Mommies Can Die?

BlogHer Original Post

oak hill cemetery 10.29.09 - 16Two weeks ago, a dear friend lost a courageous battle with leukemia. From her diagnosis to her death, only 15 days passed. It was a shock to the community. It still feels kind of surreal. As an adult, I'm struggling with anger and confusion; she was just here and now she is not. My oldest son, however, seems to be having an even more difficult time processing her death.

My children have had the unfortunate privilege of learning about death at a young age. This is partially due to the makeup of our family. I was blessed with young grandparents and didn't really attend a funeral until my teen years. My children, however, have had to deal with the dying off of my grandparent's generation in ways that I didn't. In 2010, we attended three funerals in three months for beloved members of my family and my husband's family. My children asked questions, behaved at the funeral home and generally accepted that "old people die."

But my friend was not old and was also a mom to one of my older son's friends. When I told them that his friend's mommy had died, my oldest son looked at me with those big dark eyes and said, "But why?" I gave him a brief, age-appropriate explanation about cancer and leukemia. He shook his head and said, "But she's a mommy."

I nodded, choking back tears.

When I was in ninth grade, a friend's mom died of cancer. It rocked the school, and the decision was made to only have a half day of school so those of us who wanted to attend the funeral could do so. No one's mom had died before. Grandparents and an aunt and even an older sibling in a car accident. But moms just didn't die on us. Except that they did. And they do. And they always will.

I've been fielding a lot of questions from my oldest son; he's a thinker. He has skirted around the question of, "Will you die, too?" I've done a lot of reassuring, a lot of "look at how old Great-Grandma is," and a lot of hugging. We're getting together to play with his friend soon, and I'm sure I'll field more questions after that playdate.

I think I'm handling it in an age-appropriate, non-scary way. I've been bopping around the web for the past two weeks, reading others' attempts at discussing how mommies die. It seems we're all flubbing our way through it as best we can.

Jennifer at Just Hide the Dishes in the Dryer recently fielded the question from her four-year-old.

I told him that yes everyone dies when they get old and he got very concerned and said "I don't want you to die mom, I want to stay with you forever."

Lisa at A Bushel and a Peck pointed out that even kids who know about death because their mothers have died can have questions and issues surrounding the whole mess.

“Why didn’t my Mommy give me a family in Ethiopia?” he paused again, “Do other kids get new families when their mommies die?”

He crawled in my lap and I rocked him while he sat stiffly with his back to my chest.

“Yes, Eby,you have lots of friends who got new families after their mommies died. Honeybee and Dimples came to us after their mommies died, and M, D, R, and lots of other kids you know have new families who adopted them after their parents died.”

I hugged him, “Your Ethiopia mommy loved you so much, you were precious to her. We sure love you too, Eby, and I’m so glad to be your Mommy.”

Married with Toddlers may have taken the easy way out in a discussion about death with her toddler, but she shared a great list of books as resources for young children dealing with grief and loss.

"Well, sometimes, when someone gets very, very old, older that mommies and older than grandmas and grandpas, they die."

"Oh, so, you and Daddy aren't going to die."

"That's right."

Ok, I lied. I took the easy route. But, I needed time to rethink my strategy.

And, of course, I turned to Matt Logelin to see how he's discussed these things with Maddy. How he has chosen to handle the truth with his daughter after her mom's death and his daughter's acceptance of it are a guiding light in things like this. (By the way, don't be the guy that Matt talks about in the post. Please don't be that guy.)

a few weeks ago

(out of nowhere)

she said,

“my mommy died and now you are with me.”

a simplified understanding

for sure, but

an understanding.

(In addition, check out The Liz Logelin Foundation which exists to help young widows and widowers deal with the loss of their beloved.)

Quite honestly, I wish I didn't have to field this question. I wish mommies didn't die. I wish my friend was still here and that my children still had the innocence to believe that mommies don't die. These are the facts of life, I suppose, and we teach our sons that life isn't always fair. But for all of the children out there who have lost their mothers well before their time, my heart breaks. I want to stomp my feet and demand that no more mommies die. Ever. Not just for my comfort level in discussions and my sadness when friends die, but for the children who are left behind.

Have you had the "mommies die" conversation with your children? How have you handled it? What were some of their questions?

Family Section Editor Jenna Hatfield (@FireMom) blogs at Stop, Drop and Blog and The Chronicles of Munchkin Land. She is a freelance writer and photographer.

Photo Credit: laurapadgett.

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