Thursday, July 26, 2012

Talking about death

Last year when I came up to Thunder Bay to visit my parents their dog died.  It was a tough time for Elli and we had a lot of difficult conversations about death, what happens afterwards, and how people deal with their grief.  We are up in Thunder Bay again this summer for my grandfather's memorial service so almost exactly a year to the day I am having difficult discussions with Elli about what dying means.  I hope I can avoid this becoming a trend, though I think it is a good thing to have lots of family about when these difficult sorts of topics must be dealt with.

The thing that struck me was how curious Elli was about all the proceedings.  She wanted to watch the urn go into the ground and carefully observe the rituals and actions that were part of the memorial.  The basic mechanics of death are something she struggles with, hoping to find meaning and reason in it all.  She doesn't yet understand things like cremation nor being sick and old enough for dying to be natural and okay.  I was upset and crying myself on a regular basis and that really shook her up; I know intellectually that everyone must die and that we should celebrate a long life well lived but emotions take charge nonetheless.

I gave a speech at the memorial service about the thing I will most remember about my grandfather.  I talked about the fact that although he had little education the breadth of his knowledge always stunned me.  Not only did he know a million things I will never know, he knew a million things I didn't even know a person *could* know.  Could anybody wander onto a random hill and be able to predict by the date and geography just how deep down the frost is?  The answer is yes, though the number of people who can is few indeed.  I broke down crying during my speech and barely managed to get the last bits out; I certainly messed it up though I have trouble remembering exactly how.

Elli found this all very confusing and hard because she could see how upset I was but couldn't really sort out how she should be acting.  She knew my grandfather but only a little; it is hard with so little experience to know how to deal with difficult emotions, particularly when the people you rely on are so overwrought themselves.  My hope is that by witnessing people dealing with death and watching them experience grief and get past it that she will develop a healthy attitude towards grief and recovery.  I make a conscious effort to let my emotions free and allow myself to publicly express them because I want her to have that example and not feel like she has to bottle things up.

The toughest part about parenting through these challenging times is that I know what I want to teach her and how I should act but it is hard to do it when I am so invested; trying to be comforting when I am crying and all twisted up inside is immensely difficult.  Parenting from a distance is easy... it is doing the correct thing when you are already sad, angry, exhausted, or hungry is that part that I find it very hard to get right.

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