I think they were nine and twelve. But I’m terrible with figuring out the ages of kids, and I’ve decided that asking isn’t helpful. Instead, I start listening and start talking and calibrate my vocabulary and concepts to the responses I’m getting.
Thirty feet away, through an open door, a public hallway, and a closed door was their grandmother. She wasn’t old. She had been sick. She was now dead. She’d come to the ER but there was nothing that could overcome what the cancer had done.
One of the girls went to see her body. One of the girls didn’t.
Now, I was sitting with the two girls and their mother in a quiet room while their dad and uncles and aunts and grandmother’s best friend arrived and visited and kept vigil.
“May I tell you something?” I said.
“Right now, you are feeling lots of things that feel confusing. And you are looking at all the adults and their expressions and responses. You are trying to figure out how you are supposed to feel, what the right way to feel about this death.”
“You hear people say, ‘she’s not suffering now’ and you hear people say ‘she’s at peace’. But you watch them crying. You don’t know whether to cry or to feel scared that adults are crying or to not feel anything much. And you feel all three and more.”
“It’s okay to not try to feel the way people expect. It’s okay to feel confused. Because the truth is, the adults aren’t sure how to feel either. Don’t worry about getting it right.”
“Does that make sense?”
“That helps me,” their mom said.
Which is part of why I was talking to the kids.