Thursday, May 22, 2008

Little boy in an overwhelming place

Montreal, QC, May 2008

It's a different world than the one in which I grew up. Kids didn't visit hospital rooms way back when. The rule was pretty simple: Nobody under 12 got to go upstairs. So we'd stay in the lobby and wait. Sometimes the nurses would wink at us and look the other way as our parents "snuck" us upstairs for a quick peek. But it just wasn't part of my reality to see my grandparents in the hospital.

Today, of course, no one bats so much as an eyelash as our kids quietly head upstairs and onto the patient floor. I'm a little torn by the experience: On the one hand, I feel it's important for them to understand what their grandfather is going through, to have tangible images and experiences to go along with what we've been telling them all along. On the other hand, I worry about whether this brings fear into their lives at too young an age, whether this accelerates the erosion of childhood innocence that every parents tries to keep at bay.

Whatever my misgivings are, it's clear that we've decided to make it as concrete as possible for him. And we have faith that he and his siblings are insightful and resilient enough to use it as another growth experience.

On this visit, I happened to have my camera ready as our son, Noah, turned to leave the room and head out. In that instant, I wish I could have seen the thoughts swimming around his head. Up until that moment, he had been playfully bantering, bringing sunshine to a room that clearly needed some. He used his 7-year-old's charm to make his grandfather smile, to show him why it matters that he gets better and goes home. He seemed to ignore the overwhelming mood of this massive institution for his entire visit. He was having fun with his Zaidy. Nothing else mattered.

But then this moment. There's something in his face that suggests deeper thought, almost as if he let the smile go for just long enough to betray what he was really thinking. I wish I had the power to understand it. And to talk to it. I wish I could shepherd him through this confusing time in his life better than I had been shepherded a generation ago.

Your turn: Helping your kids understand this. Please discuss.


Sara said...

such a powerful photo! thanks for sharing carmi!

... Paige said...

My 2 youngest have had it bad. Those that meant the most to them went to the hospital and never came home. Their natural mother was first followed a year later by their natural dad. And more recently by grandmaw that raised them for 10 years and less then a year later by grandpa. I told them before I adopted them that I could not promise them I would not die, because I would someday but love last well past death, as it is the engery of the world.

me said...

I have absolutely no idea how I would explain this to a 3 year old. Luckily he either wasn't around when my mom needed the paddles to come back to us after a heart attack or when Mr. C nearly stroked out, and he was too young to understand when Cancer put my mom out of commission. Frell, I can barely deal with it, thank God becoming a parent grants you super powers….it does grant you super powers doesn’t it?

Heidi said...

Prayers to you and family through all of this, Carmi.

This photo is amazing... he is in the shadows, but we so clearly see his eyes and where they are looking. We can only answer questions the best we can, eh?

Tara said...

You really captured his facial expression. I know what you are going through, sorta. I went through this last year with my grandfather. My daughter turned 1 and it was that same very day my Gramps passed into heaven. Its hard knowing what to say or what I will say to her when she looks back at the photos of her first birthday party, which was held in the hospice house where he was...Telling them the truth without making them fear it or withdrawl from it...

she said...

No matter where you go in this country, those hospital blankets never seem to change.

As strong as out instinct is to protect children from the world and its pain, sometimes I think it's more important to allow them experiences such as you are doing now. I think it's much harder for sheltered adults (those with no childhood experiences with illness or death) to face the eventual transition than those who were raised to understand that despite the associated pain, it is the natural order of the world.

Your family is in our thoughts and prayers.

mrsmogul said...

Ahhh touching photo. He looks like an angel in that gown

colleen said...

I popped over to see how things were going. I've been thinking about you and your family. I've also been in the hospital recently for a vastly different reason, the birth of my first grand baby.

I agree that kids benefit from not being segregated from life events.

Star said...

Have you considered showing him the photo and asking him what he was thinking? You never know what is going throught those sharp little minds.

Jenty said...

I've just caught up on this week's posts. Hope your grandfather recovers!
That photo speaks volumes! What a great capture, not that it's a great moment.

lissa said...

I, too, send prayers your dad's way, Carmi.

And I know the feelings you express. My kids were 5 and 9 when my mom was dying, and though she wasn't in pain and she was very much herself (except the last bit when she slipped away and couldn't communicate - we kept the kids away then), it was hard to watch my kids interact with her. Though, it was a gift for all of them.

At one point, Sam - 5 at the time - asked if he could kiss her. She smiled, and nodded, and he could only reach her hand, so he placed a soft sweet kiss on the back of it. She lifted her hand with his in it, and returned the kiss.

His delighted, "She kissed me back!" is something I won't forget. Shutting kids off from any illness isn't fair to them, as long as it isn't a traumatic thing. I think this is a parent's choice, and each case - and each child - is individual. Some might handle it better than others.

But though it was hard to see my children, innocence draining away with my mom's illness, in that setting, I am grateful they had those days with her - and she with them.

Keeping you guys in my thoughts.

photowannabe said...

That put an ache in my heart reading this again.
Very powerful capture.