Dealing with loss
I let my girls watch the TV to see the tsunami batter Japan. I want them to understand the immense power of nature, but more importantly Sky’s camera shots seemed far away enough for it to look as if the wave rolled inland without drowning people. It is utterly terrifying to remember those TV shots of that wave as we now find out just how many hundreds of people are missing, presumed dead – quite possibly killed in front of our eyes. This blog entry is by Nicola Baird, and it’s not about Japan. It is about dealing with loss.
Death is not my favourite subject. I avoid thrillers, crime novels even. But to have any hope of being a vaguely content person I think it helps a child to know a little about death, especially when it’s not surrounded in tragedy. For example if someone they know dies who has lived a long, mostly happy life then it’s good to involve the child in the send off. They don’t have to decorate the coffin, they just need to be able to see life’s cycle of hatched, matched and dispatched and perhaps be familiar with all those rituals.
If a wedding is ever an important celebration, then a funeral ought to be more so.
A friend living in the Solomons told me of the time she found her toddler daughters arranging scented frangipani flowers in the coffin of a favourite older aunt’s body. They were happy and chatting away to their relative, pleased to be decorating her, forgetting it was a goodbye. In the Pacific (indeed many places) funerals happen within a day making it easy to miss the chance to say a personal goodbye.
My mum and her cousin, Sylvia, both brought up in Northern Ireland still talk with some bitterness of the way women and girls weren’t allowed to go to funerals. If a father, or grandfather died it felt as if they’d just gone off without saying goodbye.
I did it my way
Given the pain caused by people dying it sometimes helps to develop soothing rituals when less important members of the household pass on – I’m thinking fish, guinea pigs, even the dead pigeon you walk past on the way to school. We are lucky enough to have a bit of garden where our dearly beloved pets can be buried. It’s known as the wild flower area, and already bursting with little blue alcanet and daffodils. My daughters like to go there to chat to some of their dead pet friends, prefering to say goodbye with a drum roll on a saucepan and a speech remembering the noble qualities of whichever fowl, rodent, fish or whoever has died.
I’d rather compost our ex-menagerie members, but this is something the kids no longer allow me to do.
My late husband
Years ago I worked with a woman who would drop into conversation anecdotes about “My late husband…” until finally those around would crack, and mutter sorry or an appropriate downbeat response. Whereupon she’d start laughing, and go knowingly, “My LATE husband… and here he is.” It was as if they used comic timing, for he’d inevitably walk in as that bit of the joke was laid on thickly – clearly tardy not deceased.
If only the worst incidents of life could be brushed off as “only kidding”. But as they can’t, let’s at least try to be honest with our children so that if the worse happens they may just have some hidden strengths that enable them to make sense of a mad, mad world.
If you only ever read one book about the practicalities of death and dying, then make it The Natural Death Handbook. It’s a place where living wills, willow coffins and non-religious burial grounds are explained in ways that will surely make you want them when the time comes. For less scary ideas about life and childcaring see my own book Homemade Kids: thrifty, creative and eco-friendly ways to raise children.