Parenting Podcast: May Their Memories Be for a Blessing
When the dog died, I found myself listening to Mr. Rogers. Not because May’s death had forced me to regress to my preschool years, but because I needed advice on how to explain her death to my 2 and a half year old son. It became even more complicated when my grandmother passed away the next month. As Jewish parenting expert, clinical psychologist and author Dr. Mogel teaches us in this week’s Parenting Podcast, we need to listen carefully to what our children are asking about difficult questions, rather than project our own feelings on them. My son’s questions were: How is “dead” different than “sick” or “going bye-bye”? Will she come back? Will that happen to me when I go to the doctor? If May was old, am I old? Are Mommy and Daddy old? It was also important to me not fabricate a fantasy about where May was now that would only get more complicated as he had more questions.
When my grandmother died, part of me realized that my fears of how my son would react were really my own feelings of loss being projected my son. Mr. Rogers sings, “The very same people who are sad sometimes, are the very same people who are glad sometimes.” One of the most disconcerting aspects of the death of a loved one to a child is when the grown-ups around him or her show their sadness and loss. I’ve learned it’s important that our feelings are named and explicit, so that children can see that adults have a range of feelings as well, but those feelings are not destabilizing.
One thing that gives me great comfort is talking to him about the lives of people who have died, rather than their deaths. The other morning we went out for breakfast, and my son was enthralled with the bagel bakers and short-order cooks. I told him that his great-great grandfather was a baker, and my grandmother used to remove his shoes when he came home from work early in the morning, after baking all night. I never met my great grandfather, but this story came to me through my grandmother, and telling it to my son really pleased me. Perhaps this is the meaning of the phrase Zichronam L’vrachah, “May Their Memories Be for Blessing.”
Wendy Grinberg, RJE is a URJ Parenting Specialist.
Watch Dr. Wendy Mogel’s speech at the 2011 URJ Biennial.