News from the Nest: Children introduced to the circle of life
My husband's grandmother recently passed away. She was 94 years old and lived a beautiful life. My son was her first great grandchild and unfortunately probably her only great grandchild who is old enough to remember her.
On the day we received a phone call from my father-in-law saying his mother wasn't doing well and we should hurry to see her, we packed up our bags and were off to the small Minnesota town where she lived. Of course, our children had questions as to where we were going, so my husband told them great grandma wasn't feeling good and we needed to see her fast. We also informed our children we were staying at a hotel with a swimming pool, but seeing great grandma was the first and most important priority.
My grandma passed away when my son was two-years old; not really old enough to understand what was going on. He did attend the funeral but we did not see her in the hospital prior to her death. Now, we were about to bring our almost six-year old son into a hospital to see his great grandma, none of us knowing what we are walking in to. My husband and I agreed we wouldn't force him to give her any hugs or touch her, but we wouldn't sugar coat things either.
As we walked into the room I could see concern on his face. He didn't seem scared, just concerned for his great grandma, lying in a hospital bed with tubes around her and an oxygen mask over her face. I wanted to help him and asked him to say a prayer with me for great grandma. He folded his hands and bowed his head. I simply asked God to watch over great grandma and take her to heaven with him so she was no longer in pain. I don't know if the prayer helped comfort my son or not, but I can tell you it helped comfort me. As my husband stayed by his grandma's side my son even sat on his lap for a few minutes and rubbed her hand.
I was so proud of my children, not only their strength and concern, but also their patience. We had brought a backpack with coloring books and toys for them to play with and they sat nicely just outside the hospital room door. Never once did they ask when it was time to go swimming.
The 24 hours following her passing were a busy whirlwind of family gatherings and swimming, so many ups and downs. The next evening I wanted to talk to my son to make sure he was okay with what he saw and experienced. I asked him if he had any questions about great grandma dying. He said he didn't have any questions but thought he should draw a picture for her. I told him that was a great idea and I would help him when he got home from preschool the next day.
When I picked him up the next day I asked his teacher how his day had been and she told me that he had talked about his great grandma dying a little, but was in good spirits. She also mentioned he had been drawing angels all day. My son then ran up to me with his drawing which was full of crosses and three figures. He pointed to one figure he said was God, another which was an angel and the third was Jesus. He said he made it for great grandma. Later that night when he showed my husband and his dad they both held back tears as they squeezed the little boy.
For the funeral I put his drawing in a frame and it was placed in the casket with his great grandma. Many people may disagree, thinking it was wrong of my husband and me to let our child see his great grandma during her last hours and minutes of life. They would say children shouldn't be exposed to death in such a way. Honestly, I wasn't sure at first either. However, my son has handled everything beautifully and I believe it has been a great experience for him. He may have been introduced to death for the first time, but he was also introduced to life, love and grieving.