“When will Nanna come back?”
“Why can’t I see her anymore?”
“Why doesn’t Grandmama have a mum anymore?”
“Will Grandmama die too?”
These are some of the many questions that we deal with on a regular basis from my very inquisitive 4 year-old.
Nanna was very close to me and my boys and we are so blessed to have had these years with her. I don’t take for granted the fact that many children grow up without grandparents let alone great-grandparents. Nevertheless her death has had a big impact on all of us. We were very close to her and we miss her. A lot.
We would talk to her every. single. day. The boys would FaceTime and then we would see her at least once every week. The time we spent together was simple, either taking her to run errands or just being a family at our house or her apartment. She was very much part of our daily lives so I knew that the day she left the earth would be extremely difficult for me and the kids.
Nanna had recovered well from a fall she had in January but then took a turn for the worse in March. As my beloved Nanna laid in her hospital bed I hoped for the best but knew I had to prepare for the worst. I began researching how to break the news to my boys and almost everything I read recommended honesty, to keep answers short and not to waffle on in order to minimise confusion and keep the messages simple.
When I returned from palliative care after she made her way to Heaven I was a mess. While I felt like I was able to take on Christian’s questions and have the tough conversations I didn’t feel anywhere near ready to take on motherhood. A fair few people told me that the kids would be good for me – that they were healing but I didn’t feel that. The last thing I felt capable of doing was catering to the needs of anyone. I wanted to stay in bed and shut off the world.
I found those first few weeks most difficult because I wasn’t able to grieve as I wanted or needed. The boys still needed to be fed, bathed, played with as tears ran down my face. These moments are what the sacrifice of motherhood is about. Smiling through your heartbreak and getting out of bed for the pure reason of someone else’s dependency on you.
But now we’re three months on from her passing, I’ve managed a few quiet moments to grieve on my own and the tears no longer come daily. I only started to feel strong enough to go back to the places we’d frequent with her last week. The places where everyone knows us by name and as a collective. Where they all asked “where have you been?” and “where’s your Nanna?” It is difficult but I also get comfort from the familiarity and it’s a way to keep her spirit alive in my boys through the memory of being in these places with her.
When I first had to tell the boys I told Christian alone as Sammy is too young to understand these kind of concepts. I sat Christian down and told him “Nanna was very sick and God had to take her to Heaven”. He replied with a few questions and stated with some frustration that he “didn’t know here Heaven is.” At that time I simply didn’t have the strength to be more direct so I kept things short but treaded carefully and was very gentle with my words.
Christian persisted with questions of Nanna’s whereabouts and I could tell he wasn’t truly grasping the situation. About a week after the initial conversation I told him “Nanna died.” The recognition was immediate and I’ll never forget the look of shock and understanding on his face. It was hard to say the words to my sweet little four year-old but I believe it was necessary for him to understand.
The questions flowed from there –
“When will we see Nanna again?”
“You won’t see her on Earth again but you might see her in your dreams.”
“Why doesn’t Grandmama have a Mum anymore?”
“She does but she’s an angel in Heaven now.”
“Why did God have to take Nanna?”
“Because she was very old and very sick. She watches us all the time and she’s your Angel now, keeping you safe.”
The one question that I haven’t been able to properly tackle is the question of others dying i.e. “Will Grandmama/Granddude/Taita/Jido die too?” I confess that I replied with a flat “no’. I didn’t feel it was the right time for me to hit him with this reality. He is already grieving the one person he saw the most frequently outside of myself and his Dad and I feel this topic is better dealt with at a time it won’t weigh so heavily on his little shoulders. I do plan on explaining the reality to him before he starts school in a few short months though so that I have the opportunity to explain it in the way that we see fit.
Although it’s hard to see my little ones miss her when I’m also missing her so much, I’m grateful that the experience has opened up so many questions about religion and the idea of God and Heaven. Christian now has context for some of these messages that we had previously spoken of but seemed a bit out of reach for such a young child.
I encourage both boys to talk about her and we often bring Nanna up in our daily conversations. We have many reminders of her in our house including the many, many, many gifts she gave my boys. One of her life’s greatest pleasures was mucho regalos and I remind them that she was the one to buy them certain things they love. I also have some items that she used daily like her phone. My mum and aunties gifted Nanna’s iPhone to Sammy but we kept her pink case and left her wallpaper so Sammy still refers to it as “Nanna’s phone” – a simple gesture but one that keeps her in his memory.
I was actually told not to expect Sammy to realise any change because of his age (he’s 2) so the first time he asked me “where Nanna go?” I was shocked, heartbroken and so happy all at once. I wasn’t prepared for him to question where she had gone and so sad that he obviously felt her absence but at the same time, the fact that he felt that she was missing was confirmation of her profound presence in his life and the indisputable stamp she left on my little boy’s heart. Confirmation of the person she was and what she meant to all of us.
Everyone grieves differently and in their own time. It’s still difficult and only early days but having open conversations about her with the kids really has brought me a lot of comfort. The fact that my boys loved her so much, as we all did, also gives me peace in her death. She was happy and we gave her true love while she was with us.
My Dad says that when you miss someone you should take the opportunity to love those that you’re with even more so that’s what I’ve been doing. Family is everything so make sure you love them while you can.
Rest in heavenly peace, Nanna. We love you mucho, mucho. Until we meet again.