Latency Period :: A Toddler Understands Death

This past summer, Hazel had many new experiences, many of them very difficult.  As you may know, her Grandpa ("Junko") was very ill with leukemia and away for 9 weeks.  Even now that he's home, he is very ill and she shows a great deal of thought and understanding at times.  She is EXCITED on the days when Junko is at a Doctor's appointment because then he'll be "ALL BETTER".  Yesterday I told her that Junko was back in the hospital (or in her words:  Hopkawitz) and she said, "Oh, then can I cough at their house".  I guess all my lectures on not sharing germs anywhere near Junko have sunk in.

One of the biggest and most confusing things for her has been the death of her Great Grandpa, my maternal Grandfather.  He lived next door to us and she visited him 3-5 times a week throughout her life.  Her most visible bond has been with her Great Grandma ("Gigi") and I wasn't sure how she would react to the loss of "Gate Granpa".

Throughout the summer, Hazel witnessed the changes in her GGpa.  She said nothing as she watched him switch to all feeding tube meals.  As his weakness grew, he still had the oomph to "tease" her by swatting at her legs with his cane or taping her head if she was within arm's reach.  He grinned mischievously each time we chastised him for these behaviors.  Not surprisingly, Hazel seemed to find him a little bit scary.

although what's scarier than a toddler with a tattoo (temporary, of course)

However, when he died, I knew I needed to address his absence in an open and honest way.  She attended the funeral and asked a lot of questions over the days surrounding his death ("did Great Grandpa take a comb with him?").  Her grief wasn't visible and I assumed we made it through that hurdle...

Until a month later when I was driving her to day care and she began to sing "I'll fly away.  I'll fly away.  I'll fly away".  And then she said "Ok mama, now I die and you sing."  Talk about a terrifying mama moment.  You see, I had sung "I'll Fly Away" at my Grandfather's funeral.  That was the one and only time she had heard that song.  Still, I figured it was best to go with it and so we each took turns being the one who was dead while the other one sang the refrain.

Another month passed and Hazel and her dad came across a huge dead tree in the woods.  Hazel thoughtfully asked "Do trees go to Heaven?".  Daddy said yes (because who would want to go to a treeless heaven?).  Hazel replied "Good because Great Grandpa likes trees!".


This week she and I had a long conversation in the car.  She told me that it's time for Great Grandpa to come back.  I began to explain that once someone is in Heaven, they stay in Heaven.  They live with God forever.  I told her that someday, a long long time from now, I will be in Heaven and then even later, she will be in Heaven.  She thought about that and asked, "Mama, what will happen to all the houses?  They will have no people."


So, we began to discuss future generations... and she remembered that someday she will have a baby in her belly and that baby can then live with Heidi (who is her baby sister and clearly, was going to be a baby forever).

I never expected to be helping my 3-year-old process death.  I never expected her memory to be so good.  I never expected her to take months and months to process hard concepts.  I don't give toddlers enough credit.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Julie! That's amazing. I love that she commented on how much he loved trees. It sounds like you both have handled it beautifully!


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