My son Payton is five years old.. he is the oldest of the children in our family. Payton asks lots of questions in regards to Jacob. For instance, he asks me if Jacob cried like "regular babies" when he was born, or if he drank a "baba" when he was born. I always answer his questions truthfully and tell him that he did not. He has a very hard time understanding that our sweet Jake wasn't alive when he was born and was unable to do these things that other people's babies do. Payton never met Jacob in person, I felt it would be too much for him and arranged for my sister to keep him at her house the last two days I was hospitalized. I still believe it was for the best. Payton also looks at death from a five year old's perspective. In the first week or so after Jake's death, Payton often wondered if he too would die. One day we were driving down the road, and he said momma will the thing that happened to Jake happen to me? I had to explain to him, that most of the time these things don't happen, and mommy was very sick and it made Jake sick, and his tiny body couldn't handle it... plus god wanted him to live with him in Heaven. Payton is always happy to go see Jake at the cemetery. He likes now to go see all the "stepping stones"( Headstones) and learn the names of everyone buried there. Yesterday, my family and I went to the cemetery to release two balloons in Jake's honor, and Payton kept asking why we were going there when Jake could grab them up from anywhere. Payton often asks me to tell Jake to come down from Heaven. I always explain that no matter how much momma tells him to come down, he can't and he won't. One day I told him that and he told me that Jake comes down for him at the farm. : ) It melted my heart and I burst into tears. He didn't know that was so sweet and that I'd start bawling.
My niece Adleigh and my cousin's daughter Lainey are three and four. It is apparent that small children are most definitely affected by death. My niece Adleigh loves her baby dolls, like any girl. Not long ago she was playing with her dolls in the living room, like she always does, brought it to me and said "keekee, can you doctor my baby, she's dead." I explained to Adleigh that her baby was fine and not dead, and told her it was ok, her baby didn't die and sent her on her way. She continued to pretend that her baby had died, and besides the reassurance from my family and I that her baby was indeed fine and hadn't died... I was at a loss for words. Adleigh too often questions death now. The car seems to be the place for questions of death. We were on our way to my sister's house, after keeping Adleigh for a while... and Adleigh said "I'm a girl, I won't die, will I?" She was very concerned.. again we offered much reassurance to her that she is a girl, she is big and healthy and will be fine. This seemed to help her. She did repeat all the way to my sister's house that she was a big girl and wasn't going to die. My cousin's daughter Lainey is four. I have met Lainey and talk to her, but had not seen her at all while I was pregnant with Jacob. Lainey attended Jake's funeral however with my cousin. My cousin informed me that Lainey, who's four, questions her everyday. She wonders if Jake is ok, if he will get cold in the cemetery (probably since it was chilly on the day of his graveside service, we had blankets), and several other things. This shows me that even though she never met Jacob, or even saw pictures of him, she understood that there was a baby and now he was gone.
Since our sweet children have no real idea that we adults are hurting just like them, it is sometimes hard to answer the questions they ask. It is very easy to just say I don't know, or tell them to be quiet and we'll answer them later. This however, is not helping them any, to work through their grief.
The New York Department of Health and Human Services says this about children and how they deal with grief and death:
Preschoolers typically have a poor sense of time and permanence and may view
the death as reversible. He or she may think death is the same as going to sleep
and the child may suddenly fear nighttime, getting ready for bed or falling asleep.
A child may also experience confusion, bad dreams and general agitation. Regression
in the form of thumb-sucking, bed-wetting and tantrums may also occur. Misunderstandings
about what death is may be common; a child may ask repeated questions
with little understanding of the answers. Sometimes a child at this age will worry
intensely that someone else close to him or her will die soon.
School-Aged Children (ages six to 12 years)
Younger school-aged children tend to understand death in a more concrete way.
This is around the age where a child will come to understand that death is final. He
or she may become very interested in the process of death, wondering, for example,
what happens to the body after death or asking repeated questions about the
deceased. Children are now capable of suffering from sorrow, anger and denial, but
they still may not view death as something that can happen to them. Younger
school-aged children may attempt to avoid emotional pain at all costs; they may
play, act silly or become easily distracted whenever the deceased is spoken of.
Preschoolers (ages three to five years)