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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Contemplating a Tattoo in New Zealand

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Tattoos are popular.

I have nothing against them.

Just not for me.  Not right now. 

 

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We were watching the surf on the Coromandel Peninsula, on the North Island of New Zealand.  The first thing that came to mind was my daughter’s tattoo.  It’s funny how an image can evoke a memory.

The waves on this beach reminded me of the tattoo of a heartbeat.

 

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Having raised teenage daughters, the concept of tattoos was brought up at a young age.  I didn’t bring up the topic.  They did.

The buzzword phrases were:  pick my battles and allow them to make their own decisions.

I chose my words carefully.

My advice was “think about it for one year before you do anything.  This is a permanent decision.”

Their first tattoos were initials of each other’s name.

 

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Artwork was added. 

 

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About ten years later, my daughter was excited to show me her new tattoo.  This tattoo was the image of the actual heartbeat of her little girl. This tattoo meant a lot to her.  It was symbolic of the precious gift of her child.

 

My daughter now has two heartbeat tattoos.

 

 

 

 

The first thing I saw on that beach in New Zealand was an image of a heartbeat. The waves had created distinct peaks on the shoreline.  Possibly the ocean’s heartbeat.

 

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For me, it brought up the memory of my daughter’s tattoos.  Symbolic of the priceless heartbeats of life.

 

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I may get a charm, or a pendant as a special, meaningful keepsake.

I don’t think I will get a tattoo.

Not right now. 

I may change my mind.

 

What does the word “Magical” mean to you?

The rain stops.  The sky clears.  The air is crisp and cold.

Just for one night, time stands still.

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Tens of thousands of twinkling lights.

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An illusion. A mystery.

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A feeling of enchantment.

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Children’s smiles.

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Removed from everyday life.

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Thankful for this moment in time.

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For we are all children, in awe of the Magic.

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I wish everyone a year filled with Magical Moments in 2019!

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What day will you remember from 2018?

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Do you remember the day your child was born?…. the birth of your grandchild?….your wedding day?.…the day a loved one dies?

The end of December is often a time of reflection, recalling many of the events from the last 12 months.  2018 was filled with many positive moments, some noteworthy and some long forgotten.  I have to refer back to my photos and to my calendar to jog my memory.

The one day in 2018  I will never forget is the day my Grandson was born.  

I remember the adrenaline cursing through my body when we received the phone call to rush to the hospital.  I remember my daughter’s labour and how I wanted to alleviate her pain, yet how helpless I felt.  I remember the love on my daughter’s face when she held her son for the first time.

I remember the joy I felt and how I was overcome with emotion hearing his newborn cries, seeing him for the first time, the miracle of life.

These memories are forever etched in my mind.  I vividly remember the details of that day.

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 Yet, I cannot immediately recall what I did a week ago.

There has been a great deal of research done investigating the relationship between emotion and memory.  We create longer lasting memories in emotionally charged situations. 

This is a complex subject with many individual variations.

Events surrounded by positive emotions are usually remembered better than events surrounded by negative emotions. 

Different emotional states may impair memory.  Strong emotional states can result in persistent vivid memories of stressful events (PTSD).

 Gender differences influence memory.  Men and women may remember events differently.

Our age affects the details we remember.  As we get older, unpleasant memories fade faster and pleasant memories get stronger.    learn more here   and here 

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I can look back on my own life and clearly recall details from emotional events that occurred many decades ago.  I can also remember how I felt on that day and tears (of joy or sadness) can easily resurface.

                 the birth of my own children……. the timing of events on that day, the colour of the socks I was wearing, even what I had to eat that day…….my feelings of relief, euphoria and love

                  my Father’s funeral…….how my body would not stop shaking and my daughter held my hand to steady it, memories and photos shared that day, the blue sky…….an overwhelming feeling of sadness

                    my daughter and son-in-law’s wedding…….the beaming, genuine smiles on their faces, the look of love in their eyes, the ocean breeze…….my tears of love and joy

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I think most of us have vivid recollections of events when we were in a heightened state of emotion.  We can recall details from that day and how we felt. 

The end of the year is often a time we reminisce on the special moments of the last 12 months.  2018 was a good year for us, creating many memories with our loved ones.  What events took place?  What did I do?  Where did I travel?  What do I remember?

I do know that I will never forget the day in April that my Grandson was born, an emotional day filled with intense feelings of gratitude, joy, and love. 

What day will you remember from 2018?

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40th Anniversary……You know he’s a keeper when……

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Month 1

I call him at work to tell him I “think” the tv is on fire……..he runs the 4 minute mile and he is home before I can even hang up the phone…………He totally cares………about me?………or the tv?………likely both

Month 2

        Things in common………some totally opposite………..

        Toilet seat down…………most of the time………………..

        Family values, kindness, respect, thoughtful, fun……

Month 20

Me in pj’s the past 24 hours……..the darn flu………..he gets down on one knee to propose……..excited to share the ring he has designed for me………I think I said “yes”………too delirious from the flu to remember………

Month 30

We make it official and get married.

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40 Years Later

It’s how he still looks at me with love and kindness when I enter the room

It’s how he accepts my flaws and loves me anyways 

It’s how he makes me laugh

It’s how he gently holds and plays with the grandchildren 

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It’s how he drops everything to be present and help when his family needs him, always making loved ones a priority 

        Things in common………some totally opposite………..

        Toilet seat down…………most of the time………………..

        Family values, kindness, respect, thoughtful, fun……

He is still the same man I married……….. except that we have grown 40 years older together.

We are a team.  We have learned when to step in or step back.  We support each other. 

Many pivotal events have occurred over the last 40 years.  And yet, it’s the numerous little things that create the moments in our day, and ultimately create our life.

I am very aware of the passing of time and the fragility of life.  Our days ahead will be less than the days we have left behind.  The gift of time is very precious.

I am grateful for the 40 years we have had together.  I will cherish the moments we have ahead of us.

Yes……. he is a keeper!

(Happy 40th Anniversary Sweetheart…….my Partner, my Friend…….I love you with all of my heart)

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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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