Recently, a close friend’s 23-month-old daughter died unexpectedly. This is a friend that my children played with regularly…nearly every week. I knew that my 21-month-old would not be able to understand that our friend was gone but that my four-year-old would.
When I got the news by phone, I completely broke down and was unable to field my daughter’s questions about why I was so sad. When my husband came home from work that day, we told her that her friend had gone to heaven and would not come back and that we were very, very sad. We also told her the circumstances of her friend’s death because she asked, and a HUGE part of me wishes we had not given her this much information. My recent research into ways to help both of us actually indicates that telling her the circumstances of her friend’s death was the right thing to do. I will tell you, though, that having done this has opened up a line of communication that I am doing a terrible job of handling. My daughter will make statements to the effect of having also endured the injury that took her friend’s life, but assure us that SHE is okay. I understand that a good bit of her reason for doing this is processing her own fears and believing in her own survival, but I find myself having little-to-no patience for this line of discussion. My immature self wants her to understand exactly how tragic and frightening the death of my friend’s child is to me and to consider that when speaking to me of it. Of course she is not capable of this; she is FOUR. I have to remind myself of this. Repeatedly.
As always, Dr. Google provides a wealth of information. I have found several articles that describe how the grieving process changes with a child’s stage in life and how important it is to not shelter children from the facts…to allow them to have the information so that they can process it in their own ways. I am comforted knowing that we did the right thing by giving our daughter all of the information and that the stages of grief she is going through are normal. I was beginning to wonder if my daughter had no sense of compassion because of the questions she asks me : “Are _____’s parents still sad that she died?”; “Are you still sad that ______ died?”; “I want so-and-so to go to heaven! I don’t want them to be here anymore!”. I have had soooo much trouble with these questions and statements, and truthfully, I have not answered them in my most gentle and kind mom voice. I am working on it.
I, like most adults my age, have experienced my share of death. Thus far in my life, I have had only to deal with the deaths of older family members, which is plenty hard enough. I have never had to contemplate the death of a child let alone the death of one of my friend’s children. In the interest of helping anyone who might be going through this, here are some of the resources that are making this process a little easier for me and my daughter: