The paliative care doctor that helped my Dad told me that children deal with grief like how you look at a book. They sit down and open the book up and take a look for a little while and then close it and are done with that book for a while. Last night Johnny opened the book again.
I was sitting on the sofa with him talking about school when my Dad’s cat came around us and started meowing. Johnny didn’t want her to jump up but I said she wanted to say “hi.” Tasha has been sticking pretty close to Johnny lately and when he’s playing with toys she is often on the floor near him rubbing her chin on his toys. He then gets upset saying “no animals” or “no Tasha” because he’s afraid she is hurting his toys. I guess it hasn’t helped when Tasha has jumped up and knocked over the structure he was building with blocks. For awhile now Tasha insists on lying at the foot of Johnny’s bed until he’s fast asleep and then leaves and comes downstairs and spends time with us.
Last night she jumped up on to the arm of the sofa near us and Johnny tried to shove her off the arm. I told him that we have “good hands” with the cats too and that the house rules apply to her too.
“Tasha was Grandpa’s cat and she misses him. She wants some loves…listen to her purr. Tasha needs us to look after her because Grandpa is not here anymore. She has no one else but else.”
It is then I see the look on his face and see his eyes start to glisten. Did I say too much? I have learned that even as a young child he is on his own path of grief and he needs our help to deal with it and cope.
“Grandpa is not coming back sweetie and we all miss him including his cat. Grandpa would love it if you could look after his cat for him.”
These are the times that are not easy especially since I am still a daughter dealing with the loss of her Dad. I hold Johnny who is now sobbing in my arms and we have a little cry together.
When he is calmer and I can find the words I tell him its okay to cry and crying makes us feel better. I have a conversation with him about where Grandpa is now (heaven) and that he loves Johnny from there. I talk about the fun times we had and how he used to like jumping up on Grandpa’s bed while he was doing sudoko and play with him. I remind him again to take care of Grandpa’s cat.
Johnny still has some tears as he looks at me and then suddenly he gazes off deep in thought. Then a big smile goes on his face and I am startled by his laughter. I ask him what he’s thinking about and his face quickly changes. “Grandpa”. Then he is sobbing again and all I can do is to be there for him. I cherish the moment that I saw on his face that he was having a very happy memory of a time with my Dad.
Its not easy when Johnny opens his “book of grief” but if can help him when he thinks of my Dad even if its painful and help him learn how to cope with how he feels even at this young age it is worth it.
I think I am going to write a note for his new teacher Monday to let her know about what our family has gone through this past year and what Johnny is going through right now. He had a hard week at school and wasn’t always cooperative.
*Edit This morning Johnny insisted on playing with his toys in his Grandpa’s old room. There is a big arm chair in there that we use for story time and the kids used to sit in it to be with Grandpa when he was ill. Johnny wanted to sit in it and read books for a long time this morning. I would describe the look on his face as emotional but contemplative.
This is a good blog I found for understanding grief and children: