Tot School (5) Called Life
Sometimes the beauty of homeschooling is that you have a bit of freedom to experience life, or in our case, the loss of life. But because we homeschool, I think I am programmed to look for life learning opportunities.
One such moment presented itself this week. My deceased grandfather’s wife, Pat, passed away, after a long full life of knowing her Savior, Jesus.
Part of my job as a parent is to help my children learn how to process feelings, circumstances, and choices in a healthy manner that honors and draws them closer to God. Because Pat’s death will probably be Mr. Smackdown’s first memory of death, I prayerfully approached how I would explain and introduce this concept to him, knowing Mr. Me-Too and Mr. Smiley probably wouldn’t be too aware of their surroundings.
An excellent resource for the floundering parent is Focus on the Family. Founded by Dr. James Dobson, renowned child and family expert, this is where I turned.
I learned that it is best to not wait for a close and personal death, to introduce this rite of passage we all make. We see death daily, whether or not it registers in our brain. Sure playing cowboys and Indians initiates and awareness of shooting the bad guy. Every day, I end up having a wood gun pointed at my bottom, announcing that I am dead. But real death occurs when your child steps on an beetle and paints the sidewalk with smashed guts. What about the precious flower that wilts after being picked by toddler hands? Animals offer discussion as they lay on the side of the road. Have you ever stopped to look at one? Where do the flowers go in the winter? What about that hamburger that you ate at McDonald’s (that has LONG been dead, even when it was alive)?
That reminds me one of my friends (Twin-Life) who has a dad that is a bit unconventional. On his way home with his grandsons, he stopped along the side of the road to allow his grandchildren (Superman and Mr. T) to pet a dead deer. The boys were able to see why this animal died and what death literally feels like. So, it was no surprise to their mom, Twin-Life, when Superman brought a dead bird to us while picnicking at a local park a few weeks back. Instead of freaking out, she very calmly used this incident as a learning opportunity, and then quickly washed his hands.
I doubt I have to tell you this, but just in case, never lie to your child. When someone dies, tell them that “Aunt Gertrude died.” Don’t wait to tell them and they overhear you discussing future plans. If you tell them that Aunt Gertrude went to sleep . . . do you really think your child will want to sleep at night? They might imagine never waking up, being put in a box, and having their face painted. Not fun for a four year old to envision. You might do well to avoid the expression, “Aunt Gertrude went away for a little bit.” When the heck is Aunt Gertrude going to come back? Is she bringing a present? Should we leave the door unlocked for her (not a good idea if you live in the ghetto)? Does that mean Mommy and Daddy might go away for a little bit too?
If you know that your loved one knows Jesus as their Savior, then you can use this as an excellent opportunity to present the truth that those who love the Lord are with Jesus that very moment. Comforting and truthful passages to share with your child are:
1 Thessalonians 4: 13
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep (they were talking to adults–not children and asleep in the New Testament refers to Believers of Jesus who have died) in Jesus.
And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain the first things have passed away.
Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven.
John 5: 24
Anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He will not be found guilty. He has crossed over from death to life.
Death can be a fearful event to a child. Be willing to talk about your child’s fears. It may be uncomfortable to enter a room full of people, many of who may be sad and crying. Your child may not want to get close to the casket or even look at the deceased loved one, should it be an open casket. Don’t push them. Don’t make them look or touch if they don’t want to.
Yesterday, we entered the funeral home with one goal. See Nana. From there we sat and talked for a little bit with other family members lingering around. I then asked Mr. Smackdown and Mr. Me-Too if they wanted to go look at some pictures of Pat. The pictures were displayed near the casket, but far enough that they could glance at Pat without feeling pressure. Mr. Me-Too only desired to show everyone his Kleen Kanteen water bottle and run around grabbing dressed up legs with his sticky snack hands. However, Mr. Smackdown was excited to see the lady.
“Look at that lady lying down, Mommy!” he said jumping with the help of a vigorous tug on my arm and a nervous, slightly excited giggle. He was curious. Would it be appropriate for me to act like that? No. But was it age-appropriate for him? Yes.
If you need to cry. Cry. My husband has done a good job teaching the boys how to be compassionate and comfort someone when they are grieving. Often, they will come up to me and give me three pats on the back (I Love You) or a sweet leg hug. Sometimes they will say, “What can I do to help you, Mommy?” (Meaning a household chore needing assistance.) Or Mr. Smackdown will say to Mr. Me-Too, “Mommy is sad. Let’s play quietly.” It is important that your children see that it is OK to be sad and to cry when someone dies. You need to experience grief in order to process it and move on. If your child is sad, let them cry. Show compassion by snuggling with them, reading some Psalms, looking through old photographs, and/or offering a hug. If there ever was a time to be tender, this is the time.
So that was a bit of our school this week . . . we learned about life.