Grief and Explaining Death to a Young Child

When I was a little girl, I remember a Sunday lesson on death.  The teacher had a glove.  She asked us if it could move on its own.  We answered no.  She put the glove on and demonstrated how moving her fingers inside the glove would make it move, but the glove had no power to move on its own.

She took the glove off and it lay there.  She then taught us our spirit makes our bodies move.  When someone dies, their spirit leaves their body behind.  The body is an unmoving shell.  It’s not alive and vibrant because the spirit is missing.  The spirit continues to live beyond what our mortal eyes can see.  One day we can all be resurrected because of what Christ did for us.

It was a basic lesson, but it was my first understanding of death and the Plan of Salvation.  Through the years as my faith and testimony have grown, my understanding has deepened as well.

I remember when not too many years after that lesson, my grandfather passed away.  We gathered together for the family viewing to pay our respects.  We were all crying when my youngest cousin was held up so she could see Grandpa.  She declared loudly, “He’s not dead.  He’s just sleeping.”  That broke the tension and made us all laugh.  It also reminded us that he wasn’t truly gone, we were just separated for a while.

Since then I’ve lost a great-grandfather, an aunt and the remaining grandparents I had.  My maternal grandmother was the last to pass away, and I cherish the photo I have of her, my mother, myself and my oldest daughter.

I’ve lost three babies in a little over a year’s span.  That was some of the most crushing grief I’ve ever experienced.  There were many times when all I could do was breathe and remember the scripture, “Be still and know that I am God.”  (Psalm 46:6)

My mother-in-law’s passing was quite unexpected.  Earlier on the day of her stroke, she had been serving others.  My father-in-law left to perform other service and when he returned two hours later, he found her on the floor.  She muttered, “Oh good, you are home,” and passed out.  She was rushed to the hospital where they discovered both bleeding and blockage strokes had occurred.  They got the swelling down.  She regained consciousness and the ability to talk (although garbled as one side was paralyzed).  She wasn’t able to swallow on her own, and got a feeding tube.

Initially we were hopeful she would recover, but with every step forward, there were two backwards.  It became clear she wouldn’t make it.

We got news of her passing just as we arrived at the airport.

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The older kids are handling things as well as can be expected.  It seemed rather unreal to them until they saw her in the casket.  Firstborn and Lawboy played a beautiful hymn on their instruments at the funeral.  The cello was too large to bring.

At the viewing, I held up BabyGirl.  She looked down at her grandmother and said, “That’s not my real Grandma.  She’s fake.”  We talked about her spirit not being in her body anymore.  Her grandmother in life was lively and vivacious.  She had the most lovely laugh.  This was her mortal body left behind.

Later, I taught her the glove story.

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It’s been a few days, and we are back home.  BabyGirl is still grasping things.  She’s younger than I was when I first remembered having the glove lesson.  This will take time and many discussions for her to understand.  Acroboy and I have talked and he understands more.  He’s had similar lessons in church and with us on family night.  I told him I was his same age when I lost my grandfather.  He and I share that now.

Firstborn is in the process of preparing to serve a mission for our church on the East Coast.  He will be teaching others of the Plan of Salvation.  He has really been studying and growing his own testimony in preparation for his mission and he feels peace.  He misses her.  He has the most memories of Grandma, and he misses her greatly, but he knows he will see her again because of the Atonement and Resurrection.

Whirlwind, Lawboy and Princess Ballerina are doing okay as well.  When I asked Princess Ballerina, she said, “I’ve been taught the Plan of Salvation my whole life.  I believing in it.  I trust in it.”

As I’ve been working on this post, I keep thinking about an Easter video our church put out,  the message brings me comfort.  Perhaps it will bring your comfort too.

Keep hugging your loved ones.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_S3TI4bYerU

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