This is one of the few times that it's been clear to me that my mother-in-law is not just my husband's mother, but his mummy. She's the one who taught him to love, who was there for him when he was upset, who helped him become the man he is today. I don't often give her the credit she deserves, although I often remind myself that I'm lucky to have married into an emotionally stable family. My husband has a calm, soothing temperament; I imagine it's part nature, part nurture, part choice.
So how do we tell Lydia that her grandmother is dying? For me, death and suffering in all of its forms is an inevitable part of life. I can pinpoint painful times in my life and how it has shaped who I am today. Will this be something Lydia remembers when she grows up? How will it affect her? At this age, it's not really the death that has an impact, but how we deal with it and talk about it.
Here are some tips I've found which will help me and Gary talk to Lydia:
- Be truthful
- Stay calm and supportive to encourage any questions or emotions she might have
- Keep it brief and simple
- Avoid assumptions about how she might feel
- Answer questions - be honest if we don't know the answer
- Avoid saying things like, 'She went to sleep for a long time', 'She was sick and went to heaven', 'Only old people die'
- Address worries about separation and loss by reassuring her that we intend to be around for a long time to look after her, and there are others who will look after her if we do die
- Don't be surprised or confront her if she has an unemotional response or if she doesn't quite grasp the concept of death
If you have been through this, or remember dealing with death as a young child, let me know. I'm interested in hearing your experiences.
Helpful resources on how to talk to a three-year old about death: