“I don’t want to die,” Cameron said, as he climbed out of the tub.
This phrase comes and goes with Cameron. It’s a catch-phrase for him, I think, that pops out when he’s feeling anxious or sad. I take it as meaning, I’m worried about something but I don’t know what, it scares me and I’m uncomfortable, I either can’t talk to you about it or I don’t have the words to express myself so this will have to do.
I bundled him close in his fluffy red towel, and he climbed onto my lap. I quietly said reassuring things, and was winding towards teasing out what exactly was bothering him when out of my mouth I heard, “Nobody wants to die, Cameron, not unless they’re very sick.” Now, I meant sick as in depressed, in my view suicide is not normally the action of a healthy mind. Not exactly a topic to get into with a kid. But he heard sick as in ill. “And old,” he added. “Like Nana. Nana’s sick, and she’s old.”
I nodded, and quietly agreed, that yes she is.
“I’m afraid she’ll die, Mommy!” Okay – probably not what got him worried in the first place, but now we had this Big Thing to deal with. And the Big Thing got bigger. “I’m afraid she’ll die before we can see her again. She’s really sick, Mommy, she can’t walk and she can’t move and she can’t even live in her home.” By now the tears were welling up in his big blue eyes.
Mine, too. Because it is a very real possibility.
What could I do? I cuddled him close, and let him cry, while I told him that she was very old; she’d lived a very long time. The world had changed lots since she was a baby. She’d had a husband who she loved and who loved her. She had daughters, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She’d lived all kinds of places, and traveled to visit many more. She might not be finished living yet. But yes. She will die sometime, and it might be soon. It’s how life works. And when she does, we’ll miss her terribly, and we’ll be sad, because we love her.
So we got through this. He found other things to think about, and I took many deep breaths.
“Can we call Nana on the computer?” The question caught me off guard. “No, honey, Nana doesn’t have a computer we could call her on. But we could call her on the phone and talk to her. Would that make you feel better, to talk to her?” He nodded, reaching for the telephone. She answered right away, and sounded bright and cheerful. There was no, “I can’t hear you,” as she tried to get the phone to the right place, no confusion about who was calling. Often it sounds as though she’s in a bit of a fog, uncertain about what I just said, but trying to answer anyway. Tonight there was none of that – just a bit of confusion over my asking her if she was melting (it’s hot!). A simple rephrasing, and, “Oh, no dear. I have a fan. I’m not hot. At least, I don’t think I am.”
Then Cameron wanted to talk.
“Hi Nana! I’m good! Um, well, I wanted to say hi because I thought that maybe before we could come and see you you might … Shhh, Mommy, I’m trying to say something to Nana. Why not?”
That’s right. I wouldn’t let him say to Nana that he was worried she might die.
And I’m thinking that I was wrong.
I disrespected Nana. She’s a grown up, she’s not in need of being protected. She knows, surely, that her time is limited. I know for certain that if she were more alert, more herself, witnessing this discussion, she would’ve reprimanded me. Gently and lovingly, of course, but with a point. “I can handle myself, dear, don’t you worry about me.”
And I squashed Cameron’s need to express his feelings. Whether or not this was the original concern he had, it was now the primary one, and he wanted to talk with the person he was worried about and tell her how upset he was.
My discussion with Cameron confused Nana, and the moment of clarity and alertness was gone. She’s not so good at handling such things, and can’t tell who is saying what or to whom. The phone call ended shortly after.
We have plans to go out tomorrow night, but on Sunday I think we’ll call Nana again, and I won’t play censor. I won’t get him worked up by reminding him of tonight, but if it comes up it comes up. And I need to have a look at my calendar, and find a time to get up there for a visit soon. I’ve again been letting communication drop between me and friends and family who I love and cherish, getting wrapped up in the here-and-now of my busy life. Time to remember that a phone call can mean a lot.