‘Aunty May* has gone to live with Papa,’ explained Dave to Curly-locks our sweet, three-year-old as he tucked her into bed.
‘But … Papa lives with the stars,’ she replied confused.
Last week we lost a much loved family member, someone close to Curly-locks.
Although Curly-locks didn’t see Aunty May a lot, she would often draw her pictures, ask about her dog, and pretend to talk to her on her toy phone.
While Curly-locks can be timid around people, even those she knows, she would let her guard down with Aunty May. She loved how Aunty May would envelop her in her arms and make soft bird sounds in her ear. Aunty May would skip with her and talk to her as if she was the most interesting little girl in the world. She paid Curly-locks attention, and of course, Curly-locks lapped it up.
We knew for some time that Aunty May was losing her battle with sickness, but we never broached the subject with Curly-locks not knowing how to explain it and not wanting to let our minds even go there.
When the day eventually came, Dave explained it in the only way he knew how.
Curly-locks has not been exposed to death before. It is not something we have purposely shielded her from (apart from my habit of altering the fairy tales I read her to sound a little more upbeat). It is simply and thankfully not something we have had to discuss. We haven’t had any pets that have died and we haven’t been in the habit of squashing bugs either.
Dave’s Dad passed away just before Curly-locks was born. We keep his memory alive talking regularly to her about her Grandfather, Papa, sharing stories about his life and telling her what sort of man he was.
We even included her in a very private ceremony we had in our backyard when Dave was eventually ready to scatter his Dad’s ashes. Dave placed a photo of his Dad in a hole that he had dug, while the three of us tipped ashes on top of the photo and planted a tree in his memory.
Curly-locks knows this is Papa’s tree and that he lives with the stars. Because she never met him though, I am not sure whether she has connected the dots and realises that he was once alive and now he is not.
I have been trawling the net over the weekend researching how you should explain death to young children. I want to be prepared incase Curly-locks comes to us with questions as she most certainly will when she doesn’t see Aunty May for a while.
It is a difficult thing to explain to children, especially at this age, that they will never see their loved one again because their body has stopped working and they have gone to rest with the stars.
While we won’t take Curly-locks to the funeral, we will keep the channels of communication open and attempt to answer her questions as best we can.
Have you had to explain death to your child before? How old were they and what did you say?
*Real names have not been used in this post.