A couple of days ago, on of my five-year-old’s preschool classmates passed away. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor about four months ago. He attends a pretty small preschool, so this little girl was someone he knew fairly well.
I didn’t know the little girl — she was five, too — or her parents, but I used to see her at school pickup every day, while waiting in the car line. She always had a huge smile, and bounced around in her brightly colored rubber boots on snowy and wet days.
The first thing I did after learning about her death — well, after I went upstairs, closed the bedroom door and sobbed — was look for some resources about talking to children about death. With a little more information, I went to pick up my son from summer camp.
We went for a little walk, sat on a park bench, and talked a little about his friend. He knew that she was very, very sick, but he doesn’t really connect being sick with dying. He doesn’t have much of a sense of what death means.
Our conversation went much as I expected, from knowing my son and reading about how children process this information. In the last couple of days, he has asked a few questions that absolutely break my heart, like, “But Kara and Leah are best friends. Who will be Kara’s best friend at school now?”
In the first thirty-three years of my life, I have been fortunate never to know a child who died. This summer, we have known two — my son’s classmate, and also the daughter of my husband’s boss.
I really hope I can go at least another thirty years before I know another.