Over the past week since I helped an elderly friend enter hospice care, I’ve been doing a lot of talking with my children about death. We’ve been through this before with my in-laws and other relatives, but it’s been a year or two, and they’re just that much older, so their questions are different.
When it comes to death I let my kids take the lead. Whatever they want to do or ask is fine with me. My 7 year old son does not want to visit our friend or go to her funeral. Fine. My 11 year old autistic daughter, G, wanted to visit, but does NOT want to go to the funeral. Fine. My 14 year old daughter, E, wanted to visit AND go to the funeral. Fine.
My husband was on a boy scout outing with our son on Friday night, so I used that time to take my daughters to the inpatient hospice center. On the ride over there I explained to them both that our friend was sleeping almost all the time, and that she didn’t have any machines or tubes hooked up to her – only the oxygen tube in her nose. I reassured them that if either of them changed their minds they didn’t have to go in her room, or if being in her room made them scared or nervous that there was a comfortable living room area with a tv where they could sit. E definitely wanted to go in the room, G said she would also go in the room, as long as she could play with her children’s tablet computer (NOT an ipad – out of our budget!). I made a deal with her that she could bring her tablet, as long as she kept the volume down (she was in a “fruit ninja” mood, and the sound of that game is annoying to me even on a good day).
E handled seeing our friend well. She spoke to her briefly, asked me a few questions, and cried a little. It was then that G’s autism stood out. She asked, “Mommy, why is E crying?” She didn’t understand. I had to explain to her that E was sad because our friend was so sick and would be going to heaven soon. Then a few minutes later she picked up her head out of the game she was playing on her tablet and broke the silence in the room by saying quite loudly, “Mommy, is Miss _____ going to die tonight?” E was horrified and started to tell her sister to “shut up,” but I quickly stopped her and said, “it’s ok,” and answered G that I didn’t think so (and she didn’t – 3 days later she is still with us). I also explained to E that our friend knew all of G’s issues and wouldn’t be bothered by the question.
Then today when I picked G up from school she paused from singing a song on the radio and asked me, “Mommy, did Miss ____ ate today?” (she frequently confuses verb tenses). I said no, that our friend wasn’t eating anymore, just sleeping, and that her body didn’t really need any food now. Then G said, “When Miss _____ dies I’ll be a little sad, not a lot sad, just a little. But I still don’t want to go to her funeral because funerals are booorrriiinnnggg.” Then went right back to singing the song…
Because talking about the death of a very close older friend, speaking like a Valley Girl, and singing a pop song go hand in hand in autism world. At least I can say this about my daughter – you always know how she’s REALLY feeling. No pretense with her.