Broaching the subject of death is something that we hesitate about doing, yet is an inescapable part of life. I was not expecting to do it this summer. When Granny was taken into hospital unexpectedly and all they could do was to keep her comfortable, we realised that our children were going to lose a grandparent and that we needed to talk about it.
We agonised over how much to tell them: explaining something like this to our children depends very much on our own experiences, our own beliefs and our own feelings. I was amazed by what they already knew, their misconceptions, their feelings and their worries. Our big girls had it worked out from our body language already.
Indecision over whether to go to the hospital or not, was put into perspective by a close friend sharing wanting her granny to be surrounded by love and nurture in her last days. Being honest with the children might mean death was not so scary.
My husband explained to the children that granny was very ill and that the doctors could not make her better. He told them that granny wanted to see them, what it was she loved about them and how she was coping in those last few days. The children made the decision to go and visit her. They took homemade pictures, a specially chosen icon from the dresser and they sat with her. Our little fella played cars in the corridor with his biggest uncle – so many uncles and an aunt all in one day! It was a family gathered for all the right reasons: love, support, respect and sharing what was to come.
My husband kept us all up to date with how everyone was doing, the memories being shared, the plans being made. Granny’s children each taking it in turns to stay the night so that when the moment came, she would not be on her own.
Our children have all dealt with things in very different ways. The little fella sidles up to me every now and then, saying ‘It is really sad that Granny died’. His repetition tells me that he is trying to make sense of it all in his own way. The two younger girls keep asking after close school friends much more than they would do ordinarily during school holidays, somebody who makes them feel safe and supported. Our eldest has begun to question the bigger picture, the theological stuff. Each one working through at their own developmental stage. Sometimes, we just have not known the answers and it has been ok to be honest about that too.
Our older girls wanted to serve at the funeral mass. I am in complete awe of their graceful poise. Our youngest two, along with much loved cousins, carried special items.
We decided that the children would not go to the crematorium – wanting their last memories and moments with Granny to be in a familiar place, with familiar people and familiar rituals.
The next morning, the painted lady butterflies a friend had asked us to look after emerged. We gathered up bunches of Granny’s beautiful white roses from the day before, tied with coloured raffia and delivered them to various very special people to say thank you. Grandad headed home with the children’s biggest uncle for a few days in Cornwall, sending special treasures from Granny for each of the children before he went – a little bracelet, a simple stone on a chain and a pretty watch. Best of all, a beaker with a swirly straw for our little fella.
Memories don’t have to be sad ones.