Making Time: Up in the Sky
Mourning my father with munchkins, hugs and kisses

“Daddy why are you sad? You should smile.”

When Brandon looked at me and asked about my wellbeing, I realized he knew something was up. You never feel prepared to lose a parent. But being a parent when that loss occurs – and having to explain it to your preschooler – makes you feel even less prepared.

Although I didn’t feel ready to tell my son about his poppy’s passing, it was abundantly clear that Brandon could sense it. Children always can. They just know when something in their world isn’t the same anymore.

My greatest fear was breaking the sad, sad news in the “wrong” way. I was worried that phrasing it incorrectly could cause larger problems. So in preparation, my wife Sarah and I sought out advice from professionals, clergy and teachers. We also read articles about the right and wrong way to tell kids about the death of a loved one. Everything we were told and read offered the same advice, which is to be direct because children are literal.

The opportunity came a day after my dad died. As we sat together quietly playing on the floor on Saturday morning during Adam’s morning nap time, Brandon turned to ask about the sad look on my face. That’s when Sarah and I made our move.

“Daddy is sad because Poppy died,” Sarah said. Brandon clearly didn’t understand. He started to ask questions to rationalize and make sense of what he had just heard. So she added that “His body stopped working, so he is not here anymore, and we can’t give him hugs and kisses.”

That didn’t sit right with Brandon. He was very quick to say that it wasn’t true. “We can give air hugs and kisses!” he insisted.

I couldn’t comprehend how quickly he thought of such a thing. I stared at him in awe and responded, “You’re absolutely right.”

Then Brandon asked if Poppy was “up in the sky like the superheroes with the stars” and I told him that he was, “like the stars we see at night.”

He seemed to take to that idea. Then, as it was getting close to his own lunchtime, Brandon asked, “How can Poppy eat lunch?” But before we could answer, he jumped up and quickly changed the topic to ask if we could ride bikes outside.

The rest of the day, the topic of Poppy didn’t come up as Brandon went about his normal activities. The following morning, he woke up early after a night of poor sleep. At about 5:45 am, he and I went for a drive and picked up some Munchkins – or as he calls them, Brandon-sized donuts.

On our way home, the sun was coming up and the sky was beginning to show color through the darkness when, all of a sudden, Brandon yelled “Poppy” from the back seat, disrupting the morning calm. It startled me, so I asked him what he meant, and he pointed up to a light in the sky. I guess he saw a star or planet from his window. Not knowing how to respond, I asked him what he wanted to do next and he said, “Say hi to Poppy.” So at 6 am, we pulled the car over, looked up at the sky, and talked to my Dad. We told him about the donuts we were about to eat and how we hoped he wasn’t hungry. I asked Brandon if there was anything else he wanted to say and he replied, “I love you.” He gave an air hug and blew kisses.

At that moment, all I could do was hug my son to help take away some of my own pain as I again fought back tears. I hoped he didn’t understand enough of what was going on to truly feel the pain himself. Once again, Brandon reminded me of something I hadn’t yet realized myself: that I can still talk to my Dad any time I want to, and I can always give him air hugs and kisses. Anytime. Anywhere.

January 2021
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