We went to Ohio to visit the Bishop’s 92 year old grandfather and when we got there, he went into hospice and started dying, and then he did die.
My inclination was to not really tell the kids much of anything about it, but the Experts (our rabbi, someone at the hospice) said that we should not do that, that we should tell the kids that he died.
I sat Curly down first. “Curly,” I said, “Remember how we went to visit Great-Grandpa, and he was very tired and needed to sleep all the time?”
Curly did remember. “Did he died?” Curly asked.
“Yes, he did,” I said.
Curly asked, “Did the thunder got him?”
“No, thunder can’t get people! He was very old and he got very sick and then he died and we won’t see him anymore.”
“Where did he go?”
I tried. “He went to G-d,” I said. (Curly knows about G-d. I told him about G-d in response to the astute question, “Who gave me my schmeckle?” So Curly knows all about G-d now.)
“G-d is my love,” he said.
“Yes,” I said. “We’re all very sad because we will miss seeing Great-Grandpa.”
“Is he sad?”
“No,” I said. “He’s not sad.”
“He’s happy,” Curly decided. “He’s in G-d’s house and he’s happy.”
OK, good enough.
Now, for Flower. I sat her down. She was wandering off, very disorganized, singing, no eye contact. “Flower, I have to tell you something important. Great-Grandpa got very sick and he died and we aren’t going to be able to see him anymore. Do you understand?”
In response, Flower made an exact imitation of the noise that Great-Grandpa had been making at this hospice, this sound that’s like a snore, but different. They call it a “death rattle,” which is damn creepy. Technically, they call it “terminal secretions,” which is equally creepy, but anyway, that’s the noise that Flower was imitating, and her imitation was spot on.
We had been at the hospice for most of the day on Sunday. They moved him over on Saturday and he was full of complaints and seemed uncomfortable, but by Sunday he was much more quiet They told us he was dying. He was peaceful and nonresponsive. His breathing was slowing, his vitals where slowing, his body was stopping. And he was making this noise.
We didn’t want the children to see him. So we hung out in the “meditation room,” played Candyland in the lounge, went for walks outside, to the playground, to the garden. But then Flower escaped us and she ran into Great-Grandpa’s room. She lay down on the couch in there, and she stayed with him for a while.
She has always loved this Great-Grandfather so much, asking to see him and giving him much affection. (Which in her case is allowing him to hug her, then pointing at him and saying his name, or getting in his face and saying, “Hi, Flower!”) We did not know how she would handle his passing. But she did seem to understand – there was that noise she made, the exact imitation of his breathing at the end. She’s a scripter. That’s how she talks and communicates. She was reciting the script of his passing.
She was quiet at the funeral. (And believe me, I had a fun time explaining to Curly that if Great-Grandpa is with G-d, what exactly was in that large box we were putting in the ground?) But Flower didn’t cry and she wasn’t scared and she didn’t act out or ask for him, and even now we don’t really know what, if anything, she understands.
I think that she understands everything. We’ll miss you Great-Grandpa. I hope you’re having a nice time in G-d’s house.