“I Miss Nana”- Explaining Cancer to my Toddler

“Mommy, when will Nana come back?” Hunter asked me as he sat in her chair.  “Nana” is the name I have taught my boys to call my mom.  I’m not sure why I chose “Nana”; it just seemed like a good name for her the first time Hunter was able to ask me who she was when he saw her picture.  It’s been so sweet to watch Hunter learn who she is.  He points her out in a picture and says, “That’s my Nana!”, and my heart melts.


My mom was wonderful, and I have always looked forward to the days when I would have the opportunity to share with my boys just how wonderful she was.  However, there was one major detail in all this I really wasn’t prepared for. It never crossed my mind that I would have to share the hard parts of her story (and our story) before I could get to the good parts. I would have to explain why Nana was no longer here.  This reality hit me like a ton of bricks on this particular Wednesday.  I was simply trying to get the boys ready for church, but yet there I was, reminded that there will always be “new” things when it comes to missing Mom.

So, our conversation continued, even as we drove to church.  I fumbled through the words.  In the best way I could, I tried to explain how his Nana had gotten really sick and passed away.  “Is she all better now?” Hunter asked.  I breathed a small sigh of relief with this question. Finally there was a question I could answer with confidence- Yes, Nana is all better now.

The tricky part was when he didn’t understand why Nana wasn’t coming back and why we didn’t really need her.  Once again, I fumbled through the words.  I tried to explain to him how she was with Jesus, and while she loved me a whole lot and she would’ve loved him a whole lot, she loves Jesus more.  This hope we have in Jesus is what makes grieving my mom not nearly as hard as it could be.  I know my mom is face to face with her Savior.  I know she’s better off than any of us here on this earth.  Because she’s in the presence of her Lord, I know she wouldn’t come back, even if she could.  But I also know this concept is hard, especially for my sweet toddler to wrap his mind around.  And then when Hunter persisted that we needed Nana, I had to keep persisting that no, we don’t.  We need Jesus.  Jesus + nothing = everything.  This is a lesson the Lord is constantly teaching me, so I tried to pass this lesson along to Hunter.  But of course, his sweet (then) three year old mind couldn’t understand.  Goodness, even we adults have a hard time truly trusting in Jesus to be the only thing that we need!

The sad part was when Hunter told me he was sad about Nana, and he missed her.  The only words I had for him there were, “That’s okay, buddy. Me too.”

As I stood in the shower that evening after a long day, I prayed, “How do you explain cancer to a toddler?”  The Lord kept pouring His Truth over me like He always does, “Explain it with Me, with the Gospel.”

I know we have more difficult conversations ahead of us with our children.  Some will be about my mom.  Others will be about a problem they’re facing at school.  We will all face difficult conversations with our children at various points in our parenting. I’m sure I will fumble through the words and then go back and replay the conversation in my head multiple times, wondering if I said the right thing.  But no matter what difficult conversations we face, I’m leaning on Jesus.  I am determined to point everything back to Him.  Cancer can’t really be explained to such a young boy (or really to any of us), but I can explain how Jesus was and is good to us, even in the midst of the cancer.  I can explain the Gospel to him as he asks me about heaven.

We don’t know what kind of conversations we have ahead of us with our children.  The Lord used this bittersweet conversation with Hunter to teach me this- in all conversations, including the hard ones, point children to Jesus.  May we be encouraged to explain whatever life gives us with Jesus, and the unwavering hope that we have in the Gospel.

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