On Death, Dying and Children

Caterpillar faces death.

Image via Wikipedia

The brother of my son’s teacher was in an accident while on vacation last week. In tears over this sad news, she had to dash out of school and be with her family. While the story of this incident was rapidly transmitted  to parents by their distraught children, mine remained silent. I found out through the online parent group what had occurred.

We have had recent experiences with death. Maybe my son was too distanced from his connection with the deceased or the grieving to show emotion. When I explained that his teacher’s brother had died, I shared with him the things you say to someone who has lost a loved one. He asked his usual detailed questions. How? Where? I could see in his eyes he was trying to process the information. I became teary eyed while explaining and thinking of her loss. He looked at me and asked, “Why are you acting like you did when the cat  died?” I tried to relate it to his own life, how he might feel if a special friend or family member was gone forever. He was quiet for a moment. Then he said, “It’s okay, Mama,” gave me a hug and kiss and was on his way.  At least he tried to comfort me.

Does he understand the finality of it all? Does he understand grief for a lost loved one? (I know he does for a lost toy!) Perhaps he does, but this is just his way of reacting for now, at age 8. I remember watching how others reacted and feeling sad for them at my grandpa’s funeral when I was 17. Am I expecting too much from him?  At times death seems abstract to me (especially when it is in my face in the news every day) and I am an adult. I just don’t want him to grow up and be insensitive to death, dying and loss. I want him to have the knowledge to act appropriately, say the right words, show sympathy and be able to empathize. But I guess these responses come with experience and a lot of talking.