These are the words I never thought I’d hear my 4 year-old son say to a complete stranger. I thought my parents would be here to see their grandchildren get married just like mine did. Boy was I wrong ...
Two years ago I lost my dad unexpectedly and at the time my boys were four and just shy of two. I was in shock, how was it that they would no longer have their papa in their life to make them laugh, tell them stories, take them on beach trips and most of all be here to love on them. Would they remember him as they got older? My boys were so little and did not have a lot of time here on Earth with him. My heart broke not just for myself and the loss I felt, but for my sweet baby boys and the loss they may not even realize. I made a promise to myself that I would make sure to keep my dad alive for them with his stories and pictures , but everything was too fresh when he passed so I decided to not talk about it right away with them as I needed time to process everything myself.
It was a normal busy, crazy, errand filled day when my four year-old son out of nowhere decided to tell a stranger in Costco that his papa was "dead and in Heaven." I stood there in shock and taken back, my eyes filled with tears, and I was at a loss for words. At that moment in time I knew he realized his papa gone, and a very tough conversation was ahead of me.
No one prepares you to explain to a child why and how their papa has passed away, where he is right now, and why they cannot go to Heaven to visit him just for the day.
These are the questions my sweet four-year-old asked me while we laid in his bed after reading that night. Of course, because of his age I could not explain everything in detail and tried to put the most positive spin on our new life without our papa. I don’t have all the answers as this experience will be different for each and every family, but for my children I needed them to know their papa loved them, he’s watching over them, and it is okay to cry and ask questions.
I made sure to use simple words and not to get into detail with them. I wanted them to know that I was there to listen and answer any questions they might have. I told them what the next steps were for our celebration of life party, and finished by letting them know they can talk to papa anytime in their prayers. I have kept my promise to myself and we talk about our papa in Heaven (which is what they both call him now) as much as possible. We still keep our annual Gulf Shores beach trips alive, we look at old photos, and tell his stories. Some of which are told to me from their memories and that warms my heart.
The grieving process is hard and complex.
But it is necessary for me to be the best mom I can be. It is necessary for my children to express their feelings and ask questions. It is needed for their healing too. I did not think they would need to go through a grieving process as they were so little. I figured if I sheltered them from all information they would be okay and maybe they would not even notice. WRONG again, what a naïve and silly thought.
If I can tell you one thing I’ve learned from this terrible experience, it is that grief is a process that happens over time so be sure to continue to have conversations with your children to see how they are feeling as time passes. Your children are smart, they pick up on everything, and they too need to grieve.
My sweet boys have shown me what an impact their papa had on their lives in just a short amount of time. They may have been young, but they remember and hold on to things greater than themselves. They are resilient and strong. It is okay to talk about it, it is okay to keep memories alive, and it’s okay to tell a stranger their papa is in Heaven.