Several years ago my father was diagnosed with renal failure. Other physical ailments plus his overall health prevented a transplant so we knew it would be a matter of time. About six months prior to his death, my mother, sister and I started the preparations for his demise. That preparation included teaching my children, who were 6, 9 and 12 at the time, about the circle of life.
I made it a point to visit my parents regularly with my three children. My parents relocated from the East Coast to California where my sister and I happened to move after college. My parents moved just a few minutes from us so every weekend we would see them. During the last six months of my father's life, my children could see that their grandfather was becoming extremely frail and weak. I spent more time at my parents' in his final months, taking me away from home quite a bit.
I saw this as an opportunity for my children to spend time with their grandparents and for them to understand the circle of life. I did not shield anything, even from my 6-year-old child. Here are the major lessons I learned from this experience:
Children are curious; they may ask lots of questions but take the time to answer them as honestly as you can. They are often wiser than you might think.
If you are religious and church goers, there are many passages in the Bible that can be discussed with the older children, for instance Psalm 23:4. The story that revolves around Easter is also relevant.
Have your children video record an interview with their grandparent. Have them prepare questions about their life as a child, their work experience, travels, and if they served in the military. These stories help your children understand their family history and make a treasured keepsake for generations. Have them ask questions that take the grandparent as far back as they can remember. I learned some new stories when we did this.
My father was put under hospice care at my parents' home. The hospice team educated us about what to expect and how to anticipate his final hours. It was quite accurate; we knew that when his breathing became more shallow and intermittent, the time was near.
Just family was around him at his death. We chose to have the younger ones just outside his room in case it would be too traumatic. We assembled by his bedside and the children all knew what was happening. I realize it was important not only for my children but for my mother who had all of her loved ones by her side in this time of need.
Reflecting back on this experience, I would not have managed it any differently. My belief is my children see how committed I am to helping out my parents, and they will in turn continue that respect. My mother has since moved in with my family. It is the third time she has had to downsize her belongings. My mother continues to pass along her traditions to my children directly.
It is the circle of life.
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