When you lose a child, that death turns you into a different kind of parent. Your entire family changes. The topic of death free flows, sometimes to the point that it could make other people uncomfortable. There are no lines in the sand to determine what is appropriate because that line ceased to exist when your child left this earth.
This world we live in is full of bad things. Scary things can happen when we least expect it. As a parent I used to try and shield my children from that knowledge. As much as possible I would sugar coat life. Give them a sense of safety and security to ease any concerns.
My daughter asked what the word deployed meant. I began explaining to her that when someone in the military gets deployed they are being sent overseas to go to war or to go help keep peace in other parts of the world. She is five years old so of course that lead to additional questions about why people were fighting. To keep it simple I mentioned they may fight over who owns land or beliefs on how they should run their country. Enter death.
She asked me, “Do people die when they go to war?”
I said, “Sometimes. The soldiers go to protect people and try to keep people from dying. However, as we know you can’t always keep that from happening.”
She said, “Yeah, like Cameron.”
When your 7-year old brother (and best friend) vanishes before your eyes, your world is shaken to the core. I can’t think of much that would top that. There is no sugar coating the bad stuff anymore. She knows it is out of our control and it happens when you least expect it. So we embrace it.
After a brief moment she says, “Mom, which one of us do you think will get to die and see Cameron first?”
I quickly put my hand up. “Me! I get to see him first.” You see, this question is a game. We play it often. It’s like the race to see who can die first. Morbid, I know!
She laughs, “You probably won’t die for like a million years.”
I replied, “What?! A million years? That seems like a really long time.”
She said, “Ok, maybe 10-years. Or maybe just 2-months. Who knows, right?!”
I said, “You’re right. Who knows.”
There isn’t the same sadness in her eyes that Cameron had when he and I first talked about the prospect of death. We cried together because he was genuinely scared that I would die before him. Maybe this is a lesson in resiliency? She knows life goes on regardless of how much you wish it didn’t. She knows survival after trauma.
I find solace in the fact she seems so unafraid. Cameron’s death did that for me, too. She was excited at the idea of seeing her brother again. Someday. In the meantime, we are learning to navigate this life without him.