My husband’s grandmother caught Influenza A at the end of last year, and has been in the hospital for a few weeks now. The doctors have told us to expect her passing any day. This is hard for my husband, for his family, and has been especially difficult for our children – her great-grandchildren. Though she has been unable to care for herself for some time now, her family rallied around her, and she has been a constant presence in my mother-in-law’s home. They live a block away from us, and we visit each other at least once or twice a week. My children grew up in their Nani-Jon’s lap (Nani is the Urdu word for maternal grandmother, since that is what my husband calls her, and Jon is a pet name like ‘dear’ or ‘honey’). Though she speaks very little English, and her condition has been deteriorating since my oldest was born, there is a special bond shared between them. Even when she wasn’t speaking much, her eyes would light up and she would call out ‘Gria’ (little doll) when one of the children came to sit by her, and she would smile and laugh at their playing even when little else was getting through to her. I always treasured these moments – in most American families, my children wouldn’t have the opportunity to spend so much time with their great-grandmother. And now, we’re all going to have to learn to live in a world where Nani-Jon is not physically present.
I wish this was a how-to post. I wish I had all the answers about how to smooth this transition, how to soothe my children’s fears without lying to them, how to make everything better. But like so much of parenting, nobody has these answers. They’re going to be different for every child, for every parent, for every family. My oldest is very sensitive about the subject of death – even at 2 or 3 years old, she would cry because she knew someday Mommy and Daddy would die. My second daughter is four now, and seems to understand, but is very nonchalant about the subject. She knows Nani-Jon will be gone, but doesn’t connect it to herself or realize the impact this will have on her life. Talking about death to these two children is so different.
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