My sister-in-law is in a coma, a horrible, horrible tragedy. I didn't know if I should let my 3-year-old son in to see her with all the tubes, but he insisted (and the nursing staff let us sneak him in). He seemed fine, but you know how kids process stuff--I'm afraid it's going to come back in a bad dream or something for him. How much do you expose your little one to the hospital experience--the crying people, the machines, etc?
First off, I am very sorry to hear about your SIL... I will pray she can recover and get her health back. I think kids need to understand that in life terrible things can happen. If we try to shield them from that type of stuff all the time, they may have more trouble dealing w/ traumatic or scary events like this when they get older. You could explain to your son how those tubes and machines are helping her, that she is in a safe place where doctors can take care of her while she is very sick. I think it's best to explain it the best way you know how (w/ words they can understand) so they don't start thinking up their own ideas about it.
I am so sorry to hear about your sil...she will be deep in my prayers, along with your family! I feel like if your 3 year old is old enough to insist on going, then he is old enough to at least halfway grasp what is going on. Continue to talk to him about it, ask if he remembers visiting his Aunt, how he feels about it, does he have any questions, etc. If you are religious, this would be a good opportunity to bring in a prayer lesson or a talk about Heaven (Though I hope that's just a talk and not a preparation) or a schooling lesson on what hospitals are for, what doctors do, etc. Logical things that might make it less scary for him. Just pay attention to his cues and body language, he will be just fine :-) Again, my heart goes out to you and your family!
Big hugs, Katie, to you, your husband, and to T. I think if you do your best to explain everything to T in a matter of fact way it might help, but I don't think it was wrong to bring him there at all.
Thanks, everyone, for your responses, and for your kind words. We were at the hospital half of yesterday and all of today, and my son has been amazing (not to mention how awesome he was on the 13 hour road trip to get here!). He stayed in the room all day today, and he was fine. They took my SIL off life support around noon, and he had some questions then, but then he just started screwing around and being a 3-year-old. Now we're just waiting for her to pass; it's super sad. I think the big questions are going to come from my son when his grandma comes home from the hospital without his aunt (my SIL, who lived with my husband's mother). I know he's going to want to know, where's Meggy? It's going to be the question from all the nieces and nephews.
Again, my heart goes out to you and your family! This is so sad and tragic to hear. I hope the passing is quick and painless for her, and as easy as possible on all of you. As far as all of the nieces and nephews go...maybe you can have them all together when you discuss what's happened. They'll have the support from each other as well as their adult family, and can help each other understand what is happening. When my Mom passed, she had a little bit of time to prepare. She had my sister and I buy this book called "Somebody I Love Died" and she read it to a lot of her nieces/nephews and talked to them about what Heaven is. It helped with the younger ones, and was a nice memory for the older ones to have of their Aunt.