People don't often understand that although we are over 2 years into our "new" life, death is a common subject on my children's minds. Not in a morbid and dark way, but more in a way that signifies that my kids have experienced something traumatic that their brains are trying to make sense of still. Time does not make the thoughts fade, at least not yet. Often it is only when the three of us are alone that my kids will mention death or feel comfortable enough to ask a question or make comments about death.
When Alyssa plays with her ponies, or polly pockets or stuffies etc, if you listen to her made-up stories, one of them usually dies, or has died. The rest of the ponies, polly pockets or stuffies are dealing with it sadly but matter-of-factly. Sometimes it's not even sad. It's just a fact.
I never interrupt her, and trust me some of the things she says would/could be considered crude or violent under "normal" circumstances. I know whatever is going through her mind is important for her to act out. I listen and try to pick up clues about what is going on in her head, and I might ask her a question later. I also deal with my own pain to hear my daughter talk about such things.
The conversation comes up every few months about what would happen if I were to die. They know logistically what would happen and can tell you exactly how they would be taken care of. But still there is the looming question of what it would be like to not have me. Obviously my kids know I cannot tell them with certainty that I am not going to die. I just tell them that no one knows when anyone will die, but that most people die when they are old and I expect to live a long time. We talk about this stuff at dinner. If you were a fly on the wall you might be surprised by the tone of these conversations. They are not sad per se, they are factual, informational. We talk about death like a lot of people talk about their day at work or school. These conversations were hard at first, years ago. I remember having to take long pauses to hold my composure to finish my sentences without crying. But now it's all different. My kids know the answers to their questions, yet they still feel the need to have the conversations again and again.
We talk about other people dying. They talk about the actual death in a factual way, but they get upset to think of how others would react to the death.
We talk about the accident. They often say little snippets here and there about parts of the accident that are on their minds. We may be acting silly or normal and for whatever reason a word comes up....that jogs their memory about their father...and they throw out some random thought and just as quickly move on to another subject. For example.....think..... (out of Alyssa's mouth) "My finger hurts......" followed by "daddy didn't have any pain when he died" followed by "I'm going to sit with Riley on the bus tomorrow!" A random reference to Joe, stuck in between two topics which are completely unrelated. No mention of him before or after, just a comment floating in her head that needed to come out.
They have many, many questions about heaven and where their father is now. Almost all of them I answer with "I don't know for sure because I have never been to heaven, but I think....." Recently Alyssa asked me if, when Jack goes to heaven, will he still be our dog when we get there or will someone "steal" him? Heaven is a mix of confused emotions for kids and adults. "If daddy is happy and at peace and there is no sadness in heaven, then does that mean he doesn't miss us?" I could write a long list of difficult questions we ponder. I don't want to.
My kids regularly deal with situations at school or with their friends in which they are reminded of and forced to comment on their father's death. "Does your dad like hockey"...."Yes...but....my dad died"; "Your dad's name is Joe?"...."Yes, but.....he died"; "Draw a picture of your family"...."Hmmm should I include daddy?" on and on and on and on.
Last week my kids got little video email messages from Santa Claus. They thought they were pretty cool....Santa spoke to them by name, said specifically what they wanted for Christmas, and even had a picture of them in his "Nice" book. Both were pretty mystified by the whole thing. I watched Luke as he looked at the computer screen with all the wonder and excitement of Christmas in his face. He was watching Santa talk to him. Then suddenly the light in his face dimmed and he turned to me. "Is Santa going to die"?
Yes, my friends, we still live it. Even with the happiest moments, over two years later, every piece of happiness comes with a twinge of fear that it can be lost in an instant.
I am raising two children who think about and face some very challenging life questions and realities at the ages of 5 and 8, and they've been doing it for over two years. I don't know if their hardest days coping with their loss are ahead of them or behind them. Like me, they have learned how to maneuver the day-to-day changes, but the thoughts are never far away of what is missing. The most heart-wrenching part for me in terms of my kids is to know that they possess knowledge that stole away the innocence that (**I thought**) is supposed to be part of being a kid. Life can be hard, cruel and difficult, and they learned it way too early.
I write these things knowing that the majority of the kids in the world do not have lives as great as Luke and Alyssa. They do not face issues that millions of kids face....addiction, abuse, hunger, extreme poverty, poor health, absense of a parent by their own choice, on and on. It may seem like I babble on so about what my kids don't have and the hardships they face on this blog, but this is not so in real life. I am conscious every day of all that they have, and truly thankful and grateful for it. They are aware to the degree that they can be at their ages that they are very lucky kids in most areas of life. Though they have had to face a huge loss, they have the love and devotion of so many people around them. They live in a comfortable house, eat healthy meals every day, sleep in warm beds and get to go to school. They have a mother who loves them completely and unconditionally.
People tell me that Luke and Alyssa will be stronger individuals because of what they have been through. Though I don't dispute what they say, I don't understand it. For some reason I can't wrap my mind around that idea. What I do believe and hope for however, is that my children appreciate more because of what they have been through. I hope as adults they appreciate genuine kindness and love and time and success and never take any of those things for granted. If they can do that, then death has offered them one avenue of experiencing life more richly. Though it comes at a high price, they have the opportunity to live in a more fulfilling way because of it..