October 7, 2013

Hard lessons learned too young

My daughter is learning far more about death than I care for her to at this age. I have been working to prepare her for the anticipated loss of my father. That has involved ongoing discussions about his situation and death in general.

On Friday, due to a tragedy involving a classmate, she learned a parent can suddenly and unexpectedly die.

When we arrived at SB's preschool, all the teachers were visibly upset. It was clear most had been crying. It was unsettling, but I knew at some point whatever had happened would be revealed.

When I asked another parent if he knew what was going on, I was told simply, "The kids are OK."

What I later learned was that the mother of one of SB's classmates had died suddenly the night before. And now I find myself guiding my young child through the harsh realization that parents can and do die young. This is not an issue we had faced yet.

We have talked about how no one knows when they will die. That it can happen at any time. But our conversations about death have focused mainly on my father, who has lived a full life and is ill. The situation that presented itself Friday was entirely different.

A young mother went out to walk the family dog and never returned. When she was found by a neighbor, all efforts to revive her failed. She left behind a four year old and a seven year old, both girls. Their father is not part of their lives. They will now be raised by their maternal grandmother.

My heart hurts for the family and my prayers go up for them. I also ache for my own child. For while she is not the one who lost a parent, she now knows it can happen. That is the kind of realization that can rip the rug right out from under a child.

As soon as I learned of the news (through another classroom mom via Facebook message), I wanted to rush to the school to hold SB. Because I knew she would be very upset. The teachers had told the class what happened.

SB is extremely sensitive and empathetic. And very fond of the little girl who lost her mother. I knew she would be in pain. She is already so emotional about her beloved BaBop. Now, she has learned the difficult truth that a parent can suddenly and unexpectedly die.

The one thing kids need most is to feel safe and secure. Friday's news threatened to take that away from my child.

I ignored my desire to rush to her school, however, deciding that allowing her to stick to her normal routine would be best for her. That also gave me a little time to prepare myself for the questions I knew would be coming.

SB is a deeply feeling and inquisitive child. I knew we would need to have lengthy conversations about what happened. That she would need reassurance I couldn't provide and answers I could not give. I was extremely anxious as I drove to pick her up.

She was full of questions about what happened and why. I did not have those answers. I explained doctors would conduct tests to try to find answers for the family. But that what mattered was we support them in any way we can.

SB wanted to make a card for her friend, and we have been saying daily prayers. I'm going to ask the school today about providing meals for the family.

So far SB has not been as emotional as I expected. Although we have seen her have delayed responses to difficult events in the past. So we will be prepared in the event that happens.

I realize I can't shield my child from these types of issues forever. But I hate that she is having to learn such difficult life lessons at such a young age.

My husband and I made the decision not to tell her about the Boston Marathon bombing or the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary. We felt she was too young to be exposed to those events, and were grateful that at her young age we could avoid it.

Her preschool did not address it, and since all she ever watches on TV is PBS, we did not need to worry about her finding out.

So far, she has been shielded from tragedy. And she will learn soon enough about the evil in the world. About bad people and bad things that happen.

When that time comes, we will manage the issue as we do any tough topic - in an open, honest manner. For now, all I can do is support her and hope her innocence can be preserved for as long as possible.

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