New Mama Musings

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Don't Say Any Words


I've been struggling for some time with how to explain my dad's move to a nursing home, inevitable decline and eventual death to Henry. What words could I use to make things clear without scaring him? How could Henry even comprehend the idea of someone dying and never coming back?

My dad moved to the nursing home a little over a month ago and two weeks later, before I got the chance to take Henry to visit him, my dad was rushed to the hospital with what was thought to be a gallbladder infection. He developed a few other problems and after an extended stay there he was released to a hospice. They are giving him massive doses of morphine to make him comfortable, but not doing much beyond that. A few days ago my dad stopped eating and drinking.

We took Henry to the hospital once and to the hospice twice. He heard my dad moaning in pain, saw him sleeping with his mouth open, and the last time, saw my dad almost comatose. And after all those visits Henry has asked no questions at all about his grandpa.

This is a kid who drives me batty with questions all day long: "Why doesn't Paige (our neighbor) want dandelions in her yard?" "Why does the road have those lines on it?" "Why do some clocks have all the numbers and some clocks don't?"

And no matter how thoroughly or definitively we think we've answered his question, our response is almost always followed by another "Why?"

My dad has been on the decline since just before Henry was born, so he was never a robust or playful grandpa to him.

Still, though, my dad was present during our weekly visits to my parents' house. He and Henry both liked baked beans for lunch. He would comment on the toys Henry was playing with. And Henry would talk about Grandpa as much as he would talk about anyone he knew.

Before my dad was moved to the nursing home he would fall asleep in his chair quite a bit, and during our last visit to my parents' house before my dad moved out I remember Henry running into the living room, putting his hands on the chair next to my dad, and saying, "I came in to see you, Grandpa!" My dad smiled and said, "Was I sleeping?"


My guess is that Henry just can't or doesn't want to process this change in his grandpa. I haven't tried to explain it because I'm afraid of scaring him. Whenever we mention something that Henry doesn't want to hear, he says, "Don't say anything! Don't say any words!" and I think if I broached the subject with him, this would be his response.

My mom thinks my dad will be gone by the end of this coming weekend, and I still don't know exactly what I'll say to Henry. I guess I'll simply tell him that Grandpa died, that he was very old and that his body stopped working.

And then I'll stop talking and let Henry process it in whatever way he can.

5 Comments:

  • it'll be 5 years this june 24 that my dad died, totally unexpectedly (we found him dead in his house). it was difficult, but for my boys (caleb was 8, calvin was just shy of 4), i just tried to answer their questions as best as i could, and just answered their questions (without going on and on). it's been a long time since i've read it, but there was a good book by Aliki called "The Two of Them", about a girl and her grandfather, and he gets sick and dies.

    my boys were more affected and questioning about everyone else (why is everyone sad, crying, why do you have to leave [i had to go to mexico], etc).

    By Blogger mamafitz, at 8:51 AM  

  • oops, caleb was 7, not 8. he also figured out how old he would be when everyone important in his life turned 62 (that's how old my dad was). they both were just perfectly behaved for a while too, as if that would bring him back. now sometimes calvin gets worried that he is forgetting Bo, but i assure him he won't, and we look at photos (i can do that now, without too much trouble most of the time).

    By Blogger mamafitz, at 8:57 AM  

  • I'm sorry to hear about your dad's declining health. I know this has been a difficult time and has brought up a lot of conflicting feelings for you *hug*.

    No advice on how to talk to Henry about it. One of my cats who has died came up in conversation the other day and M asked where he was (I don't think she remembers him, but she saw a picture of him and started asking questions). It was all I could do not to cry, and I really had no idea how to answer her question. I just said he didn't live here anymore ...

    So yeah. I'm not someone to be giving advice on this issue!

    By Anonymous gearhead mama, at 4:44 PM  

  • Thanks for the book recommendation, mamafitz -- I requested it from the library.

    And thanks for the hug, GHM.

    By Blogger New Mama, at 7:45 PM  

  • i'm sorry that is gone from this world. :( my grandpa passed away a few months ago and i could tell you the long story about how J and C were throughout the whole thing (and um- my family........, funeral, burial, etc....)
    but you know what- you will tell henry exactly what he needs to know. i'm sure you already have and are probably feeling proud of how you've handled it.
    b/c that's the kind of mom you are. a good one.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:34 PM  

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