Our son-in-law’s mother died last week after a prolonged illness, saddening the whole family and her many friends. Our grandkids understand that they will never see her again, but our six-year-old granddaughter is really struggling with it. Her reaction reminds me of my son’s response at the same age to the death of my mother.
Joel suddenly began to think he’d broken a bone if he merely bumped his arm or leg. He concocted slings and crutches and seemed very preoccupied with his body’s intactness. When he carried these concerns into his elementary school his first day back, we decided to confront it. Joel must think he is going to die, and sooner, not later.
“When Nonnie died,” I began, “it made me really face that I was going to die someday, too.”
Six-year-old Joel burst into tears. “And you’re going to die before me, Mommy.”
Aha. He wasn’t fussing about his own death, but my husband’s and mine.
“Oh, honey,” I said. “I’m not going to die till you’re 35.”
And like magic, his symptoms disappeared.
Our granddaughter seems shaken up, too, by her first experience with death. She’s asking lots of questions, pointing to photos of my parents and my husband’s parents. “Do you miss them, Nini?”
But she’s also as cranky and fearful as she is curious.
And I find myself wondering if I’m so different from these six-year-olds as this senior person confronting life’s major challenges, our big mysteries.