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May 4, 2017

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The Subject of Death With a 4 Year Old

Have you had to approach the subject of death with your little ones yet? How did you deal with it?

C is now 4 years and 7 months. Up until now, we’ve thankfully not had to come across ‘the chat about death’ but a few weeks ago that changed.

L woke one morning to a message from a friend to say she wouldn’t be in school that day because her Mum had collapsed and had been taken to hospital. L then went off to school as normal and I got on with my morning.

Around 10.30am I received a call from L … when I saw her details pop up on my phone I just thought she was on her break and was asking me to top up her canteen! But no, I wasn’t expecting her to tell me her friends Mum had passed away! It was so sudden.

I don’t know L’s friends Mum but I do of course know L’s friend and I have to say it hit me quite hard. I just couldn’t imagine what that poor family were going through. When they went to bed the previous night as a family of 5 they had no idea what the next day was going to bring. I burst into tears on the phone to L 1) shocked by the news she had just told me and 2) my heart was breaking for my girl. Her friend has just lost her Mum and I was worried about her having received the news whilst in school. I did offer to go and collect her but she said being in school would be a bit of a distraction and the teachers were dealing with it well & had the choice to be out of class if they chose to.

So with my worries lying with L, wondering how she would be seeing as it is her friend and L has been to stay at the girl’s house so also knows her Mum too, I didn’t for a second think about C. Who would have thought he would be affected by this?

At first, I didn’t think he even really knew what was going on, it’s not like I openly told him L’s friend had died, but he was obviously listening to us talking about it and telling others. It was the Easter holidays and a few days later we were at the park. C was on the steps to a slide when all of a sudden he had what I can only describe as a panic attack. He just melted down into a sobbing panicking mess. He was hyperventilating, sobbing his heart out, burying his head in my chest, complaining his chest was hurting … It was awful! So upsetting to see him so upset. I calmed him down and we just sat on the park bench cuddling him the sun. He didn’t want to do play on anything but he didn’t want to go home either so we just sat there in the sun together.

After about 20 minutes he was much happier, his chest was better and he asked if he could go and play. Just like that.

Later that night at dinner he had another one – Mr S was home and he witnessed it this time. Like me he felt awful our little boy was going through such upset and heartache and he couldn’t tell us why. Again it took us about 20 minutes to calm him down and whilst sat on the sofa afterwards having a cuddle he fell asleep – really unusual for him. He just seemed exhausted after 20 minutes of crying and hyperventilating. He only slept for about 15 minutes then woke up ans was ok again.

The next day in the car he was sat in the back quietly looking out of the window and all of a sudden he asked the question “Mummy? Did ****’s Mum die” and I have to say the question hit me! I wasn’t expecting it. I just said “Yes she did sweetheart” I didn’t know what else to say. I was waiting on the next set of questions but there wasn’t any … he just carried on looking out of the window.

Loads raced through my mind. I wondered if I should carry on the conservation, But then wondered how I was going to answer any more of his possible questions.

You can’t tell him people only die when they’re old because, a) it’s not true and b) would he start worrying about his beloved Grandparents … and us .. he considers us old because we’re grown up. You can’t say people only die when they get poorly because, a) that’s not true and b) the next time any one of us gets a cold would be panic and think we’ll die? It’s such a hard topic!!! So I left it.

Not much else happened the rest of the week until Friday morning. L had been invited to go away with some family friends for the weekend, it was only arranged as a last minute thing the night before when C was in bed so he was none the wiser. Our friends come early on Friday morning to collect her and he asked where she was going. When I told him she was going away for a few days he broke down. He got so upset and begged me to not let her go. As they drove off and we come back inside he asked if we could get in the car and chase them down the road and bring L back. I laughed and said not to be silly – she would be back in 3 sleeps time. I couldn’t understand why he was getting so upset.

Well, ALL weekend all he kept asking was how many more sleeps was it until L was home, he kept asking if she was coming home now and two out of the 3 nights he would sob into his pillow in his sleep and he also wet the bed twice too. He never does that!

On day 3 the day she was coming home it became apparent what was up … he thought L was going to die whilst she was away and he was beside himself with worry. Once she was home he wouldn’t leave her side and said I’m so pleased you didn’t die. That night he slept all night and was dry again!

It’s been a few weeks since all of this happened and he has asked the odd few questions like why was ***’s Mum lying on the floor (again he must have overheard L telling me the story of what had happened) I mentioned it to pre-school when he went back after the Easter holidays to let them know of his struggles over it all so they could keep an eye on him, but he’s been fine.

L’s friend last week come to stay the night and I did wonder if seeing her would spur him to start asking her lots of questions but funnily enough, he didn’t.

It’s amazing what goes on in their little minds, isn’t it?

Have you had anything similar happen to your little one? Have you had to approach the subject od death with them yet? If so how did you go about it?