Conversations About Death

How do I set the tone for this post?

 

While everyone else is writing about determination and resolutions, or anti-resolutions and sending images to remind you of hope and happiness in the new year, I want desperately to tell you my story.  Because as much as the new year is about what’s to come, it is also tied to thoughts of the past.

 

Today is the 30th anniversary of my brother’s death. Anniversary seems like a stupid word for something so sad, but it is an accurate enough one.

 

Earlier today, I was driving away from the park and drove right past a cemetery. Instantly, I decided that today I would take the girls with me to visit my brother’s cemetery.

 

I can’t really explain what reason I have for visiting the cemetery, which is probably why I don’t do it that often. It’s sad when I go.  Seeing how all the surrounding stones have birth dates from the early 1900s while my brother’s is from the 1980s is hard. Those people had long years and most likely full lives.  It’s hard.

 

The girls have been to the cemetery with me before and with my mom as well. At three and four years old, there are many experiences the girls have had, but a year later it’s like it’s the first time again.

 

Greysen (4 years) remembered the place and the general circumstances, as well as the routine of our visits. Moon (3yrs) did not. She had very specific questions.  With the same bounce in her step as she had at the park, Moon wanted to look around. She wanted to talk about the flowers, trinkets, and photos that decorate the grave sites.

 

Moon wanted to know about how my brother died.  Also not uncommon of many 3 year olds, she wanted to ask me the same questions over and over.

 

Several variations of the same story later, the husband asked, “Are you OK or should I shut her down?” – his playful way of supporting me and letting me know that he would let them know I could answer the questions later.

 

I instantly replied, let them ask. Let them know.

 

They were curious and wanted to hear the simple truths of what had happened. Children need honesty from us. It’s something we can overlook or easily avoid by telling ourselves that they are too young or that the truth is too sad.

 

The simple truth is that children deal with sadness all the time. We may not feel that their reactions are always proportionate to the offense, but there are many days when children feel hurt, disappointed, and sad at some loss that is very personal to them.

 

Talking to them about my memory of that sad day was a start. My explanations to them may have been an outline of the greater story I will one day share with them, but it was a whole story nonetheless.

 

Like most varied book collections, the girls have books about death. I bought them Tough Boris and Sophie by Mem Fox before they were born.  The girls talk about death and things dying the way most young children do, with a basic understanding but also with a few specific inaccuracies.

 

While books and story lines (theater, movies) makes the idea of death accessible, it doesn’t really help make the subject meaningful at this point in their lives.  Books were something I made a point of buying, but eventually I expect that it is our conversations that will really be the resource for my children when they one day have to cope with sadness from their own losses.

 

So, I guess in the end this was a post about hope after all. Hope that all we do in our honest efforts as parents will one day be something for our kids to hold onto – that our conversations will become reference points for navigating their own paths through the sad times.

 

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