When you can't find the words

4 Jan

How do you explain something to a three year old that you don’t really understand yourself?
I run into this problem a lot. Like when Nolan asks me why the sky is blue or what our chins are for or how dolphins jump so high or why there aren’t any dinosaurs or why I married Daddy.  He doesn’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer. He isn’t placated by “God just made it that way.” He wants to know why, and he wants a detailed answer. Most of the time I can come up with something that sounds relatively intelligent and not too confusing. I can give him enough information so that he feels as though his question has been answered, but he isn’t overwhelmed by peripheral information that he can’t yet grasp.
But sometimes I can’t.
“Mommy, sometimes you get sad because you miss Uncle Nathan.”
“Yes buddy, I do. I miss him a lot and I wish I could see him.”
“It makes me sad too because I will never get to see him.”
“Yes angel, that makes me very, very sad too.”
“But where is he?”
“He lives in heaven with God.”
“He died and had to go live with God.”
“But why did he die?”
I’m okay with telling Nolan that Nathan lives with God. I’m okay saying that he died. I’m okay with us talking about him and how much we miss him. Where I fumble is when he wants me to explain why and how he died. I don’t know how to explain it to him in a way that he can understand that won’t also scare him.
Do I tell him he died in a car accident? I don’t want him to be afraid of getting in a car.
Do I tell him that something hit his head? I don’t want him to be scared every time he or his sister falls down.
Do I tell him that God decided it was time for Nathan to come to heaven and that it happens to everyone? I don’t want him to be scared that God is going to decide it’s time for him or Tessa or Mommy or Daddy to die.
This is when I fumble. I don’t know why Nathan died. I know how he died. I don’t know why. And I don’t know how to explain that to a three year old when I struggle every second of every day to try to figure out why.
“Oh baby. Uncle Nathan got a boo-boo that the doctors couldn’t fix and he died.”
The silence descends over us and I see his little brow furrow between those beautiful brown eyes.


 Now he’s going to be scared that the doctors can never fix him or Tessa or Mommy or Daddy. I can practically see the wheels turning in his little mind, wondering and worrying about what will happen if he or Sissy or Mommy or Daddy gets a boo-boo the doctors can’t fix.

 “Sometimes people get boo-boos the doctors can’t fix. Doctors can fix boo-boos almost all of the time, but sometimes they can’t. But I don’t want you to worry. You and Sissy and Mommy and Daddy won’t get any boo-boos that the doctors can’t fix.”


 Now I’ve lied. Not only have I given the impression that my brother ever stood a chance of surviving (he did not) but I’ve also made a promise I can’t possibly guarantee.

 “Okay Mommy. Look Mommy!! That is where we go to church school! Do you know that God is in our hearts?”

 “Yes baby, I do. That’s right.”

 Thank God for Sunday School.

 I’m scared I’ve handled this horribly wrong. Because both Hubs and I talk about Nathan frequently, death is on Nolan’s mind a lot. He asks about it a lot. On one particular day we were all in the car and Nolan’s questions about death were incessant. Hubs, thinking that it was going to make me upset and sad, asked him to stop talking about it. But I told him it was okay, because I don’t want it to be a taboo subject. Whether we like it or not, death is a major part of our lives. I don’t want to discourage my kids’ questions about my brother or about death. I don’t want them to associate death with Nathan and therefore feel like they can’t talk about him.  But fuck. I just don’t know if I’ve responded in a healthy manner.

 I wish someone could explain it to me.


3 Responses to “When you can't find the words”

  1. Heather January 4, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    You seriously do not give yourself near enough the amount of credit that you deserve for being one of the most – if not THE most – level-headed and awesome mom on the planet.

    Why did Nathan die? You don’t know why. I don’t know why. No one really knows the why. That’s what faith is all about. No one can really prove anything … you just have to believe.

    When Nolan gets a little older, I’m sure he will learn to understand what happened to his uncle, and realize that it is preventable when you designate a DD.

    Love you. 🙂

  2. Life of a Doctor's Wife January 5, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    I think you are doing absolutely an amazing job. Those are tough questions, period. No answer is going to be exactly right. And gosh, one of the (many) things that scares me about having kids is how easy it can be to scare them unintentionally. But I think your kids are in good hands. It’s clear they know they can talk to you about things and that you will be honest and open with them.

  3. Jenn January 7, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    I think that you handled it well. I’m with Heather – you do not give yourself enough credit!

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