Jul 5, 2012

To Honor a Memory

How do you help a three year old understand what death is?  It has been hard to grieve for Hunter and answer her questions.  It hurts my heart wondering what her conceptions are and what is going on in her head and heart and what she understands. 

Right now Ella is just about the same age as I was when my father died.  I CANNOT imagine...not even fathom a fraction of what it was like for my mom... to lose my dad... to grieve... and to have a three year old and a six year old along in that process that I'm convinced no one is ever prepared t handle.  I'm not even attempting to compare the experiences.  I'm saying it's brought the gravity of that back to my mind in fresh new ways.
We prepared Ella over the months.  She knew all along Hunter was sick.  She knew his leg didn't feel good or work properly.  She knew he needed medicine and doctors visits.  In the final days we told her that Hunter would be going up to Heaven with God very soon.  We told her he wouldn't be here with us anymore.  We told her Mommy and Daddy would be very sad and it was okay if she was sad too.  We told her it was okay if she didn't feel sad too.  We told her it was okay to cry, or laugh, or just carry on as usual.  We told her that when he got to Heaven he wouldn't be sick anymore.  That he would have no more pain and would be able to run and romp, chase sticks and balls, go for long walks and swims...just like he always used to.  

(Now, for my Christian friends out there that know their Bible...I KNOW the Bible says nothing about animals in Heaven.  I know we don't really know.  I'm not really looking for a theological debate or commentary here ;)  I just know that this is a golden opportunity to teach our sweet one about Heaven...and the truths we do know about it for those who know Christ as their Savior.  And it was healing to our souls as we literally preached the good news of the Gospel to our daughter and to ourselves.)

Here are some of the sweet, sweet things that came out of Ella's mouth over the weeks and still sometimes now.

"When Hunter gets to Heaven is Jesus going to heal him?"
"Mom, will their be lakes in Heaven for Hunter to swim in?"
"Mom, is God going to feed Hunter treats? What kind of treats?"
"Mom, will Hunter be able to run again in Heaven?"
"Mom, will I see Hunter when I get to Heaven?  That's the first thing I want to do when I get to Heaven, is see Hunter."
"Mom, I'm afraid he won't like Heaven, because Claira's dog is up in Heaven too, and Hunter didn't like to play with other dogs."
"Mom, do you think Quinn (our cat) will be mean to Hunter when he sees him in Heaven like he was here on earth?"

It has definitely helped her understand the finality of Heaven.  She gets that you don't come back.  She now says that she doesn't want to go up to Heaven for a long, long, long, long, long, long, long, long.....time.  She asks why Hunter got sick and had to go up to Heaven.  She says she misses him.  But she also understands that Heaven is where we get to spend forever with God.  She talks about that.  She understands that it's a place where there are no more tears and no more hurt and no more sickness.  She often comes up with things out of the blue that she thinks are up in Heaven.  Good things like fields and Hunter is running in them.  And Bacon, real bacon, that's what God is feeding Hunter for treats, along with apples, because he really liked apples.  It brings tears of sadness and joy to my eyes at the same time.  And it is healing.

I see it as no coincidence that one week after Hunter passed we went to our church yardsale in search of something Ella could buy with her hard earned chore money and found this!  A giant stuffed animal golden retriever in perfect condition for $3.  We didn't tell the man our backstory and as he handed it over he said, "And look at his outfit.  He's a hunter." 

I mentioned that we'd be doing some things to remember and honor Hunter.  We have a "rememory box" as Ella calls it.  As we packed up Hunter's things (a little too painful to have them all still laying around) and prepared to send them on to new homes, we kept some of his favorite things...some of the things that bring memories to mind that make us smile...some of the things that just scream "Hunter" when we look at them.  And we put these things in a memory box. 

His collar
His blaze orange bandana for fall because he was the exact color of a deer.
His well loved tennis ball
His last chewed stick
Pictures that Ella drew and signed for him
His favorite treats
His favorite fluffy toys that he would shred to show off whenever company came
A few favorite pictures
Letters from Jason and I
Cards that we receieved when he passed
And his ashes when we get them

Jason has been pretty jazzed about starting to plant fruit trees on our property over the last year.  We've done nothing yet, but when all of our land renovation is finished this summer, we'll pick a perfect spot, plant a beautiful fruit tree and bury the memory box in it's shade.  It seems so perfect a way to remember and honor his memory.


Cheryl said...

I love this post. You have done a much better job of helping Ella through this loss than I ever did with you and Jen when Daddy died. I was just a mess, and totally clueless. Later, someone did start a support group in Maine for children who had lost a loved one, but I think you girls were pretty grown up by then.

Cheryl said...

By the way, Not to you, but just in general... I can't stand the way everything online now gets certain words highlighted that link to nothing you wanted to link to, or to ads. Yuck.