Part Seven: Death
Death sucks in the way that a marathon can be difficult. Even if you’re an athlete in top form, even if you’ve trained to the best of your ability, you’re going to be putting in more than a little effort into finishing those 26.2 miles.
With death, I think a large part of that “training” comes from our parents. We pick up our attitudes, how we deal with it, from how they deal with it - if they deal with it at all. Some don’t. I’ve known people who avoid funerals because it would be “too hard on the children” (but unintentionally revealing, through the rest of their words, that they can’t imagine going, it will be too scary/hard/weird to attend, etc.). I’ve heard people say that they refuse to talk about death because that’s too much for a child to deal with. Worst than either of those are the people who pretend death never happened: the dog ran away, Grandma went on a trip where there are no phones, email or post offices.
My parents taught me that everybody dies, you feel sad, but you go on. They never told me exactly how difficult it is to go on - but that’s a whole other post for another day, maybe. Maybe not. You can know something is going to happen but not feel truly prepared.
In any event, I do my best to answer questions that Bug has. I talk about how they died (“They were really sick. Cancer! They had cancer. It’s not like being sick with just the sniffles, so don’t worry.”), what they were like as parents, and things we did when I was a kid. He knows that I miss him and that, for me, the most difficult part is that I really want to see them but I can’t.
I am as gently honest as I can be, even when he surprises me, like he did over breakfast:
Bug: How old was Grandpa when he died?
Bug: How old were you when he was still alive? Before I was born?
Bug: Don’t die. Not even when I’m an adult, because I love you very much and I’ll always need you.
He said it very calmly, without any fear or worry, and then came to hug me.
Bug: Okay? Make the choice to never die.
I almost laughed at that point (but really: don’t laugh when a child is having a serious conversation with you. Heck, you probably shouldn’t do that with anyone who is trying to talk seriously with you. It’s demeaning), but he was being sincere so I answered honestly: “Everything dies at some point, but I will do my best to stay alive for a long, long time. Okay?”
And I will. It’s the one thing I wish for myself, that I can see with clarity: I really want to live long enough to help him grow up into a person who can stand without me.
"A girl’s first line of defense is her dad, just like a boy’s first line of defense is his mother. That means that, as long as I’m alive, I will stand between you and the rest of the world. I’ll give you the chance to grow up, so that one day, when I’m no longer here, you’ll be able to walk on your own." - My dad, during one of his numerous long winded lectures that everybody thought I was tuning out but actually heard.