Today’s post is a massive deviation from my lighthearted ramblings about the hilarious side of parenting and the miscellaneous nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned along the way. Maybe not a total deviation because today’s post IS about an episode in my parenting journey and the lessons I learned through the experience, just not a funny one.
My husband and I lost a very close friend to brain cancer last month. Our families spent lots of time together over the past decade, having babies, raising small children, sharing meals and doing fun activities. Our first instinct was to protect our seven-year-old son from the truth, if only for a short while longer. We wanted to spare him the harsh reality that death is a very real and fundamental part of life. When the end was finally upon us, we knew there would be no way around telling him.
While we didn’t over share and offered up only as much information as he asked for, it was clear that our little boy’s brain was putting some things together. He asked, “How old was Erik when he died?” “How old are you, Dad?” While we were wrestling with our own sadness over the loss of a friend, we were forced to deal with the sadness of knowing our mostly innocent little boy (minus the occasional indiscretion), was having to face some pretty harsh realities about this life we live. Life can be pretty damn cruel at times. Who wouldn’t want to protect their child from that? On the other hand, there is a fine line between sheltering your child and not giving them the tools necessary to succeed in life without you. We aren’t born with the ability to cope with the curveballs life offers up, they are taught to us by our parents, teachers and mentors. If we are to disregard death altogether, are we doing our children a favor or a disservice?
While dealing with truth can be unsettling and disturbing at times, you can often find a silver lining if you look closely enough. While my son has definitely been thinking about our friend’s death and what that looks like in the broader scope of his little life, he has been open with us about his feelings. This morning, he happened upon a picture of our friend and told me, “Mom, I’m sad about Erik.” When I drop him at school these days, he’s been showering me with hugs and kisses. Though the reality of losing loved ones can be crippling to some, it can also propel you to live more consciously. Isn’t that what I want for my son? The skills to cope with life, death and feelings, both good and bad. And the ability to manage healthy relationships, where one can be both open and honest.
Though it’s been difficult on many levels, I’m glad my husband and I chose honesty. Unfortunately, parenthood doesn’t come with an instruction manual, although we all wish it did. Chapter 229. How To Handle the Death of a Close Family Friend With Your Seven-Year-Old Son (wouldn’t that be nice?). Instead we settle for trying our hardest and hoping for the best.