I had already told my daughter that it was Nan’s birthday, and that I was going to visit her and sing happy birthday.
My daughter knew that Nan ‘lived’ in the cemetery, as every time we drove past, she would make a point to say “There’s your nana’s house!”
My 3-year-old daughter has a very inquisitive nature. She is always asking questions, learning and wanting to know more about everything. Earlier this year, it was my grandmother’s birthday, and as it happens, my Nan has passed away. I have always made a point to go to her grave and have a little chat with her, update her on my life and that sort of thing. This year, I happened to have my daughter with me.
A shock that I wasn’t quite ready for
On this particular day, I had assumed that she already understood everything, so when we arrived on the bike, it was a shock to me that she began to cry.
“What’s wrong, sweetheart? Why are you crying?” I asked.
“I wanted to sing happy birthday to her and have some cake!” she replied.
My daughter had thought that there would be a party. I hugged her close and began to explain something that I never thought I would need to explain to someone. Death.
A new concept
You see, Nan was the local church organist, so as a child, I was taken to hundreds of funerals of complete strangers. Death was never something hidden or unspoken in our house. Nan had even planned her funeral down to the flowers, songs and clothing she would wear. I never had death explained to me, as it was always there.
So I simply told her the truth. There was no point in sugarcoating it, whitewashing it or making up a story. I told her that sometimes people died. Sometimes it was because they got old, sometimes because they got sick, and sometimes because of an accident. I didn’t need to go into huge detail, I just explained that our body worked as hard as it could until something stopped it working.
I explained that for my nan, it was old age. She was 95 years old when she died. I did not need to mention the dementia, arthritis or anything else. It was simply old age that claimed her.
Kids will surprise you
And do you know what my daughter said?
“Wow, that is very old. She lived for a long time! We should sing happy birthday to her!” And we did.
When it was time for the hip-pip-hooray bits, she produced a party blower (seriously, this kid LOVES party blowers!) and let it blast out a loud PARRRRRRPPP! in the middle of the cemetery. It made me smile, she laughed, and we received some strange looks from others.
My daughter asked me if my Nan was living with the angels now. I do not know how she knew about angels, as I have not told her anything like that, but my Nan was religious, so if there are angels, I am sure Nan is up there with them.
Death is scary for us as adults, as we think of the specifics, the methods, diseases, and the responsibilities and trauma we are imposing on loved ones. Adults overthink almost everything.
For a child, often the simplest method is the best: truth, honesty and a party blower in the middle of a cemetery.