I have the bravest little boy ever. He has been through so much in his little life, and he keeps on smiling the best he can. People think that because he’s 6 he doesn’t understand death.. but he does. He understands all too well. It’s only been a few years since I had to tell him that Papa died in his sleep (complications from his diabetes) and then less than a year later our dog got out and was ran over by a car on a rainy dark night.. right before Christmas. This boy knows death.
When I first told him that “Da died” he cried for a moment; then looked up and asked how. That’s a hard conversation. That’s something I had to be very careful with. I had spoken to his therapist and we decided lying of any form would only be harmful. I had to explain to a 6 year old that his father ODed. A 6 year old that didn’t even understand what “drugs” were.
I hope no one ever has to have this conversation with their child, but if you do I just want to let you know how I explained it.. the best way I could think. Over the years we had many conversations about “Da making bad choices” or “Da is sick and needs to get help with his moods”. When “Da” finally moved into a sober house my little boy couldn’t understand why he couldn’t visit Da at his house. I had to explain that Da was living with other people who had the same sickness as Da, that made some of the same bad choices as Da, and who had some of the same anger and sadness issues as Da and that they lived together in order to help each other, but that it wasn’t a place for kids.. and since Mama and Da wanted to keep him safe Da was just to come to us for visits. I don’t know how much he understood, but he stopped asking questions.
Another time, we were listening to “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman and he randomly asked what “drunk” was. Again, I was left a little taken-a-back, but tried to explain as best I could in childlike terms. I asked him, “you know when people drink grown up drinks sometimes they get a little silly… well, sometimes if they drink too much grown up drinks they can get sick”. He seemed to get it. He didn’t really know what “grownup” drinks did.. but he knew what sick was.
So there I was, my 6 year old with tears in his eyes trying to understand why his Da was gone from this world forever I said, “you know how Da sometimes took those “drugs” to feel better…. and you know how I said that grownup drinks can make you sick…. well, sometimes with those drugs, or drinks if you take too too much, instead of sick.. you can die”. Then I waited for more questions, but he didn’t have any. He just turned away and asked if he could watch TV.
I left him with his “FGTeeV” and his thoughts and went to tell a friend what happened. When I came back a few minutes later I asked him how he was feeling.
“I don’t know how to feel. I’m sad, but I’m mad at him… but then I was happy”
I told him that he was allowed to feel all of those things, and that his feelings were going to change depending on what he was thinking about, and that’s OK. It’s been 3 weeks to the day since we had that conversation and he still doesn’t know how he feels. Most of the time he doesn’t even want to talk or think about Da. Then other times he sneaks out a phrase or two of remembrance and the tears well. He won’t say it aloud though. The words, “Da is dead” can not leave his lips. He won’t even say his name. He just points to the sky whenever he talks about him.
He started his first week of 1st grade last week, and, to be honest, I don’t know where he gets the strength. He told me last night that he doesn’t like to sleep anymore because he has nightmares. I told him that I have them too and we could just hold onto each other for comfort. I hope that helped. I hope anything can help. My little boy is the bravest boy ever… but he shouldn’t have to be.