Death: A Child’s Perspective

Apr 5, 2013 by

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Last November, we learned that my father-in-law had a degenerative lung condition, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and would likely have six months to live. Not an easy thing for any family to hear. For the past several months, it has been even more difficult to watch his decline. At each visit we observed him becoming weaker and more fragile – the man we knew slowly slipping away. He passed peacefully in the early morning hours of March 21. His wife, two sons and daughter were with him.

My father-in-law was an epic figure; a physician, a father, a husband, and a grandfather. He loved his profession, and absolutely adored his patients – he knew them all and cared for generations of families during his 50+ years in practice. He delighted in his family – particularly his five grandchildren. He had an innately curious nature, which led him on adventures around the globe – his only regret that he never made it to Bali. He was a connoisseur of fine wine and food, Italian and German opera, and painting and sculpture. He was also the steward of family traditions; the Thanksgiving meal was always the same – no variations. Father’s Day was always celebrated at his home – regardless of what was happening, we had to make the four hour drive to his home in New Hampshire to celebrate. Every July 4th we sat for hours on the parking lot known as I-95 to get to their blow-out Independence Day party – complete with fireworks.

During the past few months, my husband, “J”, naturally wanted to spend as much time with his dad as possible. They spent a lot of time reminiscing about “J’s” childhood, people they knew, places they visited, and long-dead family members. I suppose this is part of the grieving process and I’m grateful that they had this time together and that there was nothing between them left unsaid. It’s hard to watch your husband grieve – to be so raw and vulnerable. You want to be able to offer some comfort and refuge, but it’s such a personal process that there’s nothing really you can do but just be there and listen.

Amid all of this, our son, “A” was very present. At ten, he’s on the cusp of being able to understand that death is final (as in: we won’t be seeing Grandpa again), yet still has the very child-like ability to live perfectly in the moment where neither the past nor the future matter. At each visit since November, he’s observed the progression of my father-in-law’s illness – in the beginning, moving more slowly and occasionally needing oxygen, to not being able to walk more than 30 feet and requiring oxygen most of the time. At our final family visit at the end of February, he was confined to a chair and tethered to an oxygen tank. It was clear to him that his grandfather was very ill.

When we knew the end was near and “J” was making weekly trips to his parents’ home, we felt that we needed to be very honest with our son about the situation. As “J” packed his case to be at his father’s side two weeks ago, we gently explained to “A” that, “Grandpa is very, very sick. His lungs can no longer take in the air that he needs to live. He is not going to get better.” He looked at me with his big, blue eyes, now shiny and wet with tears. I asked if he understood what I was saying, and he nodded as the tears spilled over onto his cheeks. I just held him quietly. Sometimes there is just nothing else to do.

The next day, after “J” called to tell me that his father was gone, I told “A” that his grandpa had passed away. We’re not a religious family, so the prayers that bring comfort to many people just didn’t work for us. Instead, we talked about how much Grandpa had loved him and that he was so proud of him. We talked about all the things that Grandpa enjoyed and how, now, when we do those things, like travel, eat really good food, and listen to beautiful music, we are honoring Grandpa. We talked about our family traditions and how we are celebrating Grandpa’s life every time we get together as a family. We talked about what a wonderful, long, happy life Grandpa had and that he was surrounded by love every minute of his life, even at the very end. I hope I said the right thing, did the right thing…it’s just so hard to know what’s “right” or “wrong” in this situation, but it felt right in the moment – and it feels right now.

The other day, “A” and I were having our morning chat and we were talking about Grandpa. I asked him what he thought happened after you die. He didn’t skip a beat, “I think that you get born again. It’s the circle of life.”  Ok, little Buddha, I’m going to embrace your philosophy on this. I’d like to think my father-in-law will get to Bali after all.



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A mom to one 12 year-old son, Ann has worked in public relations and marketing for almost 20 years. As a publicist and special events director for a major motion picture company, she worked on films such as The Matrix, Steven Spielberg’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence and the first two Harry Potter films. She was named “One of the Top 15 Most Influential Event Planners in New York City” by an entertainment industry trade publication. After the birth of her son, she gave up the glamorous life (and the hour long commute) to work closer to home, handling public relations and marketing for a natural products company. Her freelance career includes writing for national and international publications and serving as both a reporter and columnist for Fairfield County based websites and magazines and is the founder of the Fairfield County lifestyle blog, Fairfieldista.

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  • Elise

    Just beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Cora

    I had a hard time reading the end of this because I was teary. This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Betty

    My sincerest condolences on your loss! It’s amazing how comforting the perspective of a child is during grief. I lost my 9 year-old daughter in September. Among the many reactions from the other kids in her life, one of my favorites is from my 3 year-old nephew, my sister’s son. We have weekly family dinners and for many weeks, he would ask where she was. And every week, we would patiently explain that she was in Heaven for now and couldn’t come back. He finally got fed up recently and pronounced that he would just have to get in his Dad’s “big truck” and go get her. We think all the bad weather may have something to do with his view :)

    I agree with your son: we get to come back and try again :)

    • Ann Quasarano

      Betty, I am so, so sorry for your loss. I am virtually wrapping my arms around you and giving you a big hug.

    • Kate Street

      Oh Betty, I am so, so sorry to hear you lost your daughter. I can’t imagine there is anything more painful in life than losing a child. Thank you for sharing this story of your 3 year old nephew. Much love to you, Dear Sister.

    • Denise George

      Betty, I’m so sorry for your loss. Losing a child is the hardest cross to bear. God Bless.

    • vtnative

      Betty, I am so sorry for you loss. Sending you love and strength.

    • Melanie

      Betty, so glad you can smile and see the beauty and comfort in the words of an adorable 3-year-old. Wishing for gentle days and abundant happiness for you and your family.

  • Kate Street

    Oh, I just love the wisdom of your boy! They are so in-tune! What a lovely tribute to your father-in-law ~ so sorry you lost him too early. Much peach and comfort to you and your family as you remember and love him.

  • Michelle

    What a sad and beautiful post Ann. It was so moving that towards the end, I cried. Love to you and your family.

  • Dena

    What a heart-wrenchingly beautiful post Ann! So sorry for your loss, but thank you so much for sharing!

  • Jen Seiderer

    Ann, I think you said exactly the right thing that worked for you and your son. I’m sorry for your loss.

  • Denise George

    Ann, I’m so sorry for you loss. I think you did the right thing including your son in the process. We lost both of our fathers to illness (my Dad to Alzheimers, and my husband’s Dad to Diabetes). It was so important to me that my kids get to know what they could of my Dad. By the time my daughter was old enough to remember, my Dad had already lost the ability to speak. It was amazing how they developed their own way of communicating. Even at two, they had a bond that was just totally unexplainable but there they were, indeed bonding. He passed away 6 years ago but my kids made the best of the time they had with him and now even at 10, my little one will talk about fond remembrances of her grandfather even near the end. How would it have been if we kept them away for fear of exposing them to the unfortunate truth that people we love die? She would have never know him at all. My father-in-law passed a few years ago and although it was sad, my daughter even attended the wake. My then 16 year old son was a pall bearer. I remember when a grandmother figure of mine died. I never knew she was sick, and I wasn’t even allowed to the wake. It haunts me to this day that I never got to say goodbye. I’m glad you kept him informed. It’s so much easier on them.

  • Sofia

    So beautifully written, it really touched my heart.

  • vtnative

    Ann, I’m sorry for your loss. What a beautiful post to honor your FIL, elegantly written. I take comfort in your son’s words. Thank you for sharing.

  • Melanie

    Very beautifully written, and a tear-jerker. I liked this: “At ten, he’s on the cusp of being able to understand that death is final (as in: we won’t be seeing Grandpa again), yet still has the very child-like ability to live perfectly in the moment where neither the past nor the future matter.” Exactly! That child-like ability is such a beautiful thing … talk about being a little Buddha! What a gift.

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