I babysat my little nieces the other day and I asked the four year old if she wanted to FaceTime her grandmother. She replied, “Mama’s dying”. I couldn’t help but laugh. My mother had a stomach virus, so I’m sure she FELT like she was dying, but she certainly is very alive. I had to explain “exaggeration” to my niece. We then got ready to FaceTime my mom to say hi. Before I could finish setting it up, my niece continues with this:
“My uncle is dead.” I know my sister talks about my exboyfriend/her uncle/her godfather with her a lot and has explained death in a child appropriate way to her. Her paternal grandfather died before she was born, so they talk about him often.
“I know. Unc did die,” I responded, not really thinking too much about it. But then she continued, “Do you want to know how?” That stopped me in my tracks. “How?”, I asked, having no idea what her response was going to be. She confidently replied, “he drank too much alcohol.”
Now, obviously she was repeating this from my sister. My niece is four and does not even know what alcohol is. I was very shocked at her response and didn’t know what to say, but luckily the FaceTime call connected and she started talking to my mom, the conversation already forgotten (by her).
When my sister got home from work I told her about the conversation and we talked about it. First she seemed surprised too and thought maybe my niece overheard an adult conversation, but later she said that she does try to tell her the truth about questions she asks. I wasn’t mad or anything, more just surprised I guess.
My sister and I have had discussions about eventually talking to my two nieces about alcoholism and how much to actually tell them about our father. They LOVE my dad. They only know their Papa as a sober man. And I hate to admit this, but one of the driving forces in my breakup with M. before he died was not wanting my nieces growing up with an active alcoholic in their lives. I am so close with them and spend so much time with them, I just do not want them exposed to alcoholism as children. I am relieved that they do not have anyone in their lives now that drinks.
But I also know that there is a genetic element to alcoholism and it is important for them to know the dangers of addiction. I don’t think they necessarily need to know everything from our own childhood or about my dad being abusive. I feel like that would just be so damaging to them. Growing up, my paternal grandfather was one of my very favorite people. He passed away when I was 12 years old. Many years later, my mother confessed to me that my grandpa was very much like my father- that he was an alcoholic and very, very mean. Obviously he was able to control that when I was around him because I had no idea. I felt so hurt, betrayed, and angry when I found out and I think it marred his memory some. I hated thinking about him in a negative way. I am very appreciative that my sister involves me in these decisions, although I would obviously support her and I know that as their mother she has the right to make all of her own decisions when it comes to the girls.
Last night my sister called me, whispering into the phone. “Tony’s dead! What should I do? Should I go get another fish to replace him or do I just tell her?” Tony is (was?) my niece’s blue and red betta fish. She said she was going to talk to her husband when he got home and they would decide what to do. I quickly googled an article from a psychologist about what to say to children when pets that pass away and sent it to her. It said that most children can handle the loss of their pet and it is important for them to talk about it, feel sad, etc. It is a part of the circle of life.
When asked my personal opinion, I half jokingly said, “well if you can tell her the truth about her Uncle dying, I think you can do the same about her fish.” I guess it kind of bothered me more than I thought that she knew the circumstances of M’s death. But I think more than anything, I just still feel so sad. It’s still SO hard. And I am glad that they still talk about him and loved him so much. I want his memory to stay alive and for everyone to remember him. It is coming up on the one year anniversary of his death and it still feels so raw.
❤️ This post is in memory of Tony 😆 He was a really cool little fish 🐟