Talking About His Daddy’s Death
Preparing my son for the loss of my husband
I’ve been preparing my four-year-old son for his daddy to die for months.
The subtle work is done: My librarian mom stocked Isaac’s bookshelves with books about feelings, death, and saying goodbye about a year ago. The one good thing about terminal cancer is that you have time to prepare.
But sometime this summer I realized Isaac was spending too much time watching YouTube videos of dads playing with their kids. Isaac would watch these shows on our iPad while his own dad napped through the afternoon. I realized I had to explain why Brock wasn’t playing with Isaac the way other dads played with their kids—or even spending as much time with Isaac as I did, even though all three of us were home.
I started by explaining to Isaac that his dad was sick. Not the normal kind of sick that Isaac or I got sometimes—a different kind of sick. It was the kind of sick where, although some days his dad might feel better, Brock would never get better.
And, eventually, his daddy would die.
Then of course Isaac asked if he would die, and if I would die, and I said yes, everyone dies eventually, but Isaac and I wouldn’t die for a very long time, until we were very old (I hope).
It’s important for children to be part of the dying process… for their own grief and so that adults can model grieving behavior.
Keep in mind, Isaac was three when we were having these conversations, so I would say something and then he’d get distracted by a Hot Wheels car. And then a week later, he’d ask about the dying part and I’d answer and then he’d want to play in his sandbox.
My research into kids and grief said there are four key questions/messages that need to be dealt with, sometimes over and over again:
- “Did I cause Dad to get sick and die?”
- “Can I catch it?”
- “Can I cure it?” (Isaac loved to play doctor and give his dad medicine.)
- “Who will take care of me when Dad dies?” (I tell him every day that it’s Mom and Isaac, together forever.)