We had a close call today with our beloved pet Dora-guy (remember, it's with the French pronunciation...) Today Smith decided it was time to clean her big beautiful bowl. He had her camped out in a temporary bowl during the dirty work. Then came the moment to transfer her back into her clean home. Well. Dora-guy must have wings because she jumped from the small jar out into the sink and down the garbage disposal.
And then there was a few expletives.
What seemed like 5 minutes later, Smith's arm is down the disposal after having cleared away all those Sunday morning dishes we had yet to do, literally fishing her out. Thankfully she survived. But man was it tense there for awhile! Whew! The kids could totally sense it and were upset.
And it didn't feel any easier despite my presence at a wonderful parenting seminar hosted by the founder of Nbear's school: talking to children about death and dying. One big reason I love this school so much is the parent education that is offered. I figured the room would be packed. I mean, who doesn't want to be prepared for this "biggie?!" Well. I guess a lot of folks. Even in Donna's handout she joked that it is the least attended of all of her talks. We are a culture that is afraid of dealing with real death. Fake movie/tv/murder mystery novel death? (and who doesn't love a good zombie movie now and then?) We're all over that. But the real stuff, we shy far far away from.
When we lived in Vancouver, there was a series that ran in the Sunday paper. A writer was chronicling the last year (he presumed) in the life of this youngish woman with terminal stomach cancer. He followed her diagnosis, the stages of her treatment and disease, her good days, her totally lousy days, the fights with her doctor, the response of her friends, her feelings, her pain, her acceptance, the complete denial of others and finally her death. It was a wonderful glimpse into something that is very real and for many of us, very foreign. This woman was so honest with her feelings and the writer so forthright with presenting it. Her story was a gift to me - a deeper understanding of the feelings one may have toward the end of life.
After the parent seminar, I ended up in an unusually long phone conversation about death with my parents. Each described some key memories in their life in relation to someone's death. It was very interesting to hear how each of their families treated the subject, and to hear their responses and feelings as children. At the start of the seminar, Donna had us remember an experience (old or recent) when we felt like someone wasn't giving us the whole story. It was an excellent prelude into the topic, because kids can feel like they aren't getting the "whole story" in the way most of us talk to them about death. For example, even the simple euphemisms that are used to talk about someone's dying: he slipped away in his sleep, we lost grandma, aunt flo passed away... it's very confusing to a kid. If I get lost does that mean I'm going to die? What does it really mean to die?
Anyway. The highlights of the talk (and forgive me if some of it sounds less "gentle" in tone, these are just some of my notes):
- Use every opportunity that presents itself to talk about the little details of death. Dead bug? note how stiff its body is. Roadkill? talk about the smell of death and how that is nature at work. A pet dies? Have the whole family participate in whatever ritual to say good bye - be it a burial, a scrapbook memorial or writing in a diary. All these little bits and pieces of information over time will make it easier for them to understand when a beloved person dies. And maybe you won't have to explain exactly what happens to great uncle fred's body when he dies, while you are in the midst of your grief.
- Talk about death as a natural cycle of life. Everything that is alive is born, lives and dies.
- Talk about grief and sadness being normal and okay feelings. You don't have to hide your tears from them to "protect" them. They will only think you are hiding something and be hurt and confused. Also let them know that those feelings will get less and less painful over time, but the memory of that person will remain with them.
- Talk to kids about what to expect from a funeral or burial if they want to go - from the flowers, to the casket, to what is expected for them to do or not do. They are curious, let them be prepared (before you get there.)
that's it in a nutshell, not so hard really, was it? Do you feel better prepared or still scared?