real life

Are there toys in heaven, Mummy?

It’s the questions that children ask you at the most ordinary moments that make your heart hurt.

“Are there toys in heaven mummy?”, came the question from my four year old in the back seat of the car. While I desperately tried to think quickly how best to answer, his slightly older brother asked, “How about hot chocolate mummy? Do they have hot chocolate in heaven?”.

We’ve been talking about heaven a lot lately in our house. These two beautiful little boys have become quite obsessed by the idea of heaven.  At the ages of four-and- a-half and six, they understand enough to know many of the important people in their mummy’s life died before they were born.

My own mother died almost 20 years ago when I was 22 years old. She was only 49. She had always been an exceptionally loving woman and a kind, generous and caring mother. She’d truly have loved my children and relished being a grandmother – a role she never got to play. I was 35 when I had my first baby and 18 months later my second child came along. How often I missed her during those exhausting sleep deprived years when I was trying to care for these two baby angels.  I know she would have been a big help. Yet that was not our destiny, not hers, nor mine, nor indeed my children’s. And the older my little boys get the more heartbreaking it all becomes. 

Their grandfather – my father – had a fatal heart attack the year before my eldest baby was born. My dad often told my

partner and I how much he was looking forward to being a grandfather. Despite being eccentric, I know my dad would have been totally besotted with my two little boys.  My husband's beloved father died 15 years ago and is so very greatly missed by his family. I never got to meet him but his absence is strongly felt.

So is there a way to incorporate long passed much loved grandparents or other family members into the lives of my young children? Is there a way to give children a sense of the people their grandparents were even if they never got to meet them and aren't lucky enough to be in an ongoing  grandchild - grandparent relationship.

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We have some photos around the house. We speak about both their maternal grandparents and their paternal grandfather as if they were still here. We light candles for them at special moments and talk about them often.

With my mother watching over my shoulder, I sing my children the same songs and lullabies she sang to me. I cook and bake some of the foods I was fed as a child. I try to emulate all the good traits I remember, like her patience and creativity.  And while I'm singing or cooking or baking with my boys, I often tell them that I'm doing the same thing for them that grandma Susie did for me.

A lovely grandmother-child relationship was not our fate.

So my children are growing up without three of the four grandparents who would have adored them.  Yet despite this, I still want my sons to know something of their grandparents.  Historically it's such an important relationship for children.  My boys watch other grandparents take such an active part in some of their friends childhoods.

One day my four-year-old asked me out of  the blue whether one of his friends from preschool had a grandma? "Yes" I answered, "how come you're asking"? " I just want to know who died and who didn't die" he simply replied.  So as I continue to navigate my way through my boys' childhoods I do the best I can and try to be mindful they are trying to make sense of a sometimes complicated world around them.

How do you talk to your children about death, and the people they will never know?

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