The other day, my daughter asked me who the guy was in the wedding picture, walking with Grandma and I up the aisle.
I told her it was her Grandpa.
My dad died about 6 months after the wedding. It was not unexpected. In fact, when the oncologist wrote “+/- 6 mos” in the prognosis box of his disability form, we knew it might be time to change the date of our wedding.
Fast forward 13 years and my daughter, who will be turning 4 this month, realized there was a guy she didn’t know in the pictures she likes to rummage through.
“Where is he?”
At first, I didn’t know what to say. My mind flashed to the scene in the “Shipping News” when the little girl freaks out because the father had told her that her mother was sleeping with the angels. She couldn’t understand why her mother wouldn’t wake up. I suddenly had images of my daughter never going to sleep again, out of fear that she might not wake up either. Scratch that option.
I could have made something up: he’s in heaven (which I do not believe); he’s ‘away’ (which was lacking in substance and I knew she would poke holes in that one in no time).
So I told her the truth.
“He was very, very sick. And then he died.”
She looked at me with wide eyes: “He died?”
“Yes, baby, he died.”
“Like Coral?” (Referring to the mommy fish in Finding Nemo, who dies in the first 4 minutes of the movie.)
“Well, it didn’t happen like that. He didn’t get eaten by a big fish. But yes, like Coral.”
And with that, she dropped it. For a few days.
Then yesterday, while eating her supper, she announced:
“My Grandpa died. He was very sick. And then he died.”
So how much has she really understood? How much has she internalized and is just processing in her little, almost 4 year old, way? I don’t know. I do know that I am glad I told her the truth rather than some cockamamie story that I would eventually have to back peddle and alter as she got older.
Am I a hypocrite, considering the vast lies I have been telling about the big man in the red suit who will be visiting on Christmas Eve? Sure. I told her there was a Santa. I even showed her a video of him talking to her, with her name and photograph included. I am pushing that lie to the limits. Because that lie is fun. That lie creates a magical world of wonder for her. My dad being dead isn’t fun on any level and there is no magic in that reality.
How have you handled the truth with your kids? How have you told them difficult news?