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How to explain the death of a child... to a child

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How to explain the death of a child... to a child

Carissa Douglas

One morning as I caught my school bus, I turned back and waved to the little figure standing in my driveway, not realizing that it would be the last time I'd ever see her. 

I haven't shared the story of my little sister's death here yet. She was a mischievous four year old, who we called Monkey, and at the time, I was an overly imaginative nine year old, the second oldest of five children. 

She was waiting for her own school bus with another sister, who was six, while my older sister and I headed to our school located in a different town.

I sometimes wonder if things would have happened differently if I had been attending the same school as Allison. Would I have been there to pull her back away from the road, or would I have been burdened with the image of my sister running out to catch the bus, thinking it was safe, only to be struck by oncoming traffic.

When I returned home from school that day, I was met by my other sister, who had witnessed the event, but was too young to understand the gravity. We were told that Allison was in the hospital, and I amused myself with the idea of my little sister soon returning home with an exciting story about her trip to the hospital and perhaps a large cast for us to sign.

We were disappointed when my parents returned home... without Allison.

I can't imagine what they must have gone through that day, losing their child, one of the most excruciatingly painful sorrows known to man - and then having to somehow find the strength and the words needed to explain to their other children that their sister would never be coming home.

Such an event tears families apart. I have encountered families who completely broke down after the loss of a child. But faith, especially our Catholic faith has a way of bringing the very best of things out of the most profound tragedies. My parents explained that Allison was hurt very badly - so badly that the doctors couldn't fix her, but Jesus was ready to take her into Heaven where there is no pain, no injuries, only joy, only love, and Allison would be happier than she could ever have imagined: running, dancing and falling into His embrace.

"But as it is written, No eye has seen, and no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined the things which God has prepared for those who love him." - 1 Corinthians 2:9

Only days before she had been in a field making crowns of daises for her head, and she had been caught staring at an old painting lifting up her hands, mesmerized, whispering "Praise God" over and over again. It was as though she was being prepared - radiating such serenity and joy, almost as in anticipation of what was to come.

I was comforted by the way my parents shared the news of her passing, but I found even greater joy when our priest arrived at our home. We ran to meet him in the driveway and his hands were in the air, his face beaming, he exclaimed, "You have a saint in Heaven!"  He explained the treasure of having a personal saint, who would be talking to Jesus about her family and asking Him to take care of them. He told us that if we ever needed anything, to talk to her. It was a paradox, my sister's being taken far from me had somehow brought Heaven closer. It became more real to me, and knowing Allison was before the face of God helped me feel more connected.

I still needed to go through the various stages of grief and my sister's death permanently altered my life and shaped me. But I believe it's been for the better and, although I miss her tremendously, I know that I've been showered in graces through her loving intercession.

"The twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and with golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints" - Rev. 5:8

When Allison was dying, the doctors (knowing there was nothing more they could do) laid her in my mother's arms. My mom rocked her and asked her to ask Jesus to bless and protect our family. She then sang songs of praise to God, as my sister was passed from the arms of my mother into the arms of Christ.

I know that it's difficult to talk about death to a child, and it will be explained a little differently to each (depending on their age and the circumstances of the death), but it is integral that we convey hope - the hope that flows in abundance from this our awesome faith.

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the veil."  - Hebrews 6:19