Explaining death to a child is not a conversation that any parent or guardian wants to have. Ever. Losing a family member is tough on adults, but a child might not truly understand what has happened even after an explanation. One mother found herself in a very tough situation when she was trying to see if her older son understood the death of his younger brother…and his response is so inspiring that I don’t think most adults would have taken this attitude. This is breathtaking.
We have been lucky to be blessed with three sons. They have each brought us special joy with their individual personalities, but our middle son, Billy, is fondly known as the “eternal optimist.” I wish that we could take credit for this attitude, but it’s something he was born with!
For example, he had always been an early riser and liked to get in our bed at 5 a.m. As he would crawl into our bed, we would admonish him to be quiet and go back to sleep. He would lie on his back and say in a falsetto whisper, “It’s going to be a beautiful morning. I hear the birds singing.”
When we would ask him to stop talking to us, he would reply, “I’m not talking to you; I’m talking to me!”
In kindergarten, he was asked to draw a tiger. Now, while optimism is Bill’s strong suit, art is not, and his tiger came out with a crooked head and one eye that appeared to be shut. When his teacher asked him about why the tiger had one eye closed, he replied, “Because he’s saying, ‘Here’s looking at you, kid!’”
Also, when he was five, he got into an argument with his older brother about whether a man on TV was bald. Billy said, “He’s not bald. He’s like Papa. He’s only bald when he looks at you. When he walks away, he has lots of hair!”
These memories and many, many more led up to the ultimate optimistic statement. Our third son, Tanner, was stricken with hemolytic uremic syndrome on a Tuesday and died the following Sunday. Billy was seven. The night after Tanner’s funeral I was putting Billy to bed. I often used to lie down beside him to discuss the day. On this particular night, we lay quietly in the dark with not much to say. Suddenly, from the dark, Billy spoke.
He said, “I feel sorry for us, but I almost feel more sorry for all those other people.” I questioned him about which people he was taking about.
He explained, “The people who never knew Tanner. Weren’t we lucky to have had Tanner with us for 20 months? Just think, there were lots of people who were never lucky enough to know him at all. We are really lucky people.”
He understood so much more than she realized. His optimistic attitude allowed him to see past the grief and confusion and to focus on the positive parts of his brother’s life. He was able to see what a gift life is and he was able to appreciate the memories that they had been able to make as a family. He wasn’t focused on the loss of his brother. He was focused on the time he had been given and was eternally thankful for it. If only we could all have this attitude when tragedy strikes in our lives! We must all take a page from Billy’s book and learn to be grateful for the time we have on this Earth and with our loved ones. Thank you, Billy!
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