I very much enjoy and feel inspired by your posts and hope this finds you well. I'm struggling with the recent sudden death of my dad and more so in explaining where papa is to my bright wonderful 2-year old (25 months) daughter. She asks if he is in the hospital, ambulance, his house, car, cafe and today asked if he was far away. I am trying not to fill her with concepts of heaven and angels that I fear may later invite religious and other limitations but instead have been responding each time to what comes up without saying anything untrue for momentary ease (I.e. avoiding saying he's away for a while or in hospital etc. I want her to be open to what I hope - that he is still with us but in a different way to before and that although we can’t go and visit him in the same way as before, we might still see, hear and feel him and have been trying to say this to her but not sure she understands. I also don't want her to think the rest of her close family could just disappear like he did (even though I know now the brutal truth that we can). It is all desperately heartbreakingly difficult at this time and I would appreciate any suggestions at all that you may have (perhaps you have experience of this?) whenever you find a moment to share.
I am so sorry to hear about your sudden loss. I know this must be a painful time for you and I commend you on your focus being on making your father’s transition easier for your young daughter.
First, what you want your daughter to see death as is completely right. We are all positive beings of energy and these bodies simply are the form we take momentarily. There is no doubt in my mind that your father is still with you, simply in a different form. There is always comfort in knowing that when you think of him you call him forth, when you need him he is there. He was simply ready to see life from a different perspective.
By you seeing his passing like this you are actually passing it on to your child by example. I get the feeling that she is in fact sensing it and at her young age she will have a deeper understanding of it then she will be able to form into words.
Although our family hasn’t yet experienced the death of a family member our children have had death around them in various forms all their lives. We live on a farm and with that death becomes a part of life, mirrored by birth. My daughter also experienced a friend of ours, whom she was very close to, suddenly die. Our conversations regarding death have developed as our children have grown, and of course you are right to say that when we talk about death the evitable comes to our children’s minds: if it can happen to them, who else can it happen to? However, we are co-creators and your father’s passing and your daughter’s understanding of it, will launch you all to new places.
I find that at a young age the best approach is the simple and honest one. When our three year old son asks about any of our animals or friends’ passing I simply say “Their bodies stopped working so they had to leave them. But they are always around.” Usually it seems to just be accepted and only asked to go further when they are a little older, but when more questions are asked I suggest they close their eyes and imagine the person/animal with them, reassuring that when we think of them we can feel them and interact with them. That they are always with us.
Saying that, your daughter will also sense you’re grieving and that’s alright to be honest about too. It’s alright to miss the physical side of someone and to tell our children that is why we’re upset. It’s alright for them to feel sad too, which for us as parents is a hard pill to swallow.
Going back to your point that she might fear losing other people too, it’s a valid one and I won’t tell you it might lead to some reaction. When death struck close to our home when our son was only 18 months he needed to sleep in our bed for sometime and the few months that followed he seemed more attached. However, the fear of losing our family members always dawns on a child at sometime, and has to be dealt with. Simply reassure her that you aren’t planning on going anywhere at anytime soon. Tell her that you are with her and always will be. Hold her tight, carry her often and soon it will pass as a fearful thing. You will also find that spending extra time with her, enjoying her discoveries, distracting both of you with new games and wonders will make the healing process go easier.
Something that I feel is important is the ritual of death. Having done it for some of our deaths and not for others I realize that we healed from the ones we had rituals for easier than the others. This doesn’t have to be in the form of a funeral, which of course is traumatic for anyone, rather a personal ritual. This can come in the form of planting a tree in memory of the person, creating something for them, or even encouraging your daughter to draw pictures for her grandpa. My daughter, when our friend passed, drew a picture and then we planted it amongst some flowers as a way of giving it to her. A friend of mine has her son write letters in the sand. Acknowledging the person who has passed in this way creates a natural flow of understanding that they are still around.
Follow your instincts, and don’t worry that you will do harm. It is a hard time for you as well and your daughter will sense that. Talk about it, but then find some form of new life to distract yourself and your daughter will. Walk unfamiliar paths, learn about something new together, plant seedlings, get busy and enjoy each other’s company. For death is always the mirror of new birth and in taking part in life, understanding of the opposite comes naturally.