Three years ago, I explained to Kevin that our father had died. I did it badly, I think, but with the only words I knew to say. Even though I showed him the casket, talked about heaven, said we wouldn't see Dad anymore, he didn't get it. For weeks, he continued to ask when Dad was coming home. And I would explain it again. One day, after I asked him if he understood, he responded, "Me understand. No more Dad, only Sissa."
His comment was so succinct that I felt a little like Dad had died again. I realized that Kevin accepts and focuses on what is around him. When Mom died, he became closer to Dad. When Dad died, I was the next in line. This brings me to the part that scares me - when I die, I'll be a distant memory too. This is not the way my brain, my emotions work. I continue to grieve my parents' death at times, especially when there's a happy occasion that I wish they could share. Kevin has already adapted to his new group home, his new friends, his new life.
The best advice I received about death and dying as they relate to Kevin was from people at L'Arche in Toronto, a community of the disabled and their housemates, started by Jean Vanier in France several decades ago. I was counseled to bring Kevin through every part of the funeral, to be able to refer back to those moments, to help him to understand to whatever capacity that he could what was happening and to allow him to grieve in his own way.
Which brings me to today's conversation with him. My fiance Vinny's mother died about six weeks ago. Kevin has been with her several times in the last three years during holiday and birthday celebrations. He knows that Vinny went to her house every week - what Kevin referred to as "Vinny's Mama's house." But I have not been able to tell him about Anne's death. Is it to preserve the illusion for him that she is still here? Is it because I don't want to make him sad? No, it is because I don't want to say the words that remind me so much of sitting in a funeral home in Florida three years ago next to Kevin, describing why Dad was in the box in the front of the room. Today, I started to discuss that Anne had been sick and had been in the hospital. Kevin asked, "Where is his Mama now?" And I chickened out. I changed the subject.
So maybe next time I see Kevin, I'll tell him about Vinny's Mama. I'll gather strength, say a prayer for guidance and trust that Kevin is as entitled to know the truth as any other adult.