Concept of death confuses children

By Anita Doberman: Columnist

When we first decided to travel to Rome, I told my children we were going to visit my parents’ home because my grandmother was dying. I didn’t hide the fact she was ill, and that this was the last time I would see her. I also explained that my parents and our relatives would be sad, because their mother was passing away.

It’s never easy to talk about the death of a loved one, especially to children. I have tried to be honest with my kids and explain our view of death, and show them how our immediate family, and our extended one, deal with this inevitable part of life.

When my children first saw Nonna Dela, who looks very ill, they were afraid to go near her, and asked me why she looked so strange. I told them she was sick, but happy to see children, her great-grandchildren all the way from America, at her bedside. They hesitated for a few minutes, but eventually proceeded to play on the floor next to her bed.

I understood their aversion toward sickness and death, but also wanted them to realize that dying is natural and that from something as difficult as death we can find strength in our faith, our family and our loved ones.

My children asked all sorts of questions. My 4-year-old has asked me, “Will Nonna Dela go to Jesus? Will she look really old, like she does now?”

My 3-year-old has wondered if Nonna Dela “will get to eat all the candy she wants, and have long hair in heaven.” She also inquired about Nonna Dela’s plans to come back to see us to give us some special ice cream – a question that made me realize how hard it is for a 3-year-old to grasp the concept of death.

I wondered how much my children understood of this trip and their first experience with death, especially in light of the fact that they are so young – my oldest daughter is 6.

I was comforted when they told me that this was such a fun trip because we always got together with our relatives and laughed, sometimes cried, even if Nonna Dela was going to heaven.

It was comforting to know that while we were experiencing sadness we supported each other. We were able to celebrate Nonna Dela’s life and the legacy of love and family values she is leaving for us, and my children also experienced the love of family during such a difficult time – a memory I hope they will cherish as adults.

Now all I have left to do is to talk to my children about behaving well during our long and excruciating trip back home.

As Nonna Dela would say, each day has its battle, just take it one at a time and with a little help from upstairs all can be done.