written 12 July 2010
As Claire gets older I find myself thinking more and more about choices we make as parents. Not questioning our choices per se, but realizing the magnitude of our parenting decisions and their implications for our precocious little toddler.
Case in point, death and dying. Treated as a natural part of the life cycle, I don’t think it is a scary thing for a child to witness, especially a gradual decline in the elderly.
Claire’s great-grandfather has been in failing health for the past month or two. She visits with him and has not turned away or been spooked by the bi-pap machine that helped him to breathe last month. She was a little apprehensive about the “elephant mask” as we called it, but quickly warmed up to her great-grandfather – albeit a slighter and sleepier version then she remembered. We’ve brought drawings for Pop to enjoy and explained about Pop’s “boo-boo” in his lungs which makes it harder to for him to breathe. Claire’s been talking about Pop not feeling “berry good” and is obviously thinking about him throughout the day but doesn’t seem saddened or threatened by the change.
Now that he is weaned off the bi-pap machine and in the hospital being made comfortable in his last days I continue to take Claire to see him. I’m sure she can’t help but notice he’s skinnier and less and less alert but she clings to his hand and smiles at him and Pop seems to really enjoy the time with her.
There seems to be such a disconnect with death in today’s industrialized world. The animals we eat in the grocery store are shrink wrapped and unidentifiable so Claire’s only experience with death is batteries that run out of juice and the occasional mouse that Ray the cat gets.
Of course I’m torn about the whole wake thing. Of course it provides closure but for someone so young would she understand? Should her last memories of her great-grandfather be of him alive and risk having her think dying just means “disappearing?” Or should we allow a goodbye and a viewing of his body explaining the whole spirit/body thing?
Any thoughts or advice?