Whenever tragic and devastating news happens in our world I try my best to shelter my three young children from it. I am the first one to tell my husband, family members and friends when conversations turn to these events to be careful what they are saying as "little ears are listening."
My eldest is only six but I know it's only in due time when I will have to stop filtering the news and expose him to the never-ending doom and gloom that seems to dominate today's modern world. One day I might have to explain to him why the school is flying its flag at half mast if heaven forbid another terrorist attack happens; or why the television is flashing a photo of a young girl to warn us of yet another missing child; or spend hours trying to put his mind at ease that the possibility of us witnessing a war here in Canada is thankfully unlikely.
I am confident that my decision to shelter my three young children from these stories is the right one, for now. The truth is in their own little world they have their own little problems that affect them. I believe it's these issues that they can personally connect to that will help them develop resilience, empathy and coping skills.
One of these events took place this summer when my father, their grandfather, passed away. My father resided in the UK and when I got the phone call that his condition was worsening I decided to take my six-year-old son with me. I received a few voices of concern that being at a hospital every day was not the best place for a child nor was witnessing my father's mental state as he was going through delirium. These thoughts had also crossed my mind but not for long. I knew that going to visit his grandfather for what might be the last time was going to teach him several life lessons that he would never learn by watching the 6 o'clock news.
My go to self-help book of late Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg echoes these sentiments. The New York Times best-selling author found that among other things, talking openly to her children about their late father and showing them her true emotions was in fact comforting to them.
I kept this in mind and the advice I got from my best friend who lost her husband last year and had to do what no parent can ever imagine doing, telling her seven-year-old daughter that her father had just died. Many of us wondered how one could possibly have that conversation and whether she would attempt to "sugar coat" the circumstances of his death to protect her daughter. After seeking professional advice from grief counsellors, she was confident that telling her daughter the truth was the only way to move forward. Her daughter needed to know that she could trust her mother because her faith in almost everything else was being jeopardized.
Thus, my son and I made the journey over. Upon reflection it was a bonding experience like no other. Yes, he watched his grandfather mentally and physically deteriorate in front of his eyes and saw how saddened and devastated his mother was to witness this; but he also saw and felt the undying love someone can have for another human being. He heard his mother strongly advocate for her father's rights and well-being and fervently challenge the medical decisions that were being made. He got to listen to his mother reminisce about her childhood as she told story after story in hopes that her familiar voice and memories would ease his grandfather's anxiety. He came to realize the power of prayer and the importance of family.
In his little world, at this moment in time, his grandfather dying was teaching him so much about life and its ups and downs.
We didn't spend all our time in the hospital; during our afternoon breaks we would walk the streets of Glasgow like his grandfather had done when he was a boy and savour little moments here and there trying to make the most out of a bad situation and our time together (a time without his two young sisters in tow). My father passed away weeks after my son left but he and his two younger sisters returned for the funeral.
During the funeral I kept my two young girls on either side of me assuming they would need their mother's comfort the most. Ten minutes in I heard some stifled sobs and glanced down the pew only to see my son crying. It was he who needed me more so than the others because he had personally witnessed this tragic event and had made a connection to it. In his little world, at this moment in time, his grandfather dying was teaching him so much about life and its ups and downs. So, I consoled him like only a mother could and together we cried in united grief.
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