Thursday, June 9, 2011

... school's in ...

or, Of Dogs and Dying in Our Family

K and Lucy, Sept. 2007

Having children is a continual education. Which is the way I'd want it. When I imagine reaching a point where I have no interest in learning, it seems close to death. I hope my girls keep teaching me things. Which is a less-than-smooth introduction to today's topic: Death.

Death is one of those biggie topics.

It's hard for adults to handle, so it's no surprise that it would be difficult for children. Over the last 24 hours it's been interesting to help the girls try to take in the fact that Lucy is gone.

My biggest problem is not knowing what the girls are capable of comprehending, what they can take in and make (some sort of) sense of, and what just flows on past. Which in turn makes it a challenge to be understanding/supportive.

I'm fairly certain that Lucy's dying is impacting K. She was a mess yesterday, though not in any way that was easy to directly link to Lucy not being around. M and I suspect she's processing the challenging fact that part of her (seemingly unchanging) world has now permanently shifted. Kids imagine that things as they are, are things as they've always been. 3 years seems like forever, and their limited experience tells them that Mommy and Daddy have always lived right here in this house, and have always been married.... Even with the details of parents as children themselves, there's this sense that the world is fixed.

When M asked K how she was feeling, she said that every time she sees someone with a dog she gets embarrassed. M asked if she really meant embarrassed, and K wanted to know what embarrassed meant. When M included the notion that it can mean feeling shy about something, K latched onto that, saying "Well, I'm shy, so that works." I'm thinking she meant something slightly different.

L, on the other hand, seems to be experimenting with this notion of death, trying it on, turning it over to see what it looks like, but in a way that suggests it hasn't really sunk in. And she's only 3, after all, so that's probably as it should be. Yesterday morning when we told the girls that Lucy had died the night before, they had a few questions, and then when we were distributing vitamins, L said "This is my medicine. Pretend this is my medicine and I need to take it so I don't die." Ok.

K had lots of questions yesterday afternoon, questions about what Lucy looked like, what happened to her afterward, where her body went, etc. This is where my lack of understanding of child psychology probably does her a disservice. I tend to answer factually, without going into too much detail. Is this what she wants/needs? Is it appropriate? I don't know. But luckily children are pretty resilient. Hopefully I won't screw them up too much!

May, 2005.

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