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Explaining Hard Things

April 1, 2016 - Stacey Sacco
There are lots of things that are difficult to explain to kids- the birds and the bees, why people act the way they do, bullying, why bad things happen. Maybe they are so hard to explain because, even as adults, we don’t really understand it. And when we can’t justify in our own minds why something happens, it gets even messier explaining it to a child. As parents, we want to be able to give them answers that reassure them that life is safe and fair and secure. Then something happens that shakes our world and we don’t have a good explanation.

So what do we say to our children about scary events? I’ve had to explain terrorism, school shootings, disabilities, and how babies are born. And now I’ve had to explain cancer.

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in November. She stared chemo in December and has been sick and lost her hair. I had to explain to my children why Nana looks different. She was sick on Christmas day and we didn’t celebrate until a week later.

While I can use the words of illness and health with a nine-year-old, a four-year-old only knows that her Nana is different. But I had to explain it to them all so they know what is happening. Just talking about your own mother being sick is difficult. Answering questions from a child who doesn’t understand how to be tactful and sensitive can be even more heartbreaking.

Currently, she is in the hospital. It started with pneumonia and snowballed from there. My kids haven’t seen her in over a month. The older kids are possibly imagining the worst. The younger ask about Nana, but have no concept of how sick she really is.

Even as an adult, it’s hard to understand your body revolting. The fact that she didn’t look sick until she started treatment is even more disorienting. It’s not an outside force that is invading, making her sick. Not the flu or a car accident. It’s something inside, and the only thing we can see is that she looks worse after treatment than before. The disconnect between health and sickness is blurred when it comes to cancer treatment.

Additionally, it’s not a conversation we have once. As things change and develop, we have the conversation over and over again. New details are discovered. Things in her condition change. There is a delicate balance between giving them enough information about what is happening and why I’m worried about her and scaring and confusing them.

When bad things have happened previously, they have been far removed from my children’s lives. We may discuss them because they affect society as a whole. This time it’s very close to home. We keep talking. We keep asking questions. We keep praying. But we may never really understand. We are all in the same situation of not understanding why and how, adults and children alike.


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