Talking to Toddlers about Death

two women smiling, one holding sign "Welcom Rock N Roller Betsy Archer"

Me and Nance in 2008 when I ran the Rock N Roll Marathon in San Diego.

My mom’s best friend of fifty years died Saturday morning. She was an amazing woman; generous beyond generous, kind, hilarious, completely loving, fiercely loyal, tough, and so much more. She died after a long fight with an auto-immune disorder that left her lungs battered and bruised and so, so tired.

I have felt so sad since I got the news of her death. Lots of tears. S and I made the decision to be upfront with M, so often, tears are in front of him. He is a sweet and sensitive boy. Usually when we cry (especially S), he wants to hug us and be close and tell us that everything is going to be ok. When he saw how upset I was and asked me why, I told him.

We have been trying to explain what ‘dead’ means without overloading him. I tell him that it means that someone’s or something’s body quit working. I can see his brain trying to process what that actually means.

At the local nature center today, M noticed the taxidermy owl and squirrels on the huge fake tree in the lobby. He asked if they were real. I explained that they are real, but their bodies don’t work anymore. I could tell he was processing, but not quite there, which is ok because he is still a baby.

In the next few days, we will head to San Diego to remember Nancy. M will come with me and will see his grandparents and everyone who loved her grieving. But he will also see us all laughing because that is what Nancy would have wanted. I hope that M will internalize that just because someone’s body quits working, it doesn’t mean they leave us. I hope he feels that Nancy is still all around.

-Betsy

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3 responses to “Talking to Toddlers about Death

  1. Martha Christensen

    I share your sorrow at this and envy the intelligent approach you use to make sense of it all for M.

  2. I am sorry to hear that you are mourning the loss of a loved one and happy that you will be with family finding comfort, peace and laughter.

    one of our closes friends died a year ago sept 22nd. asher was thrust into conversations about death and mourning in a much more specific and intense way than i would have chosen, but it has turned out to be one of the most awe-inspiring things about him. How he just “knew” before we said much. How he understands and how he connects it to life on the farm. How he remembers that after bodies go back into the earth they are also in the wind and trees and water…and he talks about it at just the right times. Its pretty amazing.

    I get scared sometimes that this will turn out to provide him with anxiety and fear I won’t know how to help with, but I remember the gift my mother gave me by explaining death via the first law of thermodynamics (where energy can’t be created or destroyed, but it can change form, and go from being contained within a system to being outside of the system…like a body).

    thinking of you & yours!
    xo
    shafie

  3. I’m so sorry for your loss.
    I applaud you for being forward but yet not overwhelming. It;s a fine line. Even with a 5 and 7 year old, they still don’t quite grasp it. But neither do I. There have been many questions the past couple of months and they are difficult to answer in terms that can be understood but not frightening.
    Safe travels.

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