How do you handle it when a grandparent or loved one is dying and you have to decide whether or not to include your children in the experience? How do you know when it's too much? Or whether being exposed to the natural process of losing those we love is a life process that your child is ready to face? How do you deal with your own grief at the same time?
This is a question we've encountered this last week as Madeleine and Carter's great-grandfather on their dad's side is clearly reaching his last days. To make decision-making more complicated, the news came while I'm overseas working on a project. Thankfully, modern technology made a simple text conversation possible. Here's what we decided.
Take age into account. Madeleine, at eleven, is probably more capable of taking in a sad scene, than Carter who is still, at eight, developing language for more emotional events.
Consider the personality. Carter is a natural emotional sponge who takes in visual content deeply. Seeing his grandfather dying might have a different impact on him than Madeleine who handles difficult subjects more directly and expressively.
Look at the family. At this point in our family life, it might be a good bonding experience for Madeleine to spend time with her dad. They both know how to be compassionate and offer their presence in a similar comforting way. With me being away, it might not make sense for me to get on a plane and do another trip--especially when this experience might be too much for Carter.
We decided in the end, Madeleine should go and I should come home and stay with Carter. Since this is a loved one who the children do not know well, we felt it was okay to not have both kids go, since the loss will not be primarily theirs. Madeleine would have the experience of being with family at a difficult time as well as the opportunity to share an important moment with her dad. Carter and I will process in a more conversational way at home.
This is a very sad time, but I trust that Madeleine will be shaped and formed by seeing how deeply loved her great-grandfather is and how important she is to her dad who loves them both so much.
In our family we have several people that are well known for their inability to sit still for long periods of time. Those several people include adults that have been known to build major structures while on vacation because they cannot sit still. For those of us in the family who could sit still for about five days before the thought would even cross our minds to lift a finger, this industriousness is inspiring and exhausting.
Ethan is one of the industrious members of the family. I was reminded of this today when he sighed as he looked out the window.
K: What's wrong?
E: Nothing. I just see that it snowed a LOT.
K: That's good, right?
E: It IS good. It's just that I have a LOT of work to do now.
K: You do?
E: Has anyone seen my shovel?
K: What are you going to do?
E: Mom. Mom. I have a lot of shoveling to do today. Look at all that snow that came in the middle of the night.
K: Um, okay.
E: Who has seen the shovel? Dad?
D: (coming down the stairs) I don't know. I guess it's on the other porch. Why do you need it?
E: I have to shovel the walk. And maybe the driveway. And I have to clean off the cars.
D: (looking at me) Um, okay.
He then proceeded to put three layers of clothes on by himself, found his gloves and put his hat on. Out the door he walked.
K: Did that just happen?
D: I think so. How funny is he?
I looked out the window two minutes later to see how his progress was going. He is almost five, not fifteen. I breathed a sigh of relief at he made a path through the front flower bed instead of the front walk. He saw me and threw a shovel full of snow at the window. His baby brother wandered over to the window and began heckling him. More snow slammed against the window. We laughed and ducked.
It wasn't long before he was conducting experiments to determine which sled provided the fastest ride down the hill of the driveway without hitting either of the cars. He appeared to have an elaborate scoring system. There were sleds, disks and a toboggan. Two minutes later he was shoveling a path again but it appeared to be a trail to nowhere.
His intent might have been to be the grownup in the family and get his "work done." But it was nice to see the nearly five-year-old took over. No use growing up too fast.