Where is Auntie Vicky’s skin?


Those of you that follow my blog will know that my UK grandkids are visiting. They are the cutest, brightest and busiest little girls in the world. They are a source of immense pleasure and joy in my life.

They left South Africa exactly two years ago. I cried for a week. In the two years I have seen them 5 times. In terms of international travel it is a lot but in terms of a grandmother’s heart it is not nearly enough. When they lived in South Africa we saw them at least once a week.

Osama (the eldest terrorist) is 5.5 years old. She is bright as a button and full of tricks. She told me, in confidence, that when she turns 6 she is going to marry her “boyfriend” Freddy… I tried to use the impending marriage as a bargaining tool to encourage her to help tidy up her room.

Me: “Sweetie if you want to marry Freddy you will have to learn to tidy your room. What do you think his Mommy will say if she sees your toys lying around? He won’t marry an untidy girl…”

Osama: “That’s okay Oumie. Then I will marry someone else…”

This little girl has a mind of her own. She is heartbreakingly beautiful. Her eyes sparkle with the joy of life and intelligence. She is also kind and caring (a little manipulative as well). She has me twisted around her little finger! She also has an amazing memory!

She was 3, 5 years old when they left South Africa.

She was so excited to visit South Africa and kept sayings things like “I remember your big (dining room) table; where will I sleep? In my old room?” She always throws in the odd “Do you remember….?” She remembers their South African home and her school. She remembers the sunshine. She remembers Vic.

“Oumie….why did Auntie Vicky die?” is her daily question.

Her mommy and daddy have told her that Auntie Vicky’s soul is in Heaven with “Baby” Jesus… She is happy that Auntie Vicky is no longer sick. The big question is however “Where is Auntie Vicky’s skin?”

This is a difficult question to answer honestly. If I told the little poppet that her precious Auntie Vic is lying on the antique sideboard table, in a little box with a brass plate on the lid, she would be distressed… So I sort of implied that she was buried…

“Is Auntie Vicky’s skin in a box (coffin)?” she asks

“Yes” I would say. “But remember, Auntie Vic does not need her skin anymore. She has a new skin and beautiful angel wings in Heaven.”

“Is Auntie Vicky a Zombie?” – She shivers and says “Oooohhhhhh, I am so scared of Zombies!”

“No sweetie, she is an angel.” I said

I am sharing an excellent guide to help

the young, understand something that most adults battle with! http://www.hospicenet.org/html/understand.html

Children’s understanding of Death is provided by Hospice of Southeastern Connecticut Bereavement Program. This chart is meant to be used as a guideline and not a checklist. All children develop at different rates and it is important to remember that the parents know their own child the best.

Newborn to Three Years
Child’s Perception: Infant/Toddler can sense when there is excitement, sadness, anxiety in the home; can sense when a significant person is missing, presence of new people

  1. No understanding of death
  2. Absorbs emotions of others around her/him
  3. May show signs of irritability
  4. May exhibit changes in eating, nursing patterns, crying, and in bowel and bladder movements
  5. Depends on nonverbal communications; physical care, affection, reassurances

Providing Support:

  1. Keep normal routines and structure whenever possible
  2. Be verbally and physically affectionate and reassuring
  3. Provide warm, loving caretaker when parent is not available
  4. Exhibiting healthy coping behaviors

Three to Six Years
Child’s Perception: Child thinks death is reversible; temporary, like going to sleep or when a parent goes to work; believes that people who die will come back

  1. “Magical thinking”; believes their thoughts, actions, word caused the death; or can bring deceased back; death is punishment for bad behavior
  2. Still greatly impacted by parent’s emotional state
  3. Has difficulty handling abstract concepts such as heaven
  4. Regressive behaviors; bed wetting, security blanket, thumb sucking, etc.
  5. Difficulty verbalizing therefore acts out feelings
  6. Increased aggression – more irritable, aggressive play
  7. Will ask the same questions repeatedly in efforts to begin making sense of loss
  8. Only capable of showing sadness for short periods of time
  9. Escapes into play
  10. Somatic symptoms
  11. Hungers for affection and physical contact, even from strangers
  12. Connects events that don’t belong connected
  13. May exhibit little anxiety due to belief that deceased is coming back

Providing Support:

  1. Keep normal routines and structure whenever possible
  2. Provide opportunities to play, draw
  3. Read books on death & loss with child
  4. Help to verbalize feelings and fears
  5. Help to identify feelings and reactions
  6. Be honest and tell a child if you do not have an answer
  7. Explain in specific, concrete language – not euphemisms; explain what has happened giving specific explanations about physical reality of death
  8. Gently confront magical thinking
  9. Make sure child does not feel responsible for the death
  10. Be tolerant of regressive behaviors
  11. Modelling healthy coping behaviors
  12. Avoid clichés; “At least you have another brother”, “You can always get a new pet”
  13. Use specific, concrete words – not euphemisms; Avoid “Mommy has gone to sleep”, “God has taken Grandpa”

Six to Nine Years
Child’s Perception: Child begins to understand the finality of death; some do and some may not.

  1. Sees death as a taker or spirit that comes and gets you
  2. Fear that death is contagious and other loved ones will “catch it” and die too
  3. Fascinated with issues of mutilation; very curious about what body looks like
  4. Connects death with violence and may ask, “Who killed him?”
  5. 3 categories of people. who die: Elderly, handicapped, klutzes
  6. Asks concrete questions
  7. Guilt – blames self for death
  8. May worry how the deceased can eat, breathe, etc.
  9. Continues to have difficulty expressing feelings verbally
  10. Increased aggression
  11. Defends against feeling helpless
  12. Somatic symptoms
  13. School phobia (especially if single parent)
  14. Continues to have difficulty comprehending abstractions such as heaven, spirituality

Providing Support:

  1. Talk with child
  2. Ask questions
  3. Make sure child’ does not feel responsible in any way
  4. Identify specific fears
  5. Provide opportunity for play, drawing, art
  6. Normalize feelings & fears
  7. Address distortions & perceptions
  8. Be honest and tell a child if you do not have an answer
  9. Help to cope with impulse control
  10. Help them share bad dreams
  11. Help them with positive memories of the deceased
  12. Model healthy coping behaviors
  13. Avoid clichés; “Don’t worry, things will be O.K.”, “You’re such a strong boy/girl”
  14. Use specific, concrete words – not euphemisms; Avoid “Grandma went to sleep and is now in heaven”, “Grandma was very sick and the sickness made her die”

Nine to Thirteen Years
Child’s Perception: Child’s understanding is nearer to adult understanding of death; more aware of finality of death and impact the death has on them

  1. Concerned with how their world will change; with the loss of the relationship, “Who will go with me to the father-daughter banquet?”
  2. Questions have stopped
  3. Fragile independence
  4. Reluctant to open up
  5. Delayed reactions – at first seems as if nothing has happened, then grief reaction May show strong degree of affect
  6. Beginning to develop an interest in rituals (spiritual effects of life)
  7. Disrupted relationships with peers
  8. Increased anger, guilt
  9. Somatic symptoms
  10. School phobia
  11. Self-conscious about their fears (of own death, remaining parents)

Providing Support:

  1. Encourage discussion of their concerns
  2. Provide & encourage expressive experiences such as writing or drawing
  3. Address impulse toward acting out and allow opportunity to identify their feelings
  4. Allow for regressive behaviors
  5. Be honest and tell a child when you do not have an answer
  6. Gently relieve child from attempts to take over adult responsibilities
  7. Model healthy coping behaviors
  8. Avoid clichés; Avoid “You must be strong so I don’t have to worry about you”, “Big boys don’t cry”

Thirteen to Eighteen Years
Adolescent’s Perception: Adolescent has adult understanding about death

  1. Death is viewed as an interruption. Death is an enemy
  2. Bodily changes emphasize growth and life. Death is a contrast
  3. Increased vulnerability due to many other changes and losses simultaneously occurring
  4. A sense of future becomes part of their psychology
  5. Increased risk taking in effort to reduce anxiety or to defy fate
  6. May intellectualize or romanticize death
  7. May act indifferent to death of someone close as a protection against feelings
  8. May show full range of affect or almost no affect
  9. Wants to grieve with her/his peers not adults
  10. May need permission to grieve
  11. Suicidal thoughts
  12. Represses sadness, feels anger, depression
  13. Escapes; drives fast, uses drugs or alcohol sexually acts out
  14. Denial – tries not to think about it, doesn’t want to talk about it
  15. Difficulty with long term plans
  16. Somatic symptoms
  17. Questions religious/spiritual beliefs

Providing Support:

  1. Don’t assume they can handle themselves and their problems without help, support
  2. Be available, but don’t push
  3. Help them find peers who will support their feelings
  4. Or find other trusted adults
  5. Give permission for regression
  6. Be honest and say when you do not have an answer
  7. Assist in relieving adolescent of burden of adult responsibilities
  8. Help impulse control toward reckless behavior
  9. De-romanticize death
  10. Discuss feelings of helplessness
  11. Model healthy coping behaviors
  12. Avoid clichés; “You’ve got to be strong to help your mother”; “You seem to be taking this so well”, “Now you’re the man of the house.”

3 thoughts on “Where is Auntie Vicky’s skin?

  1. Very interesting facts at the end there, Tersia. When my mother suicided, I did not know. One night dad came home late so my sisters & me were alone together which wasn’t unusual, and hungry, and he came flying through the door, stomped down the hall and ordered us on our knees where he made us pray and pray and pray aloud. I guess now as I remember that, he must have loved her in some way (he abused and tormented her). But after that, we packed and were going to Melbourne (which I didn’t know what that was) and I wanted to know why we weren’t packing for mum & was mum coming etc. We then were sent to an orphanage. So yes, those facts at the end are very interesting to me.

    Re your grandchildren – omg. From once a week to 5 times in two years. Yes, I feel the pain in that. They sound gorgeous. The only thing I didn’t understand was them thinking she’d become a zombie!! Pardon me, but that threw me!

    I sincerely hope you are doing okay.

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    1. Oh what a dreadful childhood you had! I am so sad for you that you were subjected to it. Death to a 5 year old is so unreal. This is her first “death”, and as she was in the UK at the time she has absolutely no concept of death. It was just an innocent remark and I actually thought it was quite funny.

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