Friday, February 26, 2010

Underestimating My Child's Ability to Mourn

Recently, a child that Logan sees on a regular basis passed away. It was completely unexpected. I am still in shock and my heart goes out to the child's parents. Everyone will miss him. I know death is a part of life and comes at different times for everyone but still this child was only six. It is so very tragic. I think about him and his parents everyday.

I have to admit that when I heard the news, one of the first thoughts that rushed to my mind was Logan. Is it normal to always think about yourself or your family first even in a situation like this? I am a bit sorry to say it but I do that all the time. I couldn't help wondering... How will Logan take it? Will he understand? Will this cause trouble for him? Will he be very sad or not even care? If he doesn't care, what will it say about him?

My husband and I both presumed that he wouldn't get it but still it took us days to tell him. I wasn't sure when was the right time but I knew that he would soon found out that his friend was missing and so I had to tell him.

What do you say to a six year old about death? Especially to a child who is already emotionally immature? Will he not "get it?" And when he does "get it" will I get to be there to comfort him? That is what upsets me the most. I want to be there if he experiences pain or sadness or fear. I guess we all do for any situation, not just mourning.

My husband actually suggested that I say that the child moved somewhere. I know that sounds really awful to some of you but this is old school Asian talk. When I think back to the old days when I was a little kid living in Korea, I am sure that my parents would have done just that. It's one of those things that people think would cause unnecessary hardship for the kids. All the adults would think the same and the only way the kids find out is if they overhear the adults and then they'll spread it among themselves.

I believe that you have to take these teaching opportunities as they come. No one will ever be ready for this kind of lesson. Additionally, I would want the news to come from me and not from a peer or another grown-up. This type of news always has the storyteller's beliefs attached to it and I want Logan to understand what his own family thinks about death even if he is not mature enough to fully comprehend all of our ideas. We have to start somewhere at sometime. To be honest, I have not solidified a lot of these ideas even for myself so this child's passing forced me to define it some more. What is really weird is that Kai and I never discuss it but he and I are more or less on the same page. I think.

Before I told Logan, I talked to him about death first. I thought it might be good to lay some groundwork before I gave him the harsh news. It just made sense to me. First make sure he knows a little about death and then break the news. Maybe it is a little like math and Logan understands math. As long we know how to add, we can add any number. If we know about death, maybe we can then understand it as it applies to someone that we know. I also did some research online to see what others do. There was no way I was going to "wing it." I definitely practiced some Parenting-by-Google here.

When I first told Logan, he didn't get it. He just couldn't believe that he wouldn't see his friend ever again. All of his comments were very interesting. For example, the day before I told him, I had spilled water on my Blackberry and followed a suggestion from a friend to put the Blackberry on some uncooked rice to help dry it. It had worked and Logan knew that and so in his innocent childlike way, he told me to put his friend on some uncooked rice when I told him that the doctors couldn't save him. I think he really meant it.

I didn't want to use the word "heaven." This was actually suggested in some advice I found online about talking to children about a death of a friend. They said "heaven" might be too difficult for children to understand. So instead I used a term that I used when his grandmother passed away when he was 2 years old. I had told him that she was "in the stars" looking down on us. This is also very abstract but at least it was something that we had discussed in the past. When I said his friend was there too, he said he will then be able to see his friend through a telescope. My heart sank. Does he not get it or does he not want to get it?

Then I just used the word "dead." I thought I needed to be more concrete. We don't use this word in the house much because like the words "shit" or "stupid," (two words I used to use very often) Logan gets excited about these words and he starts repeating them and gets himself overstimulated.

So the word "dead" didn't work that well and thus I started to tell him where I thought his friend was and what he was doing there. "He is happy and comfortable and playing a lot of Wii." This seemed to get through to him the most. Logan loves his Wii. I think it was easy for him to visualize his friend this way. Visualizing is the way to go for Logan. The next day we chatted again and this time it was starting to sink in. I could tell because he told me that his friend is a "wonderful bestest boy" as if to say his friend doesn't deserve to die. I was really proud of him. I think my husband and I underestimated our son a lot.

While I don't want my child to be in pain, I do want him to mourn his friend. And this sounds really selfish but it would have been so great if he mourned him the minute I told him because I want so much to be there for him when he starts to process it. However, Logan's psychologist said that even adults process death in stages and things hit them at different times. I guess she is right. I shouldn't hope for him to mourn right away. In some respects, it's just plain selfish of me.

It sounds horrible to say but I believe that he'll grow from this experience. I always tell him that he must be careful and not get hurt because "Mommy has only one Logan."

"If anything ever happened to you," I would warn, "then Mommy would never come out of bed because I will be too sad." Maybe he'll understand what kind of sadness I'm talking about now. I feel incredibly awful for the child's parents. What a horrible tragedy. I truly hope their pain will be eased as soon as possible. Through the passing of the joy of their life, I've been once again reminded that everyday I get to spend with my family is indeed truly a gift.


Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful post. Thank you! Your honesty and struggle with such a difficult topic is really helpful.

Michelle Chiafulio
an occasional reader
(living in JH with a 5yr old and 10 mo old)

Anonymous said...

It was sad and moving yet it made smile in places because of your baby's innocent and the way he like so many kids, process things: trying to make sense of things based on their existing knowledge. I also have to say that you sound like an excellent mommy and made me understand - a little more - why my mother worries so much about my little brother with autism.

Nicki said...

Hi! I'm a new reader and I just found your blog today! I love your stories about Logan! I think it is horrible when you have to tell any child that a friend has died. When I was about Logan's age one of my friends from school was killed in a car accident. I woke up that morning to my mom, sitting on my bed just watching me breathe. Then she told me my friend had died. Back then I was just confused... but now it kind of haunts me! I think you handled it very well with Logan though!