Thursday, December 29, 2011

Just Like That.

The day after my children went on holiday break, one of their teachers died. It was certainly a shock to hear that a beautiful, 32 year-old would suddenly be gone from us, just like that. As I thought about how we would never again see her sunshiny face as we arrived at school in the mornings, I realized that my three year olds were going to need to know she would no longer be there. Initially I was not concerned, thinking that they are too young to handle death just yet. But as the weight of her death settled on me, I realized that they had seen her nearly five days a week for most of a year, more than they had seen most of our family members. As sad as the circumstances are, I was now feeling more weighted down by the news as it churned in my heart. How do you explain death to a small child?

Will they understand? Will they be affected or not? Our family is not religious, but I also realized they would overhear things at school. Words like ‘soul’, ‘heaven’, ‘angel’, ‘die, ‘death’ and more. I am not opposed to using any of those, but as with so many of life’s uncertainties, I had expected these would be used at a later time in their little lives. And maybe not all at once.

At first I told them simply that she would not be there when they got back to school. I figured telling them as soon as possible would give them time to digest it. Then I reflected that they had had therapists who stopped working with them, babysitters who were suddenly no longer there and grandparents who live far away that they don’t see often. So maybe this wouldn’t be a shock to them. I told them she had to go somewhere else, and that she loved them and was so very happy to be their teacher. I asked them to draw pictures and ‘bye bye’ cards for her family, and they did. Then they asked if they could resume playing. Just like that.

The school has given us guidance information about what they will be sharing with the kids. Brief, truthful statements, and a ‘we don’t have an answer for that’ if something gets questioned beyond what the school wants to say. They are being very respectful of different people’s personal beliefs and I am grateful for that. In About Dying, An Open Family Book for Parents and Children Together, Sara Bonnett Stein offers some good advice: “It is the job of parents to support and explain reality, to guide a child toward the truth even if it is painful . . . it is only straightforwardness that gives children the internal strength to deal with things not as they imagine them to be, but as they are.” One of my favorite quotes from Ana├»s Nin is, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are”. Would that we lived in a bubble that protected our children from the big bad world forever. Somewhere in between these two quotes lies dealing with life.

Tomorrow is Kelly’s funeral. Although I am sad she is gone, I’m not sure it has truly hit me. When school begins again next week, my children will be exposed to others’ grief, and my instinct is to shield them from it as long as possible. But I know kids are very resilient, and learning to deal with life’s eventualities, some harsher than others, will help them be strong as they grow. So tonight we sat down with them and said the words, “Miss Kelly died”. They stared at us. “Miss Kelly’s body stopped working.” More stares. Then, “Miss Kelly’s body stopped working so she had to go somewhere else Mommy?” I swallowed hard. “Yes, baby.” They repeated this question a few times. Then, “Mommy, can I play with my toys now?”

I will follow their lead, and be there to help them. We will honor her memory, and we will go on.

Just like that.


  1. Beautiful. I love how you write and how it expresses all the feelings we all have been going through. I may see you tomorrow, I still don't know if I will go. But I do know we will get through this together with our two broods.

  2. great post Lexi - I will be there in spirit as we honor her memory

  3. Wow...this is something my kids haven't had to deal with yet (so I haven't had to, either). It's sad to think of such a young person passing on. YOu really conveyed beautifully the different levels of emotion regarding this.

  4. Such a difficult and sad situation. Thanks for sharing this post.

  5. That is such a difficult topic to explain to children. I think you did the right thing by avoiding the "death" topic for now. Pain and reality come all to quickly as children get older, it's our responsibility to protect them while we can. xo

  6. Oh my gosh. So sad.
    Beautiful post. I'm so sorry for your loss. Hugs to you and those gorgeous babies!

  7. I can't believe this, my post today is also about telling young children about death. I would never normally leave a link on a comment, but I find it so strange that someone else has read my mind.

  8. My children are way too young to know about death, however, my father died in the Fall so we had to explain it to them in a way they would was incredibly painful and difficult....I was fortunate not to have to experience the death of someone until last year. But my children.....just too young....I'm so sorry....