My mother had been battling Lung Cancer since April of 2015. She who went to the Lutheran school I went to, so she pushed for my sister and me to go there. She was the one who went to church with us, sang songs with us, and prayed with us. I was oftentimes referred to as a “momma’s boy” but was never once offended by it. I knew that my mother would do anything for me, and I would do anything for her. Throughout my childhood and the challenges that came with that, my mom was always there to lend a helping hand and an ear to listen. Now it was my turn.
My mom would call me often needing an ear to listen to how hard chemotherapy was and how difficult it was to continue to maintain her sense of hope and her sense of faith. It was my turn to step up in my role as son and I was not sure I was ready for it, but thankfully, God equips those He calls.
The hardest part about changing your role in life is maintaining the roles and consistencies within your other relationships. I wanted to make sure I was the same teacher, father, husband, brother, and friend that I was before my mother’s diagnosis. I learned quickly, however, that was an impossible task. As a parent with young children going through this, you will be changed. You will see the selflessness that your parents had when you were a kid. I immediately thought “How are the kids going to handle this news?” With cancer, it is not just one tough conversation with your children, but many difficult ones both large and small.
Even as young as they were, my children knew what Grandma was like before her diagnosis. She was active, she was silly, she was healthy looking, and she had a full head of hair. Progressively, those things changed (except for the silly part.) It was difficult to explain that Grandma was sick and that was why her hair fell out. It was even more difficult to explain that Grandma was sick and that was why she could not do the things with you that you were accustomed to. I learned one thing, hiding the truth from your kids, even if they are 4 years old, is not an option.
There is a difference between shielding the truth from your children, and not forcing them to be engulfed by what is going on. My wife and I learned the tricky balance in providing only pertinent and necessary information to the kids. We learned to answer their questions honestly; but carefully. We worked together to prayerfully explain everything in the best and most gentle way. We used Bible stories and verses to guide our discussions. Matthew 18:2-6 comes to mind, “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” God does not want us to exclude our children from the hardships in our lives, he wants us to learn how to gently and peacefully include them in our lives and the decisions that are made.
The most challenging part, as a young father, was having my children see me cry, at least at first. I then realized that my children know me well enough to know that the passion, energy, and emotion that I have for them, I also have for my same mother. I want them to see that passion and love. I want them to see me cry when I am concerned for my mother’s welfare. I want them to see me leap for joy when we get good news. I don’t want them to ride the roller coaster of emotions with me, but I want them to know it is okay to have and show their own emotions. It is a safe and healthy thing.
My mother died on August 5, 2016. We did not take our then 4 year old twins to the funeral. There is not an hour that goes by that I don’t think about her. There is not a day that goes by that the children do not bring up a memory they have of her. We read books that remind us of her and cry together, I tickle their “ham hocks” and we laugh together like Grandma used to, and we look at pictures and memories of her frequently.
The 5 pieces of advice I wish to leave any parent who has to go through this with young children are these:
1. Let Scripture be your guiding principal in anything that you might do. Pray often with your children for your loved ones.
2. Be honest, but be careful with your words and explanations.
3. Allow for your emotions to get the best of you around your children. It is healthy for them to see it.
4. Find special moments you know he/she shared with them and keep those alive. Talk about that person who is missing. Tell the stories.
5. Keep up pictures and mementos of your memories with your loved ones. Show the connection that you had with him/her when you were a child and compare that to the memories your child had with your loved one.
“I will love you forever, I will like you for always, as long as I’m living, my mommy you’ll be.” --Robert Munsch
6th Grade Teacher/ Athletic Director