Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Running For Flynn

As adults we add layers to the death and dying experience. That statement is not meant to be negative or positive, it is just my experience.  When someone we love dies, as adults, we will likely go over the details on a continuous loop in our minds hoping to make sense of the death or find the meaning in the specifics. Young children don't tend to have this inclination - not in my experience.  In fact, children will develop an understanding of death in its simplicity (unless guided to do otherwise) - that death means that the body and mind stop working - the heart stops beating, the lungs stop breathing, there is no hunger or feelings of pain. The body is no longer alive.

When our children have wanted to know or understand about their brother, that is what we have started with - he died and biologically that meant his body stopped working and he is not alive.  We have talked about and showed them pictures of him in our arms and we have taken them to the cemetery where he is buried. When they have asked how he died we have explained as simplistically and age appropriately as possible: he was born before his body was ready, he was too little and so he died.  When I reflect on how we have handled their understanding that they had an infant brother who died, I think we did very well, they are well adjusted children.
But there are nuances to death - the layers. The hows, whats and whys that we add as our children grow and reach developmental ages that have them asking more questions and wanting more details.  With our oldest we were so keenly aware as he transitioned into a new understanding of death and asked more refined questions that we remained vigilant of the messages he received.  Conversely, as his brothers have grown we have made assumptions of their understanding and maybe even believed that they would develop this awareness through the narrative that exists in our family - the hows, whats and whys.  I can admit when I am wrong and this time I was wrong.
For the past two years we have come face to face with the holes in the two middle boy's narrative about their brother.  It started with our older middlest and the day he had the Terry Fox Run at school.  He came home excited and eager to tell us how well the run had gone and then he showed us the badge he had created in remembrance for that day:
To him death was death. His brother had died and so had Terry Fox. He was running because Terry Fox had died and so with that logic, he was running for a brother who died.  We told him how meaningful that was and then we told him how the details were a little different - people do die with cancer but that was not how Flynn died. The Terry Fox Run was to support cancer research and so we typically run for people impacted by the disease.  He shrugged his shoulders and said he still was glad he ran for Flynn.  I felt like we handled it in an age appropriate and considerate manner but I will admit it was an uncomfortable conversation (it is hard to not create meaning around the details) and I was not wanting the school to have the wrong story of our son's death but also did not know how to correct it.
I left it alone hoping that armed with this new information our son would change the narrative at school and perceptions (if there were any) would be corrected. Wrong Again.
This year our younger middlest came home from the Terry Fox Run and guess what his badge said:
I know I have awesome children and although their story is skewed and needs some adjusting (at home and at school) it warms my heart to know how much Flynn means to this family.  Now to make some calls to the school.

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