Understanding Death Is Not Like a Disney Movie

My step father passed away this week. DC adored his Grandpa and the feeling was quite mutual. When I had to look for a few old photos for the service, there were two that I was determined to find. The first was of DC on a bike with his Grandpa running along side him, holding him up.

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The other was from my brother’s wedding when DC was about 5 or 6. The photo was from the hotel room before the wedding. I was standing off to the side and there was DC and his Grandpa, in their tuxedos standing in front of the mirror, arms out to the side as if they were saying “Taa Daa! Look at us”.  As I searched and searched for this photo I remembered standing there watching this moment between them in front of the mirror and thinking I was about to take THE cutest photograph that had ever been taken, when my mother walked right through the shot. I had missed the moment with the camera. I realized that this photo that I had been searching for existed only in my head. All these years later, it is still right there in my head as if it was yesterday; as if I had actually taken the picture.

I was not sure how to explain his Grandpa’s passing to him. He has never lost anyone close to him before. I was not sure that he would understand. I have tried many times and in many different ways to explain this to him in the past, when people we knew had passed on,  but I was never sure that he really understood.

In his Disney movies, characters may die but usually someone comes along to give them a kiss to wake them up. (I truly believe that this was part of the reason that DC insisted on kissing him on the forehead more than once at both the wake and the funeral a few days later). As many times as I have tried, I have never come up with a good, understandable way to explain this to him.

That afternoon when he came home from work I made the attempt to tell him what had happened before we left to go to my mother’s house. I told him that Grandpa had been very sick and he was very old (I added that so I would not frighten him into thinking that if he got sick, the same thing would happen to him) and because he was just so sick, he died. I specifically did not use the phrase “passed away” so as not to confuse him with different words.

“Do you understand what that means, DC?”
“Yes”

“Grandpa loved you very much and he did not want to leave you. It was not his fault”

“Yes”

“This is not like your movies. He will not be able to come back, like Snow White. He died like Cinderella’s father. Do you remember that Cinderella’s father did not come back after he died? I am sure he wanted to come back but he couldn’t.”

“Yes”

His Grandpa had been suffering from dementia for the last few years and was well past the point of recognizing anyone, so DC really had not seen him in quite awhile. He would ask for him every once in a while when we went to my mother’s and Grandpa was not sitting in his chair. We explained to him that Grandpa was sick and was in his room at his new home where there were lots of people who could take care of him. I am not sure that he ever really understood that and I sometimes got the impression that DC just thought that Grandpa was upstairs taking a nap.

Both DC and I had birthdays in March. We had planned more than once to get together with my mother but she was sick herself for a good few weeks and did not want to infect DC or I with whatever she had. When we arrived at her house that night she brought out the gifts that she had been holding on to. DC opened his card and as he always does, read the card in it’s entirety out loud. Then he reached the signature and read: “Love, Hugs and Kisses, Grandma and Grandpa”.

He stopped and he looked at me. I could see he was a bit confused.  Then he said “Grandpa ‘is’ died”.

Honestly, I did not expect that. He really had been listening, paying attention and possibly understanding a little bit of what I had explained to him earlier. I told him that Grandpa wrote the card on DC’s birthday a few weeks back and that he was very lucky to have this card that Grandpa wrote for him before he died.

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(Of course, Grandpa was too sick to really sign the card, but DC really did not need to know that)

This seemed to make sense to him and he no longer looked so confused.

On the way home that night, I mentioned to Doug how I still was not really sure that DC understands what death means and how much I really want him to understand it.

Doug asked me why it is so important to me that DC understands. Why couldn’t  I just let him believe what he believes, the way he believes it and leave it at that?

I understand that thought process. I understand wanting to protect him from anything bad or sad, I do. So why is it so important to me that he does understand?

“Because one day I am going to die and I want him to understand that it is not something one wants to do.  I never want him to think that it was my choice. I NEVER want him to think that I just left him.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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25 thoughts on “Understanding Death Is Not Like a Disney Movie

  1. Beautiful. And that is the whole enchilada, isn’t it–one day, we WILL be gone…and how will our boys carry on? That’s why we work so hard….Lovely and moving–thanks! And condolences, too, on the loss YOU feel as you help DC navigate his…

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  2. Vickie I enjoy reading all of your stories and adventures with DC …..I hold you two very close in my heart. I feel so connected to you both even though we do not see each other often. I am so sorry for the recent loss of your stepfather.
    Your last paragraph made such an impact on me, so powerful!
    K is so concrete but she seems to understand when someone dies she will not see them again. But she always question where do they go once they die. She doesn’t get the Heaven thing.
    I definitely get anxiety over what’s going to happen when I die ….I always worry about K because like you we are the ones that know everything possible about them.
    Thanks for sharing all the stories they really touch my heart.
    Sandi~ ❤️

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    • Thank you, Sandi. I know you understand what I am taking about and share the same anxiety about the future. K is lucky to have you for a mother and DC is lucky to have had you in his life all of these years – we both are. Thank you for your kind words.

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  3. I am so sorry for your loss – it is so hard to teach our kids about this ultimate abstract. I know my son is still struggling with “gone forever.” It sounds like you handled it so very beautifully and well. Wishing I could hug you.

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  4. So sorry for your loss! I truly believe DC understands as much as he is able…and maybe that’s enough for now.

    My Mom died in July of 2014. Kiddo was very close to his Grandma and she ADORED him in all his autism-glory. My Kiddo is low-ish functioning and non-verbal but I know, I KNOW, he understood what was happening the last few days of Mom’s life. Mom had home hospice and the last two days of her life, we came over after dinner to be with her and my Dad. That Monday, she was aware but that last day, the Tuesday, she was not aware of anything but would occasionally wake up and tell us she loved us. We sang to her and brought takeout pizza to eat in the backyard when we needed a break….but Our Kiddo would have none of it. He planted himself in the recliner next to her hospital bed and would not leave her side. WOULD NOT LEAVE HER SIDE. He would not desert his Grandma when she was at her most vulnerable and kept watch to keep her safe. I really believe that’s what he was doing.

    Don’t sell DC short…Our Kids have people they love–Their People–and I think DC understands. He loved his Grandpa and love makes miracles.

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  5. I am so sorry for your loss. This post was just beautiful. It will be a year this month since my mom died and I have often wondered how much of her death Cooper understands. I know he often understands far more than I give home credit for. I couldn’t make it all the way through reading your last paragraph…I haven’t let myself think about that yet.

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    • Unfortunately I torture myself with that quite often. It is true that DC probably understands more than I am aware of, but there are some things that I just can not tell if he understands even a little bit. Thank you for reading, Beth.

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  7. Beautiful.
    It’s so difficult to know what our kids understand or even feel sometimes. Emily feeds off of my feelings so sometimes I think she’s only mirroring me.
    When her Papie (granddad) passed away, she was 12. It was really sudden (from healthy to gone in 72 hours) and I had no idea how to explain to Em. She was closed to Jonathan’s parents, they moved to be near us when she was 5 😊
    At the hospital, I asked her if she wanted to go see her Papie in the ICU and explained that he was sleeping and had lots of machines and doctors around him. She didn’t want to go in and we respected that. When the doctors came to told us they were losing him and to go say good bye, Emily and I stayed behind. I asked her if she understood what was happening… She answered that her Papie was dead 😢 I asked her how she felt… She answered something like “I am sad but Papie will always be in my heart if I need him” at this point I was bawling so she hugged me….
    I have no idea where her wisdom came from but I agreed with her and decided to embrace her belief!

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  8. This is heartbreaking and important. Explaining death to anybody ever is so hard and to somebody who believes in healing kisses, even more so. I understand your desire to make sure he knows though – I would never want my son to think I just left him either. I’m really sorry for your loss.

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  9. Pingback: 2016 Top Five Posts, #5 – The aftermath….. | Taking it a Step at a Time

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