**Welcome to Tan/Green! I started out blogging about “trying to be a granola mom in a fast food world.” Now I have embarked on a yearlong project sharing lessons with my sons for what I am pretty sure are boys most challenging years, approx. ages 15-30.**
Death is on my mind right now as my grandfather passed away just two days ago after an intense but short battle with lung cancer. There are as many ways to think about death as there are people alive. And many of those ways to think about and handle death are healthy and reasonable. Here is what I want you to internalize about death:
Death is part of living. When I was in high school I had to attend a number of wakes as the parents of my grandmother’s generation passed on. A friend happened to be with us one time as we “stopped by” a wake. She had never been to a wake, seen a dead person, or had anyone close pass away. In a sense she was lucky, but she also had not internalized that death is part of life and was totally freaked out. Freaked out by the dead person and also that we were fairly casual about the whole thing. Death cannot be feared – and has to be accepted as part of life.
There is no right or wrong way to feel when someone dies. When I was young, say ten or twelve years old, I didn’t handle stress well. When something stressful happened or stress built up I would break out in nervous, hysterical laughter. Crazy, right? When Nonna told me that my dad had passed away I broke out in that panicked, mad laugh. Let me tell you – that was not the right reaction. There are proper and improper reactions to death. But that laugh was an outward manifestation of a big jumble of feelings. And the feelings I had – the feelings you have had and will have when someone dies – were not right or wrong. As in all situations, you feel what you feel.
Death and grief are separate things. Grief is not only caused by death and death does not always cause grief. Know that you can always soldier on after someone passes, even when every day makes you ache with loss. Time transfigures all feelings and you cannot predict what those changes will be. Grief is a personal process and can be short or long, shallow or deep. The memory of someone who has passed on is always with you and can bubble up at the most unexpected times. Really sitting with those memories in the moment they bubble up is the closest thing to having that person back with you – whether the memory is good or not so good. Take hold of those moments.
Do not hold on to anger. Don’t be angry at God or a disease or an accident or a situation. There are horrible, horrible things that happen (like a recent massacre in an elementary school) where anger is a reasonable and certain reaction. In most cases of someone passing away though, anger serves no purpose – or serves a negative purpose – for your healing and well-being. And it certainly doesn’t help the deceased.
Believe in spirits. I know I have been visited by family that has passed on. I have seen people in dreams and felt them with me. And here is another crazy…I have smelled my father visiting me. Maybe it is absurd and there is nothing of an afterlife, but believing in spirits helps me accept all of the above. And you really do need to find something that does that.
Know that as long as we live, your dad and I are here to help you through any loss, any time, any way you need us.
Reader-Friends – what have you told your children (or will you) about death? How old is “old enough” to start those discussions?