August 3, 2012

Death and the three year old

Elizabeth, I need you to come here right away.

I could tell from the tone of hubby's voice something was wrong. When I got to the front door and saw his face, I knew it was bad. I stepped outside and closed the door, so we would be out of SB's earshot.

I found R.T. in the street. He was hit by a car. He's dead.

R.T. was our cat, SB's best buddy. And though I was filled with my own sadness at his loss, my thoughts were immediately with her, and how this would impact her.

How were we going to tell our three year old her beloved cat was dead?

SB has been asking a lot of questions about death lately. It began one day several weeks ago after we'd been to hubby's mother's house. SB asked why she has never met hubby's father. And hubby explained that his father died many years ago, before she was born.

That led to a ton of questions, which we tried to answer simply and honestly. She's been mulling it around ever since.

This would be different.

We went in to the kitchen, where SB was finishing up breakfast. Hubby got her out of her chair and sat her in his lap.

Sweetie, we need to talk to you. Something very sad has happened.

I stood beside them and held SB's hand as hubby tried to break the news gently. He told her in a simple, matter of fact way what had happened.

She looked confused at first. Then I watched as a look of realization came across her face. Then she began to wail.

He held her close as she sobbed. It tore hubby and me to pieces to see her hurt like that. We told her we were sad, too. That we all loved him and will miss him.

It was a very long day.

One moment she would be fine and playing. Then she would become sad and start to cry. She asked a lot of questions. And made comments about wanting him to come back. It is hard for a child that age to understand death.

She begged me all day to see his body. Something I would not allow. He had been hit by a car; it was gruesome. She did not need to see that.

We went on my laptop and she picked out a picture of him. I printed it out and gave it to her, telling her to remember him that way.

When hubby returned home that evening, we buried R.T. in the back yard, something she had said that morning she wanted to do. SB helped hubby cover his body (in a bag) with dirt and pat it down. Then I asked her if she wanted to say anything:

I love you R.T. I didn't want you to die. I will miss you.

Then she began to wail again. I took her inside and sat in the glider we have had since she was born. We rocked and I stroked her hair as she cried.

I know, sweetie. It hurts so much when you lose something or someone you love. It's good to cry. It helps us get our feelings out.

Soon after, she fell asleep.

It was hands down the hardest day I have had since becoming a parent. Watching her struggle with the loss of her beloved pet hurt me so much.

And I know this is just the beginning. There will be many more days like this to come as she goes through life. No one can truly prepare you for it.

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