Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Explaining death to a four year old

Perth has been rocked by the tragic death of two year old Sam Trott today.

He went missing at 10:30am yesterday after slipping out of his house through a door that had been left open accidentally.

The community rallied. Hundreds drove and walked the streets calling his name. When they learned he might not respond to his name because of his Autism, they sang his favourite song, The Wheels On The Bus. As night fell, many residents left lights on to aid the search and left out blankets, food and water in the hope that a by now starving Sam would stumble upon them. Police said it was unprecedented in the metro area.

By the time I could go out to help, he'd been missing for twelve hours and the police told me they didn't have enough SES members to escort the huge numbers of volunteers so I should stay home. I laid in bed and cried, then rang my dad and told him to re-check his garden and leave the lights on. I have no connection to the Trott family, but like so many others I was drawn to help, thinking of this poor boy wandering alone, a few kilometres from my house.

I'm always surprised at how different tragedy feels now that I have children. It's no longer something sad that happens to "other people", because you can see your own child in the eyes of the one on the missing poster. It tears at your heart as you try, and fail, to fully comprehend the pain and torment the parents must be feeling.

Tricky caught wind of what was going on last night so we explained to him over dinner that a little boy was lost and that lots of people were trying to find him to take him home to his parents. He didn't say much then, but as I lay with him to put him to sleep last night he asked if we could go and look for Sam. He said we had to take our torches so that Sam would know we weren't monsters, then he'd come to us and we could take him home. He was very specific about which torches and batteries we should take, he had a plan and he was certain we would find him.

I managed to wipe away my silent tears and I cuddled in to him for a long time after he'd fallen asleep, not wanting to let go.

Today when I heard that a child's body had been found in the lake, my heart sank and I had a cry in the car. I didn't know how I would explain it to Tricks. He talks about death quite a lot, but he doesn't fully understand. I've tried to be straight forward with him but I never know what is appropriate. I knew I couldn't just sweep it under the carpet because he still asks about a neighbour's bloody bird that went missing almost a year ago.

When  I picked him up from school, I knew we were going to the beach so I thought I'd tell him before hand, thinking the frollick in the water would be a good distraction for after.

We sat in the car together and all I could think of was "don't fuck this up". I wanted him to hear it from me rather than overhearing a conversation. I cuddled him and held his hand.
"You remember we talked about that little boy Sam who was lost?"
He nodded.
"Well I have sad news, he died."
He looked completely shocked and audibly gasped. Then he frowned. "How did he die?"
"He wandered to the lake and he couldn't swim, so he drowned."
He contemplated this for a moment before continuing "What happens when you drown?"

Christ I knew this wouldn't be easy, but it's so much harder than I thought.
"If you go under water for too long, you can't breathe. If you can't breathe then you die. It's called drowning. It's very sad. How do you feel?"
His little lip pouted. "Sad. Can we go to the lake?"
"What for?"
"To get him so we can take him back to his mum."
"He's not there anymore, the police came and took him."
"Is he back alive now?"
"No, sweetheart. You can't come back alive after you've died."
He asked more questions about what happens after you die and I tried to answer them as best I could without scaring the shit out of him. He asked again to visit the lake so I said we could go and lay some flowers tomorrow if he wanted to.

"I'm going to die one day. But not until I'm really, really, really, really, really, really old" he chirped. And that was that. He wanted to go to the beach.

I don't know if he understands completely or not. He might forget the whole thing by tomorrow afternoon or he might insist on taking flowers to the lake. He is at a sleep over with my parents tonight and part of me hopes he asks to come home so I can cuddle up to both my babies and fall asleep tangled together with them as usual.

Hold your babies tight.

Rest in peace, Sam.

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