Our next step was to work with him in deciding how to illustrate the tree. I will admit that I had a concern; part of the assignment included doing an oral presentation to the class and I was not sure that our Littlest understood how people on his tree died or came to be part of our family. What I really wanted was to ensure that the project would lend itself to the Littlest presenting it to classmates without him feeling confused or judged (secretly or not so secretly, I was having an anxiety attack).
The concept of Flynn (big brother who had died) was still relatively new to our Littlest and that was not taking into account that developmentally his ability to understand death was just evolving to include humans (up until now it was reserved for plants, family pets and batteries). I recognize that I was being overly protective. It came from a place of experience, having been through it with our older two children who were confused by messages or concepts about their brother, shared with them by well-meaning (but meddling) teachers, students and other parents.
So we decided to illustrate family members using pictures, well our Littlest decided, he loves photography. He is already taking "selfies" with my camera when I am unaware. Here is one I found on my camera today:
We had a blast printing the photos and my Littlest took his time cutting out every one (in that way that little ones cut, with their tongue sticking out and their elbows up in the air as they maneuver carefully through every curve). We got out the paints and I painted the branches on the tree. We stuck the pictures on the tree and discussed who everyone was and how they were related to us. Our Littlest told me that every paint colour was picked specifically for the person it surrounded, although when asked the significance of the colour, our Littlest replied "just because."
My Littlest told me that Grandpa Les was his daddy's dad who had died (I didn't remember telling him that, funny what they absorb). He told me his Opa was his dad's step dad but his real Opa (yeppers!!). When our Littlest got to my side of the family he said they were my mom and dad who had not died. I reminded him that he did not have to tell his class that, but chuckled at the thought. When he came to describing Flynn's relationship to him, he stopped and looked at me, "he was my big brother, right mom?" I told him that was right. "I don't know why he died?" All I could think was "I don't know why either," but instead I told him that he was born too early. He seemed okay with that. We recited the relationships several times that evening and once more before he left with his project for school the next day. I wrote the relationships on the back of the tree for his teacher just in case he got confused (I know over protective again).