13 March 2009

From the Backseat

Riley: Mama, Baby has two mamas.
Me: Yes, honey, Baby has two mamas.
Riley: You my mama?
Me: Yes, I'm your mama and Maddie's mama.
Riley: A [a kid at daycare] has a mama and a daddy.
Me: Yes, he does.
Riley: I want a mama and a daddy. You can bring me a daddy?
Me: Honey, you do have a daddy. He's just not here. I'm so sorry, and I wish I could bring him to you.
Riley [thinking]: Where he is?
Me [panicking]: He can't be with us. [very unsatisfactory answer] Where do you think he is?
Riley: I don't know.
Me: Me either, honey, but I know he loves you and Maddie and me very much.

The time has come to figure out how to handle this one. 


Anonymous said...

That's a tough one. Since they were too young to remember, talking to them now is almost like the death just happening.
There is a very good article on the Hospice website about talking to children about death. It covers a lot of the things that will probably come up.

Sandi said...

I tell my kids that their daddy is in their heart and they can talk to him anytime. Aidan often looks down at this heart and had conversations with his father.

Susan said...

Oh wow, I guess this is coming earlier than I would have expected and maybe when you expected. I like both comments thus far.....I personally have belief in heaven but I know not everyone does...that was my first thought. Yike, maybe hit the library too on this one. Good luck. Happy weekend.

sarzini said...

We are working on this one too - only with grandparents. I'm not sure what the answer is honestly for a 2 year old.

As an aside your kids are so adorably delicious - thank you for writing and letting us into your lives.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wow. Such a tough thing to explain. I don't have any wisdom, just wanted you to know I was thinking of you and wishing you the best.

Anonymous said...

Rough. I always wonder about this. My husband is an Atheist and doesn't believe in an afterlife. I believe in Jesus, but no a Christian necessarily...more Hindu type thinking, and believe in reincarnation and soul splitting and energy dispersement......so I have no idea how I - or he - would ever handle something like this. Maybe you can meditate on it and feel some energy from your husband on this one.

Anonymous said...

We've gone with the simple 'he died, which means he can't be with us and we miss him very much. but he will love us always.' and then dealing with the questions as they come up. For 'where is he' we went with 'we don't know, just like we don't know where Grandma (very much alive -ed.) is right now because she is not with us.' With a few white lies thrown in for good measure ('Will I die?' 'Not until you are very old.' 'I am very old! I just turned three on my birthday!' 'Not until you are very very VERY old. Older than Grandma.' 'Like Saturday?' 'Like after lots and lots and LOTS of Saturdays.' etc.

Good luck. It's really tough.

Anonymous said...

my 3-y.o. has been asking alot of questions about death lately.

I have come up with some lame-o analogy linking people dying with batteries dying in toys. People just stop working, then we put them in the ground BUT they continue to live in our hearts.

Amelie said...


OTRgirl said...

I'm trying to remember what my parents must have said. I grew up going to funerals so it came up a lot. None of the people were super close to me (older people in the church). I'm sure they said something about them being in heaven now, but they didn't fall into the pitfalls of "Jesus wanted them with him" or whatever. I know I grew up with death as a part of life and not something scary, so I know it's possible. I love what Sandi said.

Sorry I can't be more helpful! I thought you handled that conversation brilliantly!

Anonymous said...

Tricky stuff, and this is just the beginning.

There are no easy answers, so you just have to wing it as best you can. Bringing out the photo albums can really help. The kids love to see pictures of themselves when they were tiny, and showing them with their Daddy helps to build those memories.

It's painful for adults to live through this, and that applies especially to you. But for what it's worth, I think that children don't apply the kind of emotional depth to these questions that we do. Mostly it's driven by simple curiosity about why other kids are different from themselves.

In fact, of course, it's the other way around, but what is different for other kids will always be entirely normal for them.

My kids have always accepted their situation, and they're very well adapted. I'm sure that yours will certainly be as well.

Wishing you all the best from London. And spirits up.

Roads said...

Well, that was me. Not meaning to be anonymous. Just temporarily clueless, it would seem.

Anonymous said...

When I was 8 months old, I lost my mom to breast cancer. My dad always told my brothers and me that she was in heaven. This was always my reality - I never really thought twice about it, and it was very comforting thinking about her watching over me (except when I was doing something 'wrong' (especially as I got into my teenage years) which then freaked me out). I had many conversations in my head with her in heaven over the years, and still do (even though I am not very religious). Since this might not be an option in your home - I really, really like what Sandi said about daddy being in their hearts. There is a lot of comfort in that.

Anonymous said...

Damnit, it's not easy, is it? I've always explained things very simply and factually- 'Daddy died. He can't come back. The doctors worked very hard to save daddy, but they couldn't, and he died.' etc etc etc. Be forewarned, they will ask you the same questions over and over and over (oh, and also over and over). A book that has been helpful to me is 'When Dinosaurs Die'-- very straightforward, and you can tailor how you read it to your personal beliefs/situation.

We have now moved into 'When are you going to have a baby, Mama? I want to be a big brother.' Ummmm.

Anyway, I feel your pain. Feel free to email me if you want to chat more.

Yankee, Transferred said...

I love what Sandie said.
I'm still sorry.

Lizard said...

I'm in Portland, OR and there is a place here called the Dougy Center (www.dougy.org). they are a help center for grieving children and their families. They have some resources on their web site, and also ideas of places in other parts of the country that do the same work. They are amazing. They might have some good books for you.

Other than that, I have nothing great to offer except to be very clear that Daddy isn't just "gone" or "somewhere else" because at some point (and with how smart your kids are, some point soon) they will start to think that Daddy is choosing to be someplace else, and that won't work. The language can be so tricky.

You are amazing. I should comment more often, just to tell you that. Your strength and thoughtfulness around your parenting are really wonderful.

Rev Dr Mom said...

This is so hard. They don't have a very good sense of time yet, and the permanence of death is difficult. But if you are comfortable with the concept of heaven (however loosely defined) that at least gives them a framework (as Danielle commented) that you can combine with some discussion of how sick daddy was and his body just wouldn't work any more and so he died.

BTW, even as a Christian and a priest, I would NEVER ever tell ANYONE that Jesus wanted some in heaven, took them, or anything like that. I might connect heaven with being closer to God, but that would depend on your beliefs.

Sadia said...

Wow. I wish I had an answer, but that's a tough one. (Yes, I just won the gold in the "understatement of the year" event.)

Judging by my girls' reaction to their father's stint overseas, you may need to handle the question differently with Maddie as compared to Riley. My Melody is very pragmatic about her father's absence, while Jessie gets very emotional about it. Melody likes to focus on her memories of doing things with her Dad, while Jessie focuses on the things she wishes she could do with him, and she tends to incorporate him more in her games of imagination.

Anonymous said...

Just sending lots of cyber hugs your way.

Ian Newbold said...

I've gone for Sandi's approach. Mommy died, but she is in your heart and head forever. A policy, that while emotionally difficult to stick to, seems to have offered some sort of explanation for my son, and that has prompted more questions and answers, and a demonstration of growing understanding in the months and years that have passed.

Mouthy Girl said...

When Buddha asks where his grandpa is, we talk about heaven. He's told me he's going "up there on a big ladder" and will "make Grandpa come down to play golf."

I don't interfere with that fantasy. If my kid could make it happen, I'd be one satisfied woman.

Here's to finding your way through this newly opened section of the maze we call life.

Strawberry_Lamb said...

I'd go with Sandi's approach. Daddy died, but he is in your heart and head forever.

mlg said...

Just wanted to say hi really. I don't even kinda have an idea for you on this one. Two mamas I can explain, disabilities too. Trying to explain this is so far out of my league I would be coming to you for advise if in the same position.

Although, I am a firm believer in the old stand by, turning it back to the kid to see what they are comfortable with "Where do you think Daddy is?" That way whatever concept comes from that conversation is something they will be comfortable with and understand.

Imagine that, I had advice anyway. Well, I am nothing if not predictable.

Anonymous said...

You do not have to be ready to answer the "where is he" question in order to tell them that he has died.

I've recommended this book a hundred times, as it was recommended to me by a child psychologist, for explaining death; Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie.

Lifetimes is a book that teaches children that everythign that alive is born, lives their lifetime and then dies. It's a beautiful book that does an excellent job with the task at hand.

Twenty years ago, my BIL died at age 24, leaving behind his wife and their 14 month old daughter. It seem like up until around age 10my neice would periodically struggle with what death really meant. She's always know about her Dad but the details of it would pop up from time to time.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Have you read any of the kids and grieving books? They go through this many times as they grow and learn, they process it anew with each developmental stage. They will relive it a hundred times.

And you will always tell the truth, but in an age-appropriate way. It can be tricky to figure out what they understand. It helps if you remember that their feelings are different from yours during these sad conversations.

One of the funny instances: ShortStack met some of my oldest pals, a lesbian couple with a kid her age. She cried to me: I WANT TWO MOMMIES!!! I replied, well, I'm working on getting you two parents, but I'm not making any promises.


Supa Dupa Fresh said...

"When dinosaurs die" is good, as DM says, but probably too old for your two. "Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Loved One" is pretty good, but doesn't have a lot for this age, because there just isn't a lot.

I am going to write this one up now... thanks for the prod.


Anonymous said...

Kids need a black and white response to this question, and in my opinion, you've got to say something simple and direct.

I'm telling you this because it is what my son's psychologist told me when my son started asking questions like, "where was I before I was born?" I gave him some kind of new-agey answer that satisfied my adult brain: "Wow, good question. Philosophers and poets and religious people have been wondering that exact thing for hundreds of years."

But kids need something easy to grasp and digest. And obviously something that fits with whatever you'd like to teach your kids about life and death. "Daddy's body is gone, but his spirit is in the sky." (If that's what you believe.) Something simple along those lines.

tropicalg77 said...

Hmmnn, the first thing that comes to my mind, is get out the pictures. The beautiful pictures of John holding the twins. let them see that their dad was not absent at all, but very much there.

Maybe have a couple of those photos enlarged in to 5x7's for each of the twins to have by their bed.

John still isn't absent, he is every where around you and the twins. If you feel comfortable telling the twins that he is the sun, and the clouds, and the twinkle of the star...then go for it. Then they know that he just isn't gone.

The Next Place by Warren Hanson, is a good book for kids to try and grasp or wrap their heads around where people go. When my daughter gets sad, we read that book, and she does cry but it makes her feel better.

This is a time that is going to be emotional for everyone. And, YOU DO HAVE THE STRENGTH. You are one of the strongest people I blog know.

The answer might not be right there in front of you, but every where around you.

Anonymous said...

we were just talking about this the other day. ben has started talking about other kid's daddys and i think it's just that he can't articulate the question. he will list us, saying "mommy?" "momma?" and we almost always get a "daddy?" we always tell him that he does have a daddy and that he was a wonderful man to help our family (obviously TOTALLY different from your sit.).. but that we don't know him. arrgh.. it was easier to talk about in theory when he was too young to ask.

Robin said...

This is something that I also continually struggle with. My kids were 3 and 6 when their daddy died in July 2007 in a motorcycle accident(they are now 4 and 7). My kids just never saw him again. One day here, the next day gone. It's completely insane really. They have been in various stages of understanding "where daddy is" but still they have no real grasp, I can tell (does anyone?). Though if asked they would tell you that their daddy is in heaven. The language itself we use to talk about death is such a difficult thing when we speak to young children who are so literal and are learning words and hearing some words for the first time. It's hard, and my heart is truly with you. I'm posting this comment really to let you know you are not alone in the struggle. I do believe that we just do the best we can and that above all else our children are loved, and love prevails. Your kids are lucky to have you. Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

you and your little people are so very important to me ... to all of us (baby and otre mama).

even though the reasons for our similar situations are different, i'm glad we know and have each other.

please feel free to lean

Anonymous said...

Try this book: http://www.amazon.com/Next-Place-Warren-Hanson/dp/0931674328#

It is loosey goosey and very positive.

S said...

John 5:28,29. It's a promise that brings millions on earth unparalleled hope. I hope it does for you and your family.

Ellen said...

So, so humbled by this post.

Anonymous said...

I love your answer to where is he. "I don't know." Who among us does, no matter how strong our faith or beliefs?

I love that you followed it with what you DO know.

Anonymous said...

Although I cannot speak to your circumstance I can tell how we dealt with the somewhat sudden death of my father at age 58 from cancer. My daughter was your kids age when he died. We went with a short explanation of his body stopped working and he was no longer with us. We discussed how it made me and my husband sad but it was ok if she did or did not feel sad. We also talked about him being in our hearts and him always loving us. I also made a very simple (10 page) photo album of him holding her, playing with her etc, and keep it on a shelf in the LR. She will occasionally get it out and look at it and talk about him. Now that she is almost 6 we have had some more in depth discussion regarding death and she has lots more questions about what happened when her grandfather died and I have found that those discussions feel much easier than they did when she was really small since she understands things better.

barbara said...

I don't have any opinion as a mother (except, you're awesome). I can say one thing as a should-have-been sister.
My brother died at age six months, when I was two and a half. It was a very sudden death, he wasn't sick. I have been told that for some time I kept asking where he was. I can't remember any of that.
I do remember from my early years (think age 5) visiting his tomb, and the large picture of him in my parents' bedroom (it's still there, 40 years later). I remember being very interested in death as a child. I knew that death was not only for old people, but could happen to anybody, anytime.
My parents raised me like an only child, not like a child with a dead brother. I think this was because my mother almost went mad with grief, and nobody knew very much how to handle it at the time. I think that what you're doing is much better, but it does require a lot of strength.

moo said...

catching up with you after being gone for 4w ...

and I have nothing more to offer than what has already been said. I agree kids need a simple, concrete answer ... he's not looking for a metaphorical discussion.

Maybe a bracelet or worry stone Riley can carry around and rub on when he thinks of John? Something tangible for someone who is no longer.

Hugs to you, darling.

~ Jolene said...

oh gosh. My eyes welled up with tears as I read this one. It may have been unsatisfactory to you but I thought the answer was quite perfect.