As a Mom to four kids – ages 8, 7, 6, and 5 – I have discovered the wide variety of reasons for crying. Most of the time it’s because someone snatched away a toy, or being told it’s bedtime or naptime. Or on other days, it’s because of being put in time-out, realizing a special item is broken or is missing, or simply being told “no.”
But this past week was different; it brought sad tears as we learned of Todd’s grandmother’s death. Nana was a remarkable woman – larger than life! She was a loving servant who gave not for her own gratification, but solely for the benefit of others. She was inspiring as she provided an annual Christmas to group of homeless women in Georgetown, she served continuously as an adult volunteer in Job’s Daughter International, she was an active member in two churches, and family was priority #1. My two favorite Nana Christmas gifts of all time were a cow purchased for the Heifer Project in my honor, and a Chinese eye-chart t-shirt. Nana had a knack for finding creative ways to show that she valued what you did.
We tried to prepare the kids as best we could for what they might experience or feel as we traveled for the funeral. We gave them the following advice:
- It’s okay to have different feelings about Nana dying. We feel sad because we will not be able to hug her again. But we also feel happy and relieved knowing she is not in any more pain and she is in Heaven with Jesus.
- It’s okay to cry. It’s also okay not to cry. And if a special memory about Nana makes you smile or laugh, it’s okay.
- If you don’t understand something, ask Mommy or Daddy. We will do our best to explain it.
- The funeral home is a place where family and friends can get together to talk about Nana’s life and what they will remember about her.
- Death is a part of life, meaning every one will die one day. Life is beautiful so we must treasure each day that we have, and make it count by living out our faith.
As we took our time as a family with her at the funeral home, there is nothing quite like the tears of child when it comes from sadness. Having never dealt with death or dying before, Quentin and Elise gained a sudden realization that Nana was gone – not just sleeping. Their tears were raw and powerful, and it broke my heart to feel their pain. For them, it made sense – this life is temporary. It was amazing to watch Quentin’s courage in comforting his sister by telling her that “we’ll see Nana again in Heaven one day when we die.” He told me later on that his first thoughts upon seeing Nana were of curious wonder and knowing he would miss her.
Elise had reached a moment when the emotional burden of everything going on just broke her down. She cried a lot. Through her tears, all she could say was that “Nana died.” It’s got to be hard when your 5 years old to try to understand what all of this means. Todd took Elise for a little walk out of the room where she finally calmed down. She stuck close to my side for most of the night, but easily found distractions to occupy her mind.
Jasmine and Joel knew it was sad time, and as they struggled to comprehend what it all meant, you could tell they didn’t like seeing Nana so still. But with a precious smile on her face, Jasmine told me that “Nana looks pretty and I like her purple shirt.” I think that having Down syndrome is a blessing because even in her awareness of seeing people upset, Jasmine saw the simple beauty of who Nana was.
Joel was able to meet Nana for the first time on the day after Christmas. This meeting is now so very special to us. Throughout the night at the funeral home, Joel’s constant question to us was, “Nana wake up?” I had no other reply than to say, “No baby, Nana can’t wake up.” We stood together as our family of 6 before her casket to say our final farewells. I’ve never been more proud of my children than in that moment.
Each of them spoke to Nana telling her they loved her and would miss her. They thanked her for everything she had done for them and for having all the noisy, dancing animals at Christmas time. It was obvious she has left an indelible mark on their lives.
I had no idea how my kids would navigate this idea of death and dying, and the reality is that we will experience it again with other loved ones, friends, and eventually, ourselves. It’s really true when they say that kids are resilient. I’m so thankful for the life of Barbara Sanders Ridge and the impact she had on my life and the life of my children.