Tag Archives: explaining death

That Pesky Issue of Death and The Desire For a Sleepover

“Have a sleepover with Susan and Peter?”  Emma mumbles.  It’s early.  I’m tired.  I  didn’t sleep well, blinding headache, and it’s 6:07AM.

“What time is it?” Richard asks in that groggy-first-words-spoken-in-the-morning kind of voice.

“Six ten,” I reply, optimistically rounding up, hoping those added three minutes will serve to soften the blow.  In case any of you are wondering, Richard is NOT a morning person.  Anything earlier than 7:00AM causes him tremendous pain.  I can hear Richard’s slow intake of breath.  I imagine I can feel his exhaustion.  No wait, that’s mine, never mind.

“I want a sleepover,” Emma says, more loudly this time in case we hadn’t heard her the first time.

I know why Emma is saying this.  Nic has been invited to spend the long Memorial Day weekend with his friend.  He’s leaving Saturday morning and won’t be home until Monday.  Emma overheard Richard and I discussing this.  Emma overhears a great deal.  Emma pretty much knows more about what goes on in our house than I do.  She’s got her finger on the pulse of what’s happening.  And she wants in.

My heart feels as though it’s in a vice grip and simultaneously I feel euphoric.  It’s that bizarre feeling of holding two opposing feelings at once.  This is a rough version of my panicked inner dialogue:   What am I going to say?  This is so great!  How do I tell her my cousins will not be inviting her for a sleepover at their house?  We’ve been through this before.  How do I explain why it is that her brother, Nic, gets invited to sleepovers all the time, but she has never been invited to one?  But she’s asking to have a sleepover, which is fantastic and heartbreaking at the same time.   What can I say that’s honest, but not so honest it will hurt her feelings?  How do I explain what a sleepover entails?  How do I explain the intricacies of sleepovers, that it’s not just sleeping in a strange bed and then coming back home, that there’s so much more to it?  Maybe I don’t need to.  Maybe I need to figure out a version of a sleepover.  Does she understand that I don’t accompany Nic on his sleepovers?  I think she does, but I’m not sure she cares.  

“How about this?” I finally say, measuring my words.  “How about we have a sleepover at Granma’s in June?”  I wait as she stares at me.  She doesn’t say anything.  It’s as though she’s thinking – are you kidding me?  That’s not a sleepover.  That’s a visit.  We do that all the time.  What, you think I don’t get that?  I smile at her, encouragingly.

“Sleepover at Peter and Susan’s.”

Oh boy.  “Um.  Well.  No.  We can’t do that, babe.”

“In August,” Emma says with the tone of one who has tired of the conversation.  There’s a finality to her voice.  Case closed.  There will be no more argument.  She turns her back to me.

Should I let this drop?  Just leave it alone?  But I know there won’t be any sleepover at my cousin’s house in August.  Shouldn’t I tell her that?  I’m reminded of friends of ours who have two, now grown, adult children.   This was when Nic, then four years old, wanted to know about death.  As in – would we die?  What would happen when we died?  Who would take care of him? –  Our friends advised us to lie to him.  “Just tell him you’re never going to die.  He needs reassurance.  He’s just a little kid.”

“But that’s dishonest,” one of us responded.

To which they replied, “Yeah, but if you both die, he’ll be worried about a great deal more than your dishonesty, trust me.  That will be the least of his concerns.”

So…  We didn’t take their advice.  Instead we patiently and carefully explained to Nic that everyone dies, but assured him that we were not going to die for a very long time.  Richard went so far as to say that he was pretty sure medicine would soon solve the whole “death problem” and was convinced that he, anyway, would never die at all, ever.  Eventually Nic, either tiring of our tedious and spurious claims, or just as likely, deciding our responses were so lame he couldn’t cope with them anymore, stopped asking us about death.

I thought about using a similar technique with Emma, but I’m pretty sure she’s made up her mind, regardless of what I may have to say.  She’s very determined.

Emma’s “sleepover” at our cabin

My latest piece My Fear Toolkit published in the Huffington Post