When Kids 'Kill': What Do You Tell Them When They Grow Up?

If you're like most moms, you heard the devastating news last week: that a toddler grabbed a gun from his mother's purse during a shopping trip at Wal-Mart and pulled the trigger, killing her.

It's a heart-rending story -- and not just for the husband and the woman's other adult relatives, who must be struggling to swim through an ocean of grief and shock, but for the child. At the age of 2, he can wholeheartedly miss his mother but can't possibly comprehend his role in her death. But eventually, he will grow up and wonder what happened to her ... and then what?

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It's harrowing enough when an elementary school-aged kid accidentally takes someone's life. But to do so when you only recently learned to walk and talk plumbs even more tragic depths, if that's possible. My heart doesn't just go out to this toddler, but to the boy he will become and the man he will turn into. One of them -- maybe both -- will have to shoulder this incredibly painful burden.

Hopefully, his father and relatives have contacted a counselor who can provide guidance and support. But when I try to wrap my mind around what advice they might be given, I find myself at a loss. There's no good option.

You can't "never tell." It's unrealistic. Someone eventually will blurt out what happened to this boy, or maybe he'll Google his mother's name one day and find the grim headline of a blog post or online article. If that happens, then he won't only be grieving the death of his mother, but the loss of the person he thought he was.

You could wait until the child's old enough to understand that he is not at fault and not even his mother would think so. But at what age is that? When he's old enough to understand about accidents? That doors close on fingers and cats run in front of cars and oh, by the way, guns sometimes go off when they're not supposed to? Or do you wait to have "the talk" when he's a teenager, already on shaky ground and looking for a reason to blame the world -- or himself -- for something?

When I imagine having that conversation with one of my own children, I can't get past, "There's something I need to tell you" before starting to tear up. There is no "right way" to tell someone a horrible truth, only that it must be told ... right?

I'm not a religious person, but I do always think back to that Sunday school lesson -- was it a Sunday school lesson? -- about how people are never given problems heavier than they're able to bear. I don't know how much I believe that, but for this toddler's sake, I wish him the powers of an emotional superhero -- enough fortitude to lift tall buildings, enough happiness to fly through the rest of his life, more forgiveness toward himself than, well, a speeding bullet.

How would you handle this situation?


Image via istock.com/Taws13

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