A photographer is like a cod, which produces a million eggs in order that one may reach maturity. ― George Bernard Shaw
[one_half padding=”4px 10px 0 4px”]Death can be a difficult issue to discuss with children, especially when it comes to family members. One moment, you think they have a grasp of it, then later, seemingly out of the blue, the topic comes up again with new questions that need to be answered. With a five- and a six-year-old around the house, the subject comes up surprisingly often, sometimes in ways we weren’t expecting. Trying to figure out how best to respond to those questions and situations is a mixture of wiping tears and trying to not laugh at the wrong time.
We were driving past a mortuary and its large cemetery one afternoon when Baby Girl pipes up and informs us that this was where her pre-K teacher, Miss ‘Nay, works. When questioned as to why her teacher would work at a cemetery, the little darling responded without hesitation, “That’s where she puts the people she doesn’t like.”
Miss “Nay was horrified to hear of the exchange. She’s a jolly, pleasant woman who does a great job with children, but might be a bit superstitious. “I can’t stand dead people,” she told us. “I don’t even go to funerals.”
More frequently, and certainly with less humor, it is Little Man who raises the subject, frequently in tears over the loss of his great-grandmother a couple of years ago. Trying to explain to him that people don’t live forever and that his great-grandmother had lived a long life does little to appease him. She’s not here now, and that’s what counts. At other times, though, he can look out across a cemetery and explain that once one has expired that, rather than becoming dust, our bodies become tree seeds that grow new forests. While perhaps missing a biological step or four, that perspective of a renewable life is certainly less traumatic and easier to discuss.[/one_half]
[one_half_last padding=”4px 4px 0 10px”]Growing up in rural Oklahoma, and especially the son of a minister, death was such a normal part of life for us that we were almost callous about it. After all, we played and ran in large fields where it wasn’t unusual to come across whole sun-bleached skeletons of cows. The general opinion of ranchers at the time was to only remove a cow carcass if it was diseased and posed a health risk to the herd. Coming across skulls in the dust just wasn’t that uncommon.
Western philosophies have evolved over the past couple of generations where we no longer see death’s natural role in the life cycle. Instead, we see that passing from life to dust as the ultimate unfairness, the unjust removal of someone important to our lives. We expect explanations where there are none to be had and look to blame people who are not genuinely at fault. In matters of violence that should never have happened, our sense of outrage stems from our own sense of privilege that the deceased should never have been taken from us; a warped sense that it is we, more than the dead person, who have been short-changed.
Today is the thirteenth anniversary of my mother’s sudden and very unexpected death, a mere six months and four days after my father’s passing. I was living in Atlanta and one of the challenging decisions we had to make was whether the boys should go to their Mema’s funeral. To do so would mean them missing the first two days of school, but to not take them would deny them the emotional closure we thought they might need. We left the decision up to them. They opted to not go. As one of them put it, “We’ve been to enough funerals this year.”
Life is a wonderful thing, but sooner or later we all become dust on the trail. Love now. Live now. Find peace. Embrace the full cycle of life, even when it seems unfair.[/one_half_last]