yesterday, both my husband and I were feeling very raw. Chunky was really David's cat. They'd been together 13 years and were definitely buddies. She liked me okay, but she belonged to David.

The hard part has been letting the kids work it out in their own way. Charlotte doesn't really understand the permanence of death, so she keeps asking where she is. Robbie keeps answering, "She's dead, Charlotte. She died."

Robbie keeps telling everyone who will listen, "Chunky died. When I get old and sick and I do, I'm going to go to heaven and see her."

David is still working through it as well. And every time Robbie says so plainly, "She died." I can visibly see my husband wince.

It's left me thinking a lot about how we handle hard topics. I can remember very clearly being a kid and asking hard questions. I got a lot of "Trishy, just drop it." or "Trish, we don't talk about those things." (Followed by my "why not?" and then "We just don't. It's not polite.) I was consistently told not now, not here, just leave it. I always felt stifled and muted. I felt squashed.

I really don't want to squash my children. But man, do I totally get why that could be easier. When I see the way that plain speak such as "dead" and "died" affect my husband, I want to change the subject. When they argue over the semantics about which words to use, I want to tell them to be quiet.

I'm trying to do the strong, responsible, good parent thing here. But all I really want to do is shove a bowl of ice cream at everyone, make mine a double and pretend death doesn't exist.