With the stars

‘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.

Papa's tree

Papa’s tree

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.

34 comments on With the stars

  1. Susan
    July 30, 2013 at 5:48 am (4 years ago)

    We are all star material! Larry did Comment on how beautifully Murray’s tree is growing. He summized it was because Murray in life was so full of BS – tall tales -that is. I really enjoy your blog (:RenΓ©e .sorry for your loss.

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 6:20 am (4 years ago)

      Lol πŸ™‚ Nice one, Larry πŸ™‚ I’m so glad you enjoy the blog, Susan x

      Reply
  2. Pip
    July 30, 2013 at 6:48 am (4 years ago)

    Oh I could imagine just how difficult it is to put death into words without scaring a little child. I bought some beautiful books for my cousins children when I went to their uncle’s funeral. It was a beautifully illustrated book about Beginnings and Endings – I like the idea they made it more about the cycle of life and less focus on the humans leaving the life http://www.grief.org.au/resources/products Very sorry to hear you’ve had some sad goodbyes to make. x

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 10:12 am (4 years ago)

      Thanks Pip and thank you for the link to that book. It sounds like just what we need. I might purchase it today. Curly-locks is a big reader and I think this may help make things a little clearer. x

      Reply
  3. Lydia C. Lee
    July 30, 2013 at 7:19 am (4 years ago)

    that photo with the tree is lovely. We’ve had a few but the kids don’t seem to register it so much. Even at 10….

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 10:13 am (4 years ago)

      Yes, it is hard enough for us as adults to comprehend where a once effervescent person has suddenly gone to, let alone explain it to a child ..

      Reply
  4. Trish
    July 30, 2013 at 9:28 am (4 years ago)

    Thank you for sharing this.
    My FIL passed away Sunday. I haven’t told my boys yet because we will when we go to his house and have lots of family around. They are 7 , they won;t attend the cremation but will a service of celebration of his life (with no casket) .
    We planted some trees on Sunday (i didn’t tell them why yet)in a garden he helped us make a few months ago. I plan to make it Grandpa’s garden.

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 10:14 am (4 years ago)

      Oh Trish, I am so sorry for your loss. Grandpa’s garden sounds like a wonderful idea. It will help keep his memory alive and will get the children involved also. Sending hugs your way.

      Reply
  5. Me
    July 30, 2013 at 11:08 am (4 years ago)

    So sorry to hear of your loss. K’s gransfather died 9 months after we moved to Australia and she was 7 but I don’t know that she really understood what we were saying because she hadn’t seen him since we had left so, to her, he was still over the sea.
    What a lovely photo and a great tribute to your FIL. We planted a proteai in memory of my FIL and it gives us the most beautiful blooms every year.
    Have the best day !
    Me

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 1:23 pm (4 years ago)

      That is so special and a lovely memory for you each year when it blooms. Thanks for sharing your story.

      Reply
  6. JodiGibson (@JFGibsonWriter)
    July 30, 2013 at 12:29 pm (4 years ago)

    I think the situation was handled perfectly. It is a difficult topic to broach with children, I remember when my 4 year old realised that one day I would die. Heartbreaking. I too love the sentiment that when we go we watch over our loved ones from the stars, it even helps me. x

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm (4 years ago)

      Gosh, that is so heartbreaking. I’m not looking forward to that. Eeeks. I love that sentiment too πŸ™‚ x

      Reply
  7. Amanda @ Cooker and a Looker
    July 30, 2013 at 1:31 pm (4 years ago)

    I had to tell the Big Sister that my brother, her beloved Uncle Davo died. I’m feeling teary just typing this. It was one of the worst moments of my life and it took me weeks before I was in the right space to be able to tell her without breaking down myself.
    I think keeping the lines of communication open is all that you can do Renee. I’m sorry for your loss. x

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 2:04 pm (4 years ago)

      Thanks Amanda. And I am sorry for yours also. That would have been an incredibly hard situation for you. Sending hugs right now x

      Reply
  8. Janet @ Redland City Living
    July 30, 2013 at 1:46 pm (4 years ago)

    It’s a hard one! When Miss 16 was about 3 or 4, we lost her “Pop” – great grandfather. She must have been deeply touched by this life event because she talked about him and wanted to pray for him every night when we said bedtime prayers for months afterwards …

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 2:05 pm (4 years ago)

      Oh so sweet. What a darling. That would have been nice for you also to hear her pray for him πŸ™‚

      Reply
  9. Josefa @always Josefa
    July 30, 2013 at 5:37 pm (4 years ago)

    This is so very hard and my deepest sympathies for you loss of Aunt May. Our boys have only lost pets and that was traumatic enough. We have explained the idea of heaven and they seem content with that. I hope that they are much, much older before they experience the loss of a loved one. Sounds like you have handled things so well with Curly Locks x

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 8:13 pm (4 years ago)

      Thank you πŸ™‚ Yes, I hope your boys are much older before they have to experience losing a loved one too x

      Reply
  10. Judy @Australian Inspirational Women
    July 30, 2013 at 8:23 pm (4 years ago)

    what a beautiful what to celebrate and remember one’s special life! Your daughter will always remember that. My daughter and son lost their great grandmother during easter just after her 6th birthday and I got her to draw a picture for her to put in her coffin on the day of her funeral. This was a great way to involve her in the process. And the day we find out her death we were away on holidays (3 days away) and we sat down with our two children and told them what happened in very loving and comforting way. They know what happened and are able to accept it.

    Reply
  11. mummywifeme
    mummywifeme
    July 30, 2013 at 8:52 pm (4 years ago)

    That is a very special way to involve her in the process, Judy. I’m glad your kids were able to take all the info onboard and accept it.

    Reply
  12. Kim @ spirited mama
    July 30, 2013 at 9:09 pm (4 years ago)

    My best friend was in an accident about four years ago. Poppet was around and heard some of the conversations. She understands our darling friend is in heaven. My sister’s dog also passed and again my daughter thinks he’s in doggy heaven – near my friend. Now she’s getting older she’s starting to question the real meaning of it but the original intro into it was fairly tame – i think being real but taking any fear out of the equation was the answer for us. It’s hard though – something none of us like to think about.

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 10:14 pm (4 years ago)

      Gosh, no that’s right, Kim. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  13. Lisa@RandomActsOfZen
    July 30, 2013 at 9:51 pm (4 years ago)

    I’m so sorry for your loss Renee. We lost my stepdad when Bell was 7 and it was hard because they were so close. I think you have to be honest, but in the most gentle way possible. You’ve handled this beautifully xx

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      July 30, 2013 at 10:15 pm (4 years ago)

      Thank you, Lisa. It was all Dave πŸ™‚

      Reply
  14. Emily @ Have a laugh on me
    July 31, 2013 at 1:09 pm (4 years ago)

    Firstly sorry for you loss hun. We haven’t had to deal with the death thing yet, touch wood, and not quite sure how we’d brooch it, sounds like you’ve said and done the right things. x

    Reply
  15. Emily
    August 2, 2013 at 12:37 pm (4 years ago)

    I’m dreading the time when this will happen to my daughter – hopefully not for a long long time! In the meantime, here is a picture book for children which might help: Old Pig. I read another one once, so beautiful, about a spider who wove beautiful webs for the family she lived with and her last web was a silk blanket for the new baby, but I can’t for the life of me remember it and Mr Google has been no help at all, sorry.

    Reply
  16. Emily
    August 2, 2013 at 12:38 pm (4 years ago)

    OMG – I found it – it’s Sophie’s Masterpiece – really lovely story if you can find it.

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      August 2, 2013 at 3:11 pm (4 years ago)

      Thank you so much, Emily, for going to the trouble to find this. I will definitely check it out πŸ™‚

      Reply
  17. Lisa Wood
    August 3, 2013 at 5:19 pm (4 years ago)

    Its hard to know what to say and what kids can understand, and to take in.
    But we have kept it simple…saying that they have go to live with the Stars, and that our family members are looking after us all – my boys seem to understand that, and they still talk about their family members who are up there looking out for them.
    Sorry that a close family member passed – hope she is now resting forever more xxx

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      August 3, 2013 at 7:23 pm (4 years ago)

      Thank you, Lisa. I like the idea that you tell them that the other family members are up there looking out for them. Thanks for sharing x

      Reply
  18. Emily
    August 4, 2013 at 10:19 pm (4 years ago)

    It is difficult. My father died when I was young, so my kids have known for a very long time that ‘Grandpa’ died when mummy was little and is looking over them. Some people thought I was crazy talking about death with them when they were so young, but it made it a little easier to explain when a great-grandparent passed away.

    Your approach was lovely.

    Reply
    • mummywifeme
      mummywifeme
      August 5, 2013 at 1:53 pm (4 years ago)

      Thank you, Emily. I think in these situations individuals really need to go with their gut and what seems right for them and their family. Sounds like your approach worked well for you too πŸ™‚

      Reply

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