Death: Walking my kids through the reality of death for the first time.

Heaven

Death.
Even the title seems shocking.

The reality of death for each of us is inevitable. Yet when someone we know, that we love, that we have walked through life with, is dying, death just smacks us in the face, wells tears in our eyes, and tugs at our hearts.  It just seems to rip through to our souls…that quickly. Everything else is torn down, and there is death, right there.

The very real idea that death will come, lingers in our minds.

I remember when my great-grandmother died at age 96. I remember her funeral, and just wondering why I was so sad. She lived an amazing life. She lived a long life and had seen her husband and most of her friends pass on to heaven. By all rights, she lived well and died well. But, the loss…the death…even in knowing she was going home to be with her husband, and the Lord- which was a very wonderful thing- despite this- her death was just sad.

At the time, I reflected and pondered death & why I was sad–even knowing she was truly in a better place, restored and with loved ones and Jesus. After some soul- searching and reading, I grasped in a very real way, that death was not God’s original plan for His people. His original plan was that we would live forever in the Garden of Eden and dwell in His presence. He also gave us freedom to choose to love and obey Him.  Temptation gave way to a decision to veer from God’s best: Sin entered the world. Sin was the beginning of death. Death is foreign to what we were created to experience. Therefore, death is hard, sad, leads us to grieve and is painful.

I have pondered these things.

But now, I am called to walk through death with my sweet children. 14, 12 and 10 and they are all learning about the reality of death.  They are confronted with this reality and it has been tearful and hard, heartbreaking and beautiful all at the same time.

Someone we all love very much is not doing well. She is a very important member of our family, and we don’t know how much longer she may have with us. She is 92. She has lived an incredibly rich and full life…full of world travel, and wonderful stories.  She also suffered the loss of her own parents, her beloved husband and numerous friends, but her life was full of a loving family, two wonderful daughters who cared for her,  and many memories and incredible experiences.  She has been the cornerstone of our family since before my kids were born, and a true Matriarch in every sense. And since my children have been in her life (mine and her other great-grandchildren), she has embraced them.  Some would say she has softened because of them, and age, and both my children and Nana have made each others lives richer – that new perspective that great-grandchildren give. She has been an cornerstone to my life and my husbands, too. But from my own babies’ eyes, she is the first person they have known well and loved deeply, who is dying.

She recently ended up in the hospital for a long stay.

We weren’t sure how long…and finally were told that no one was sure how long she would have. So we told the kids… gently.

Later that night, I went to kiss the eldest goodnight, and found her sobbing in bed. Sad.  At a loss. Afraid she would never see her Nana, again.  Also covered in regret for not visiting her more often.  Oh, break my heart. I held her, reassured her and told her we would go and see her the very next day.  Nothing else mattered, we would be visiting the hospital.

And we went to visit her. Not knowing how she would be, we had to prepare the kids…for a probable very short visit, and to tell her things they wanted her to know.  Right after school, I talked to each, told them the plan. Later, I happened upon the quiet oldest.  She had decided to write a long letter to our sweet Nana.  She wanted to tell her how much she loved her, to tell her all of the hopes she had. She wished Nana could be at her wedding one day, and wished she could see the children Ry eventually dreams to adopt.  She told her about all of the things she loves about Nana, her stories, her jokes, her elegant fashion sense and furniture, her hairstyle she has had since everyone can remember.  My daughter shared her regrets of not spending more time, and her hope that Nana would soon be better.  It is all a part of her process of coping, and loving  and considering and grieving.  Sweet words written out of vulnerable love.

We had a wonderful and very short visit. Nana was able to talk with us, and roused energy to wake up and acknowledge us. We were able to kiss and hug her and tell her how much we love her.  We left lilacs by her bedside.

And then – the hospital hallway.  Kids walking out in tears, so sad, not knowing what to do or say.  Glancing at my husband, who was tearing and trying his best to hold it together.  And as a parent, when you look in their eyes…when you see them cry–it’s just so hard to hold it together.  Middle one trying to be brave. Youngest one trying to put it all together in a way that makes sense. Oldest one, regretting and grasping the reality of death and also feeling better that she left a letter and was able to express how much she loves, admires and adores her great grandmother.

As a parent, how are we to walk through this with them?  Are we to be brave? We have our own grief, our own questions.  What face do we put on? Do we put on the “It will be okay.” face (When you know they are hurting)?  Or the “I am sad, too” face (that can surely begin an emotional downpour of tears)?  Do we say nothing, because we have nothing to say, or don’t know what to say?

We all deal differently.

So, the car ride progressed.  Tears. Sadness. Not sure what to do.  Silence.

…and then out of air we hear “Can you two please pray for Nana at youth group?” from the youngest.

Out of the heart of sadness, a sweet request to pray…

Well, we all agreed, that now was the time to pray.  And it wasn’t the adults who started, it was the kids who jumped into prayer.   They each prayed, pleading with the Lord. For understanding, for peace and comfort, for things to be without pain and easy.  Then their dad prayed, for the good things…like that she would see her husband that she has missed and that she be brought into the arms of her Maker.  We prayed. Open. Honest. From the heart– from the heart that hurts, prayers. Raw feelings.

And prayer is good. It soothes the soul. It puts our questions to the One who knows. It gives us an eternal perspective.  We all felt better.

Tonight, nearly a week later, we visited Nana again.  It was hard. She is declining.

Do we shelter our kids from the decline, or do we face it head on and let them walk through this process and grow up a little? Do we let them remember her stronger? Or do we keep them from seeing the literal decline, but then allow their minds to wander deeper into the idea of what death looks like? We did not want regret.  We chose to let them visit and be a part of the process. We each spoke with her, and she could hear us, but she is resting. She was tired and clearly worn.  She assured us that she knew we were there with gentle grip of the hand, an alertness to open her eyes a little, and a slight sound. She knew we were there.

It was HARD.

But we told the kids…we have a choice. We can go and be there and be a voice of love and comfort…or we can do the easier thing and not go.  We all agreed it was better to go.   We want her to know she is loved as she slips from this world to the wonderful eternity waiting for her.

I don’t know how things will go. We never do.  Tonight, I am just praying that this life lesson will be one that they remember- for good. I pray that they will learn how to wrestle with the hard questions of life.  I pray they will grow stronger. Stronger as people, stronger in their faith.  I pray that she will go peacefully, when it is her time.  In the meantime, I want to love well.  No regrets. I am thankful for the lessons we are all learning. The reminder that time on earth isn’t a given. It is a gift and we need to make the most of every moment.

________________________________________________

UPDATE:  I wrote this Friday night when we last told Nana we loved her.  The next morning she peacefully passed from this world to Heaven, an eternity of love, light and happiness.  We will never forget Nana.  The lessons she has taught us are wonderful (live well), practical (manners, etiquette and social graces), and long lasting (family is the best, and important and special).  She will be greatly missed.

Nana's Family

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