When someone your child loves dies…

We can prepare ourselves and our children for just about everything, but when the unexpected happens — what then?

We suddenly lost my dear step sister a few weeks ago. This has rocked our family to the core. Katie was a fun, adventurous animal lover and had a very special way with the kids in our family. Aunt Katie was the person who could make my 2 year old nap when nothing else would work. She would pick up goodies at garage sales and always, always found the good in just about any situation. She even brought a LIVE baby duck to our Easter family gathering for the kids to play with.

So, now that she is suddenly gone, what do you say? How do you explain this to a 5 year old?  The typical A-type mom in me would have read up on blogs, books, and researched the “right” thing to say. How do you explain death to a child? What questions will she have? What will I say? Will we traumatize her? What would a child psychiatrist tell me to do? But there wasn’t time for that.

We told Claire, my 5 year old, without sugar coating it. We don’t have all the answers. Aunt Katie is with Jesus, and we will not see her again until we get to heaven. There were tears. Claire didn’t have much of a response until a few hours later. My artistic, big hearted girl wanted to draw a picture. So, she drew and colored and talked about how special Aunt Katie was to our family. How she was kissing that duck on the mouth just a few days before. {Gross, right? But that was our Katie.} And how Katie was always hugging them and yelling “MY GIRLS!!!” when she saw us.

frogKatie especially loved ladybugs and frogs.

I bought my girls stuffed frogs and told them when they think about Aunt Katie and miss her, they can hug their frogs and feel safe. “Toadie” and “Froggy” have been lugged around just about everywhere ever since.

A few days ago, my parents took the girls to a butterfly release in honor of Katie and her memory. A way to keep Katie’s spirit alive in the hearts of our girls. A beautiful butterfly to hold … adore … and let go. Claire came home telling me about her beautiful butterfly and how it’s okay that it’s gone and that she would see it again someday.

Just like Aunt Katie.

I’ve been thinking. Are we doing this the “right” way? Are we? In the past few weeks, our family has spent more time enjoying nature, spending time together, and having fun enjoying the little things. While we are at the very beginning of this process of saying goodbye, grieving, and honoring a special life lost… I’d say we are all doing okay. And that’s just the way Katie would have wanted it.



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