Death was a taboo subject in my home growing up. My father was afraid of death. His father passed away when he was 25 and I suppose he never fully recovered.
My father was so afraid to die he never discussed an end of life plan with my mother. As she sat next to him in hospice, she knew only a few key details:
1. He wanted to be cremated.
2. She should move to Florida, buy a Cadillac, and enjoy the rest of her life… single!
My father’s fear became my own. Every time I thought about death I would get nauseated, panic and change the subject.
Of course, when my son died, all of that changed. Losing Lennon taught me to know, with certainty that he was in a better place. My son was waiting for me to join him one day.
There is a catch though: how do I inform my living children of their brother’s death without causing them discomfort or fear?
How do I talk to them when I was only just learning to accept death myself?
Here is a short story of how I tried, failed and tried again to learn how to talk to my children about their sweet brother who passed away.
“Lennon isn’t swimming in your belly any more, what are we going to do?”
That was the end result of my first conversation with my eldest child (who was three at the time) discussing his brother’s passing.
Both of my boys were too young to comprehend what death meant when their brother died. They didn’t know what heaven was. They didn’t know what forever meant.
I didn’t either, come to think of it. It’s a slow, daunting process coming to grips with
I thought I was doing my children a favor by being open and honest. I knew it would hurt to hear the truth but I never wanted to pretend with my kids. Knowing being honest would be difficult but it is our reality, our families story.
This is our truth, Lennon is an indelible part of our family and to wait for our children to be age appropriate felt dishonest and unfair.
Every once in a while Gavin, my oldest will look at me and say the most heartbreaking things.
“God is a bad guy for taking my brother!”
“I don’t want to be died like Lennon but can we visit him in heaven?”
I addressed his worries calmly, I held his face in my hands and gazed into his perfect blue eyes and worked through each question or fear the best way I knew how.
His curiosity hurt me only once. He assumed babies just die, so when I became pregnant with my “rainbow” he said,
“So, this baby is going to heaven too, right? This baby will go and be with Lennon?”
I was scared of that very thing, so my response was sharp.
“Of course he won’t die! “
“Is this baby sick?”
“No, this baby is healthy and well and he will be here soon.”
It scared me to say these words to my son, after all, I had no clue if he would actually hold this boy. I knew there may be a chance I would have to sit down and tell my boys once more that their brother had passed away, that he had gone to heaven to be with his brother.
I chose to be positive, fake it ’till you make it.
A Gavin matured, I thought the process might become easier for him. He gained an awareness of loss, of the reality that his little brother would never be with him physically, of the fact that sometimes bad things happen so we have to do our best to live an awesome life.
With more awareness came
Gavin will often come to me after a few minutes or hours of sleep crying. He will call out for Lennon and say that he can’t stop his head from thinking of him.
He will say, “My heart is broken and it makes tears come out of my eyes. I miss my brother Lennon. I want to say goodbye just one more time!”
It breaks my heart to know that my honesty is what caused him discomfort. The grief of loss imposed on him so young. However, when Gavin is well rested, he will ask curious questions:
“Where is Lennon’s body? How did he fit in that box? Lennon is an angel, right?”
His curiosity is abounding, sometimes the questions or remarks throw me off.
Sometimes, I laugh at his honesty, his naivete, his willingness to love someone he never got to meet. I’m learning, slowly, that whether you talk about death or completely ignore it, death is a scary thing for kids.
Maneuvering the emotional hurdles of talking to your kids while simultaneously sifting through your own emotions is nearly impossible. Taking time to figure out how you want your living children to learn the honest truth of life and death is a personal experience.
My recommendation: talk to your kids, keep them involved. You both can grieve together, learning along the way what works and what doesn’t.
Finding the right words is difficult, to say the least, but if you mind their cues and comfort them throughout, they will grow in understanding.
Our journey in loss is no where near complete. Each day we encounter pit falls we never dreamed of. We also experience moments of pure joy that create such clarity that we have made the right choice to be open with our children.
Death is inevitable, fearing it doesn’t have to be.
Morgan McLaverty, a world traveler that has taken roots in southern New Jersey where her husband Sean was born and raised. Now, a stay at home mother, she cares for her three living boys; Gavin Cole(5), Rowan Grey(3) and Holden Nash (1). She also is a mother to Lennon Rhys. Lennon was born still at thirty one weeks and five days. His loss spurred on a need in Morgan to write her feelings, share her grief and help others in the process. She hopes her words will help shed the silence and taboo nature of discussing pregnancy and child loss.