When I was twelve years old, my grandfather had his first stroke. I remember when he came home from the hospital; I would sit on the couch, hold his hand, and feverishly work with him to speak his first words.
This experience was life altering, in that it gave me the platform to be comfortable in my role as a caregiver. I thank God my parents did not shelter me from the experience, but rather they gave me the tools to embrace it.
Consequently, I am able to handle crisis situations with ease and grace – minus the inappropriate laughter – it runs in the family.
My own children have been blessed with the opportunities to assume these roles in their own lives at a really young age. While experiencing the passing of two great-grandmothers, they have been exposed to hospice situations and the inevitable process of having to say goodbye.
Although the first instinct was to shelter my children from these tough situations, a decision was made to allow them to play an active role.
They have since experienced sickness and death in a safe, drama-free environment; this is a gift that they will have for the rest of their lives.
On Friday of last week, we received a phone call that my brother-in-law had a heart attack. With my husband having the flu, I was next in line to head out to Cleveland to play the role of patient advocate.
My son, Nicholas, was eager to join me on my trip, and I quickly and willingly accepted his offer.
When we first arrived at the hospital, I could see that Nick was really nervous about what he was walking in to, but I held the awareness that he was experiencing something that would benefit him in the long run.
I think he was somewhat surprised when I walked into the hospital room with a huge smile on my face and immediately began making really bad jokes. Although not overly appropriate, it quickly changed the energy of the room and provided a more relaxed atmosphere for us all.
My goal is always drama-free.
Over the next three days, Nicholas witnessed a lot: He learned how to gather the facts and information that are needed to make educated decisions. He saw how to respectfully question the authority of the doctors, particularly when you are receiving conflicting information. He learned about DNR’s and Living Wills, and the importance of having these in place.
Most important, he experienced the role of being a patient’s advocate and that our primary responsibility is being present for our family.
I am happy to report that my brother-in-law is doing well and that Nicholas played a huge role in maintaining levity throughout his recovery. Turns out, they were a gift to each other.
It is so important to expose our kids to these topics in an honest and an age appropriate manner. To shelter them is not going to serve them in the long run and it will ultimately instill fear and resistance to a subject matter that they will someday have to face head on.
By allowing them to be part of the process, it will become a natural part of who they are.
I pride myself on approaching tough life situations in a positive, drama-free way. My hope is that my children approach these tough life experiences in the same way.
Sickness and death are a part of life.
It is our responsiblity to teach our children how to handle these tough life situations. It is not only a gift to them, but to the world around them.
PS. Have your children ever had to experience the process of death? How did you approach handling this situation?