How do you teach children about death?

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Part one – January 23, 2018

Coincidence?

This afternoon, sad, teary-eyed Sadie shared with me that her fish had died.  She had this fish since she was born. 

Children often bring up topics when you are unprepared and you least expect it.  I looked at it as an opportunity to discuss death with a four year old.  

“Everyone and every living thing dies.  It is normal to feel sad.  Love for each other never dies.  Memories live on.  It is good to share your feelings.”  The usual things we say.

Questions from Sadie included:  “Was her fish in outer space?  Was my Dad in outer space?”  She was aware that my Dad had died many years ago.  

I told Sadie that I really wasn’t sure where her fish is and where my Dad is. We talked about heaven.

Sadie wanted to see pictures of my Dad.  I opened up the file on my computer from my last visit with my Dad.  My Dad was very compromised, elderly and in ill health.

Sadie noticed the Christmas decorations in the background.  She asked whether he had died at Christmas.  I told her, no.  Some time in January.

The hair rose on my arms.

I hunted down his memorial script.  May 4, 1929 – January 23, 2007.

A sob escapes my throat.

Coincidence?

 

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Part two – May 4, 2019

Sadie is now five years old.  One year older and one year wiser.

After a long, fun-filled day,  we were waiting for Sadie’s Mom to arrive to take her home.

                    This time I received an extra long hug.  She wouldn’t let go.

Then she said “I don’t want to forget you.  I looked at her and she had tears in her eyes.

I paused.  Where did this come from?  Does she know something I don’t know?

I was taken aback.  I didn’t have time to prepare an answer.  I said what I think are appropriate things to say to a five year old.  “You won’t forget me.  I will never forget you.  You will always be in my heart.”  I was a little emotional, too, although I tried my best to hide these feelings.

I get it.  I also don’t want to forget.

Memories surface around special holidays.  This year my Dad would have turned 90 years old on his birthday.

A few of my memories: 

  • I remember how birthdays were always a big deal in our house.  We always celebrated with a Black Forest Cake.
  • I remember how my Dad valued an education. On a very limited income,  he purchased the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica.  We would actually read these books on a daily basis. 
  • I remember how he was a gadget person.  The latest knives, blenders, recording devices, projectors, movie cameras.  We also had the first black and white tv on the block.
  • I still get misty-eyed when I hear a song from the Sound of Music, the first movie I saw with my Dad.
  • Most of all I remember the family values my Dad instilled in all of his children.  To him, love was a verb.  He showed us every day how much he cared about us. He loved children and unfortunately he did not have a chance to meet his amazing great grandchildren. 

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Memories can fade.  We will forget details about our loved ones, especially grandparents that may have left us many years ago.  We may have only a hazy recollection of events.

Sadie had questions about death and about my Dad in Part 1 of this story. 

How do we teach children about death?

When we have the privilege of spending time with children, we quickly realize that we will learn far more from children than they will learn from us.

Sadie taught me that it is okay to ask the hard questions. It is okay to love someone and be afraid of losing them.  It is okay to have tears in your eyes.

Sadie taught me that sometimes the only answer you really want is a very long hug and not let go.

Epilogue

A few weeks ago I was making some notes outside the yoga studio, waiting for my class to begin.  I was debating on whether I would write and share this story.  I walked into the studio and I met a friend who was telling me about her upcoming birthday plans.  I asked her what day is her birthday?  She said, May 4th.

Today would have been my Dad’s 90th birthday, May 4th.

Coincidence?

 

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Sliding Doors – Do you ever wonder how your life would be different now if you had taken the Other Door?

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I think many of us have reflected on the “sliding door” moments in our life, the what ifs?….. what might have been?……  how would my life be different now?  I know I have.

 It may be a split decision to take a different route home or leave 10 minutes later from work, avoiding an accident.

It may be where we decide to live, our career choice, who we choose to marry.  One decision can change the course of our life forever.

I am also very aware of the butterfly effect, the ripple effect, caused by that one decision……..the family I now have and the friends I have made along the way.

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A pivotal “sliding door” moment for me was when I met a very friendly girl in a cafeteria at school.  We had 2 weeks left until the end of the Spring semester and we were discussing our Summer plans. 

She was heading back to her hometown, Whitehorse and I was going to Yellowknife to work for the Summer.   She told me about the beautiful Yukon Territory and the jobs that were available there.  I reviewed the student job search bulletin board and 2 weeks later I was on an airplane heading to Whitehorse instead of Yellowknife.

My Summer job actually turned into 4 years of living in the beautiful Yukon.  This is where I met my husband ……and the rest is history.

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Was I destined to meet my husband, possibly at a different time and place, or through different circumstances?

We found out that our paths may have crossed in a prior year.  My family and I used to camp at a lake in the Interior of BC when I was a young girl.  At that time, my husband lived on this lake immediately across from our campground.

I have heard many stories like this. One couple I know spent the first few days of their lives in the same hospital nursery.  They were actually born on the same day.  They met years later and married.  Other friends found out they had attended the same basketball game years before they actually met.  A random event?……. fate?…….. serendipity?

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There is also evidence of Parallel universes in modern science.  Something about electrons spinning in different directions at the same time…..quantum physics.  The theory is that there is a parallel you inhabiting a world that is no less real than ours, yet can accommodate different outcomes. Is there a copy of me existing right now in an alternate reality, a separate parallel universe?  This concept is far too in depth and complicated for my brain……..although intriguing.

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I do not know whether our lives unfold by chance or whether we are on a preordained path.  Do we have certain people in our lives for a reason? Are there lessons we are required to learn on this route?

I have reflected on the “sliding door” moments in my life, especially the summer I moved to the Yukon.  I will never know how my life would have turned out differently, if I had taken that airplane to Yellowknife instead of Whitehorse.

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My gut on this one?  I am grateful I went through that one door over 40 years ago,  leading me to this rewarding life.

I cannot imagine my life without my husband, my daughters, my family, my friends.  I was destined to be right here, right now.

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Thank goodness for my Spidey Sense!

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I really believe that I am here today because of my Spidey Sense.   

I think that is true for all of us and our survival instincts.

This past year, I became more aware of all of my senses and how intuition has played a large part in guiding the trajectory of my life.  Information on our senses is very complex and there is a lot of overlap.  I found out that our Spidey Sense is a type of ‘sixth sense’ referring to our ability to sense imminent danger.

I am sure each one of us has encountered circumstances when the hairs rose on our arms, when you “feel” someone looking at you and you look back over your shoulders, when goosebumps prompt us to turn around and cross the street. 

For me, I am glad I didn’t submit to the insistent coaxing and go up to a man’s apartment on a first date, after only a few short encounters.  I still vividly recall an immediate sense of fear, my survival mechanisms fully engaged.  I did not see him after that.  Even at a very young age, my Spidey Sense alerted me to danger.

Another example is when I was compelled to look out a rarely used window in our home and I saw the lawn mower ablaze.  My adrenal glands immediately kicked into high gear and I called the fire department to extinguish the flames before they reached our house.

I do not know whether it is potential danger or actual danger I have avoided when I paid attention to the hairs tingling on the back of my neck, my heart beating faster, my fight or flight response.  It may have been a premonition or my primitive survival instinct or both.

 I plan to continue to be aware of all of my senses.  If I have a bad feeling and I get a strong sense of something being wrong, I do plan to listen to my Spidey Sense.  I believe that is why I am still here today.

 

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Which one of your Senses would you miss the most?

 

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These types of questions do not truly resonate until they hit close to home, directly affecting you or your loved ones, affecting a special little girl in our lives.

This past summer I listened to a powerful, riveting interview with Amy Purdy, the Paralympic medalist for snowboarding. She contracted a form of bacterial meningitis leading to septic shock, her legs amputated below the knee, and other serious health complications.  Amy Purdy described her near death experience.  When she was on “her last breath”,  “moving to the edge”,  she thought about the people she loved and all she loved about life, especially “all the sensory stuff….. the smell of rain…..the sound of ocean waves”.     

Every day, since listening to that interview, I have been keenly aware of my senses, and what I will miss when I leave this body.  I have observed more details in my surroundings, the scent of rosemary needles outside the yoga studio, how good that hug really feels and hummingbirds actually create a lot of sound.

Which one of my senses would I miss the most?  I have decided that it is my intuition, my gut feeling, my inner voice, that has had the greatest impact in my life. 

 Listening to my intuition has steered me in the right direction (when I have paid attention to it).  It led me to a move I made that changed the trajectory of my life.  It is how I met my life partner.  It is how I chose a career I loved for 25 years.  My life would likely have taken a very different course if I had always listened to the analytical part of my brain processing information from my other senses. 

 In retrospect, I have not always made the best decisions when I relied on cognitive reasoning, pros and cons deductions, other people’s well-intentioned advice………I should have listened to my gut.

As to the special little girl in our lives…..we were advised early on (before birth) that our little 2 1/2 year old may not see or hear.  We are very thankful this little girl sees well, always with a twinkle in her eye.  Her hearing is just fine, when she chooses to listen and this is confirmed by her witty responses and her “I can do it all by myself”.

Most of all, I hope she will pay attention to her sense of intuition to help guide her throughout her life.  I hope she listens to her inner voice to follow her dreams, help her through life’s adversities and life’s joys, to surround herself with the people she loves and who love her.

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