It’s a 37 degree, gray, foggy snowy-roaded morning. Today there will be a funeral in my town; the daddy of one of my son’s classmates. On Friday, when he died suddenly of a heart attack, a rumor circulated that the school would be “talking to the kids” about it on Monday and that they wanted parents to talk with them first over the weekend. Not being able to communicate well with the teachers, myself, and not being told by them directly, I felt my shackles rise a bit. What are they planning to say? How will they say it? How can they do this without parent permission? What if I hadn’t heard the rumor? Maybe it is JUST a rumor. I love this preschool and I’ve trusted them with his formation for 18 months. He speaks German because of that place and those people, but suddenly, this child life specialist is on the defense.
This, undoubtedly, sweet little girl is not a friend of my son’s and we do not know the family. She is older and in a different primary-care group. Her father was not known to most of the 40-some children in the school. These children who range from two and a half years old to six, have had a variety of experiences (or lack thereof) with death and are very different, developmentally.
Again, I ask myself, “What will they tell the children?” “What will they tell MY child?” My child, who knows that death is permanent. My child, who has seen the dead body of his dog friend being lowered into the ground, who helped cover her with dirt. My child, who knows that her body will make the grass and flowers grow above her and that her body is not breathing and will not come back to life. My child. My child knows that leaves and bugs and dogs and pirates can die, but he doesn’t know that daddies can die. And though it is only a matter of time before he discovers the universality of death, that time hasn’t come yet.
I hastily download Lifetimes: A Beautiful Book About Life and Death, on my iPad so I’ll have it when he comes home from school today. I will ask him what things made him happy and sad at school today. I will fish to see what he knows. I will read the book…all living things have a lifetime…and all lifetimes have a beginning and an end. We will leave it at that. If he has a question, I will answer it. Simply. Concretely. I will not fill in the blanks and I will not lie. But, I want to be the one to facilitate this discussion. Not a teacher, another parent, a grandparent, a priest, or another child. I know it may not be realistic, but I want to be the one he’s with when he realizes really bad things can happen. And today, as that other family weeps, I just want to pull mine in closer.