On Life and Death

Claire meets her great-grandparents for the first time (more here)

I wrote the post below when we found out Claire’s great-grandfather had few days left in life. I was torn about taking her to the wake, and eventually decided with my husband to take her. What a great decision! The deacon who spoke to us in the evening said he loved to see children at wakes because they are a symbol of life, love and family. I wish I had a tape recorder for his talk, he did a beautiful job turning a few of my handwritten notes into a well spoken eulogy.

Dan and I took Claire up to the casket after explaining that Pop had died and is no longer breathing or laughing. We told her that part of him now lived in God’s house. I avoided the whole “oh, he’s just sleeping” thing because I think that explanation can be terrifying for children. Who wants to go to “sleep” at night after seeing a loved one looking strangely still in a casket? So, we opted for the truthful route, gently explaining that all things live and then die.

Claire took a look into Pop’s casket said goodbye to Pop, then promptly asked for her puzzles and toys and ran around the room with her cousin having a grand time. Kids are great, aren’t they? So accepting and resilient. We’ll miss Pop but I’m so happy that Claire really got to know him and will keep him alive in her memories. Not every kid gets to meet their great-grandparents, let alone spend nearly 3 happy years with one of them. I’m grateful for that indeed!
father’s day 2008, all the guys in Claire’s life


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?

One thought on “On Life and Death

  1. Beautiful thoughts Gina. It is healthy for kids to grow up understanding the reality of our mortality – to treasure and be thankful for each day as a gift.

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