Column: Explaining a loved one’s passing to a 5-year-old
Wrapping an adult mind around the concept of death is hard enough, but what about trying to explain it to a 5-year-old?
Recently, I was tasked with this issue.
One of my favorite uncles in the world passed away last week. Uncle Bobby, my dad’s brother and youngest of eight siblings, was found lifeless by the landlord and local police in his living room chair Friday morning.
By Saturday, the autopsy report revealed he died due to a heart attack, and because he lives alone, wasn’t found until four or five days later.
My son A.J. was in the bedroom when I received the call from family back in Wisconsin, informing me of my uncle’s sudden passing.
It was a difficult thing to hear. He was only 52.
Meanwhile, A.J. was playing on the floor with Legos and immediately asked: “Who’s calling, Daddy?”
At first it was annoying to have him tugging at my shirt in attempt to get my attention while I was gathering details about the tragic event, but after a few minutes, I sat with him until the call was over. He just looked at me with those big blue eyes and asked: “Was it Grandpa?”
My father calls often and A.J. always likes to speak with Grandpa over the phone.
I said, “No buddy. That was one of my cousins…”
I thought about going on. Instead, I began submerging myself in the news. He kept at me, asking what the call was about. A.J. is persistent like that.
So, I begrudgingly confessed.
“A.J., my uncle died.”
“What’s that?” he asked.
At that moment, it felt like I was in some television show you watched as a child, not understanding fully the gravity of the situation the actors are trying to portray.
I chuckled a bit, because I couldn’t believe it, like I was in some old rerun of “Full House.”
I explained Uncle Bobby was no longer with us, and he was in heaven.
Knowing full well my son was going to ask a follow up question about what heaven is, like a good journalist’s son would, I explained heaven was a place people went after they could no longer play on earth.
Of course, he smiled, because what’s a world without play anyway, right?
Was it the perfect answer? Probably not. Being put on the spot by my son wasn’t easy.
In the days that followed, I’ve thought about how I would answer him the next time, and the truth is, I don’t know!
My hope in this situation would be to make sure he’s comforted, even if he doesn’t fully understand. One day he will understand, however, and perhaps by then I will have a better answer.
Brian M. Bergner Jr. is an associate sports editor for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Reach him by phone at 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.