So if you’ve read any of the posts I’ve made like The Grandfather my kids will never meet, New Years Giveaway – in memory of my Nana Maysie, To Andy, on what would have been your 40th birthday, you would probably have already guessed, there has been more than a few really important people in my life that my kids won’t have the chance to really know as they’ve left us earthside already.
Whenever death comes up as a topic of discussion with children thought, I am really aware of what I am saying to them about it and conscious that it will influence how they think and feel about the topic not only now, but in years to come. I know this doesn’t sit well for everyone and sometimes makes people uncomfrtoable but its a reality in our world loss & grief and I think it might better prepare our kids for them if we can talk about it more…
Also I think personally as children, there is a lot more that we are spiritually in touch with before the realities of other peoples or societies opinions or our own questions or unsureness of these things really clouds our views.
I think children are much more connected to the spiritual world than we give them credit for. In a recent TED talk I watched by Phil Borges he told a story about viewing, from an outsider perspective, a relationship between a great grandmother and great granddaughter and they time they spent together in the village life as peculiar.
He said the tribe explained to him it wasn’t at all strange, the elder was just about to return to the spirit world and the young girl was just leaving it so in fact they had the most in common.
It made me think about being a very young girl and spending lots of time and sleep overs at my Great Aunty Fayette’s house.
I don’t know how old I was when we used to do these sleep overs but very young.
My mum is the eldest of her family and my dad the eldest of his, me being the eldest in my family, it’s kind of logical I am also the eldest of my generation, of my cousins, of my family line in both sides.
I do remember there being a time when it was just me. When I was the only grandchild, which would have been in my mums side of the family, up until my sister was born when I was three and a half. I think the sleep overs where probably around that age.
When I think about it now, it may well have been a way for my mum to prepare for having my sister and my Aunty Donna would have been pregnant with my cousin at the time too.
I remember handing out with the “oldies” lots during that time and as a little girl. They we all “greats” in the family line to me, my great grandmother and my great aunts (many of whom we not actually blood relatives but friends of my Great grandmothers, who we called Gran, and people who we all considered family).
Having four generations of your family alive is very special. I loved hanging out the “oldies” but when that is the case, death is also obviously something you come to experience before you even know what that means.
It would although avoided, a topic that came up lots. Reading the obligatory section of the paper was a common thing that was done as a group to see if anyone they knew where in them – more often than not, there was. But death wasn’t something spoken about with fear, it was almost like waiting for a bus. You never know when your one is going to arrive but you do know it’s on its way eventually.
Aunty Fayette’s was my favourite place to be though. Her and Aunty Dot, they were always my favourites.
But sleep overs at Fayette’s weren’t my favourite cause she was but because I got to sleep in her room with her and Honey, her wee dog. In my Great Uncle Jack’s bed.
I never met Jack. He was someone who dies before my time. But I feel like I know him.
On those nights I stayed at Aunty Fayette’s she always made sure she had Vienna Ice cream cake, we loved that stuff – both of us.
And she would cut us both a big slice and we would take it to her room and prop ourselves up in bed (it was the old school set up of two single beds-his and hers, with a small draws set in between) and she would turn on old school movies on the old TV set she has in her bedroom (she was also the only person I knew with a TV in her bedroom – which made her extra cool to me) and she would tell me stories about her and Jack travelling through Asia after the war.
They travelled to some crazy places and had amazing experiences at a time when travelling like that was just not something people did.
On Jack’s side of the room, the one I slept on, I slept in his bed, there was a chair at the foot of the bed and next to the dresser.
It was where he put his shoes on in the morning after he got dressed. I’m not sure if someone told me that and for some reason in my mind I have an image of him doing exactly that. As an adult I feel it must have been a photo or something I saw as I can’t rationally have seen him doing that as he died before I was born… The reality is though; I am not sure if a photo like that exists.
But I do know as a little girl sometimes Aunty Fayette would be telling me a story about Jack and their adventures and we would be eating our ice cream cake and have old movies playing and there were times she would laugh as she told stories of what seemed like and probably were, very exotic and dangerous situations they lived through together and then other times she would finish telling a story and she would seem sad.
And I remember in those times literally seeing Uncle Jack, sitting in his chair at the foot of the bed, smiling, radiating love but kind of glowing, like he was see through in a way.
And he was there whenever she said, “I miss Jack”. And while she said it with sadness and she didn’t say it that often, when she did the overwhelming emotion was the nostalgia, rather than so much that of loss.
And every time – I would look at him smiling there in his chair – and I would look at her and say “but he’s right here”.
Like in a matter of fact way. In a three-year-old way. Like I didn’t overthink it, I didn’t grasp that might be a strange thing at all. It didn’t feel strange – it just was. He was just there. In his chair.
And she would wipe away the tear from her cheek and look at the chair and look at me and she could smile and say to me, “I know”.
And we would continue on as we were. Talking well past my bedtime, often eating a whole Vienna Ice Cream cake slice by slice and watching old movies or looking at her slides from her travels around Asia with Jack.
I didn’t even think of this story for such a long time. I do remember feeling this overwhelming desire from Fayette for me not to go to her funeral. When she totally unexpectedly dropped dead at her own doorstop many years later on Christmas eve, we found out she had long since planned and paid for her own funeral years in advance.
The funeral home called and said she had everything organised for it all, pretty much, “just bring us the body” kind of scenario.
We were all there for Christmas that year. I didn’t have to travel to get to the funeral, there was nothing stopping me from attending or staying around for it. Yes, it was going to be a few days before I had a big camping trip for New Year’s planned with friends and changing my flight might have interfered with that. That was the premise under which I took my intended flight back to New Zealand, to my home, days before her funeral and never attended it but it isn’t why.
I remember sitting on the front steps of the house I was boarding in at the time, which means I must have been seventeen when she died, and it was the night of the funeral.
I remember just at that moment having this guilt stricken panic, “oh shit! Why didn’t I stay for the funeral? I’m not even leaving for the camping trip for two days! I could have totally been there…”
And looking up at the stars, because I was told that’s where we can see the spirits of our loved ones, that the brightest star we could find would be them, shining for us to remember them. In that moment it was like I almost heard her say, “I don’t want you to remember me like that, remember me like Jack” and without even thinking about what that meant, any guilt or indecision I had was gone in that moment. I wasn’t meant to be at the funeral.
It was a dark phase in my life when Fayette died and things over the years got darker before they got lighter again. I had made my peace with my guilt and loss. In fact, despite being so close to Aunty Fayette, my grief and loss over her death was the easiest for me to seem to get “closure” on. I guess because it felt like she never left.
I didn’t even think about or remember the specifics of staying at her house actually until this morning. Someone mention something about their young child saying they could see a past relative. I commented on it about how I do truly believe we are closer to the spirit world when we are young.
I shared with them a story about Josh telling me when he was three he could hear and see Pa (my dad) but now he’s four he can’t and he didn’t “feel” the love the same way. I’m not sure if he’s incredibly insightful, if he has a great imagination, if it’s because of the way we’ve talked to him about these things or a combination of all of them.
He’s also talked to me about past lives lots. He once said as we were driving down the road to me, “we’ve been together before but you weren’t my mum then, we were brothers. We rode these big carts and had these costumes and horses pulled us around”…
He would have been three at the time. As I said he has an active imagination and had a new brother so maybe it was just a story he thought up, but James and I kind of exchanged glances for a sec..
“Was it a really long time ago?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. Ages ago!” he replied.
James said something like “I didn’t know you had seen chariots? That sounds like what you are talking about with the carts and horses?”
“Ohhh…” said Josh, just casually looking out the window deep in thought, “chariot… hmmm”
And James and I just looked at each other a bit bemused, fairly certain we have never exposed him to anything where he would have seen a chariot and not sure what was fact or fiction but not really caring either way.
As I thought about myself at 3 this morning as I was in the shower and I thought of the story of Aunty Fayette and Uncle Jack and it all came flooding back to me, I thought, man there must be so much stuff we know but forget by the time we are old enough to express it.
I’m not really sure how you or I are “meant” to deal with and talk about death with children but for me, I try to follow their lead and always leave my answers as reflective, open ended questions because in a way they are not only their own, but my greatest teachers with this stuff.
I don’t have the “oldies” to learn from anymore but there is now a whole new generation and my kids and the opinions and ideas from them who haven’t yet been shaped or closed by their own adult perceptions or realities of life in this lifetime.
By being open, by admitting to them often when they ask questions that I’m not really sure how it all works, or if anyone really does, its all just different ways of thinking and believing and having faith and connection to something greater than us. And then most importantly I ask and actually listen when I say “what do you think?”
I continue to learn and develop and progress my own perceptions and ideas whilst also encouraging them to develop and understand them for themselves. Especially while they are still young. The might be able to answer their own questions better than I could in years to come but by then they would have probably forgotten it.
But I won’t. I will remember what they think life and death and all the big questions meant to them before the world encourages them to forget and I can be there, hopefully I will be there, to remind them.
Skylight Trust has amazing resources for helping support people through greif and loss, particularly with children. Check out thier site and the many different ways they can support you if this for you, like me, like many of us, can be a tought topic to discuss with your kids – http://skylight.org.nz/
DISCLAIMER: Obviously we are not a family that prescribes to a set religion or school of faith but that doesn’t mean we are not open to them, in fact, there is lots we like from many of them, but for us, nature is our temple. Even between James and I we have slightly different takes on what destiny and God and all those things mean to us but one thing we have always firmly believed is giving our children exposure to lots of different ways to find faith and belonging in the world and encouraging them to answer those decisions for themselves. But this is not meant to be offensive to someone with different beliefs, my favourite tenants of the faiths that speak to me most are the ones about us all being on our own journey up the same mountain and that your relationship with something bigger than us is a very personal one.