The Death Void

I’m not complaining.  Really.  The fact that I have gone more than a decade without attending a funeral is fine with me.  However, I believe I may have gotten a little too used to life with no element of death.  Likewise, my kids – 9, 8, and 8 years old – have lived their entire lives without experiencing this difficult but necessary part of life.  Oh, how I’m dreading it now.  My wife and I still have two living parents each.  In fact, our kids still have several great-grandmothers in the picture.  We haven’t lost any friends or relatives in some untimely manner.  The kids are too young to remember 9/11.  Other than multiple fish, they have never even experienced death by losing a pet.

We did take our three kids to the National Cemetery here in Nashville last Memorial Day.  We tried to make them understand that each of those identical white tombstones marks where someone who served our country is buried.  Judging by the way we had to keep telling them to quiet down and stop running (over the graves), I don’t think they got it.

My sister gave us a copy of “Where the Red Fern Grows” at Christmas, to read to the kids.  I’ve been avoiding it because as much as I loved that book when I read it as a child, it is a heartbreaking story.  The book vividly details how attached a child can become to his dog(s).  It then vividly details the pain of losing them.  Until recently, I thought that I would try to avoid upsetting them this way because I selfishly don’t like to see them cry.  Now I’m beginning to think that it may be one small way to begin to prepare them for what lies ahead.

Personally, I don’t like cemeteries.  My wishes are to be cremated and cast into the wind somewhere that is meaningful to my loved ones.  I haven’t been to my grandparents’ graves in probably a decade either.  I mean no disrespect.  I remember them all the time.  I can still hear their voices and see their faces and feel their love.  I prefer that their memories not be attached to a single earthly place.  I will prefer the same for myself.

So, while I certainly am thankful for these years of life without death, I feel as if I am living slightly outside of reality.  I am not sure I will handle the losses to come very well, but I pray that I can both prepare my kids (as best as possible) and explain to them (as best as possible) what death is and why it is a part of life.  I also hope to make them understand how blessed they are to have so many grandparents and great-grandparents at this stage of life.  I had all four of my grandparents until my freshman year in college.  Within a decade, they were all gone.

For now, we’ll take each day as it comes, letting those we love know how much we love them, appreciating each moment we share, and celebrating life.


~ by suitenectar on May 10, 2010.

39 Responses to “The Death Void”

  1. I feel the same way about death being that I haven’t experienced it in almost 12 years. I think you’re kids will be able to grasp what it is when the time comes being that you have found ways to introduce it to them.

  2. I didn’t experience my first death until I was in my mid twenties, and it was a double funeral (car accident). Reading Where the Red Fern Grows did nothing to prepare me for the reality of seeing a dead bodies in an open coffin. I don’t think there is a whole lot you can do to ‘prepare’ kids for death. They just have to experience it for themselves.

  3. If you’re worried they won’t understand death, I would think Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. It will give the lesson of death a bit more gently, since Where the Red Fern Grows is more for older kids. I didn’t read the latter until I was an adult, but I think Charlotte’s death as I remember it from childhood, will be upsetting enough.
    Besides, they probably have an idea already about death by age 8. I was terrified by the prospect of family members dying by then. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry about it. Normal kids shouldn’t be thinking about mortality or expect to feel too solemn in graveyards. Plus, I bet if they don’t understand, they will come to you eventually.
    Not a parent, just coming from my own childgood recollections, no expert here.
    Great post!

  4. Your kids are probably absorbing more than you give them credit for, but they’re young and they’re going to play and enjoy life. That’s what kids do.

    And, thanks, for making the effort to teach them about Memorial Day.

  5. Thank you for having the courage to share what you have. As a parent I have shared with my children about dying from a young age. They see tombstones as just markers for where the human body lies. They believe in their own way that the spirit of the person is not there in the body but blessing us from all around.

    This may sound different but the children have now experienced the passing of family and they have dealt with it amazing well.
    I was surpised how well. I sense preparation was important.

  6. Wow. A decade or so? That is amazing to me. A good post.

  7. I am a junior in high school, and I have the privilege of having four living grandparents. However, my grandparents on my father’s side live halfway around the world, and I have only been able to see them once in my life, when I was in 4th grade. I rarely keep in touch with them, both because they are aging and find reading and speaking on the phone difficult, and also because they are practically strangers to me. However, I do dread the day that any of my grandparents pass away, for the idea of facing the death of a loved relative for the first time in my life scares me, even at 17.

  8. Yes, and these days most people are coming to terms with the fact that death is a normal part of life much quicker than usual. It’s such a sad thing to contemplate, but we must all pass, as time is infinite while our bodies are not…

  9. Don’t forget to knock on wood. Your kids are lucky to have not experienced death yet. Nothing prepares you for it, but I am sure when the time comes they will handle it better than you anticipate.

  10. Very insightful post. I know a lot of people who experience death in different ways; friends of mine experience a funeral probably once every 6-12 months, just because they know a lot of people, and I’ve not seen death for about 8 years, and I’d say my younger sister and I probably deal with it a lot different to them. I don’t think you can prepare someone for death, nor do I think it’s necessary. I think waiting for death to come, and then sorting it from there is the best way to go. Worked for us anyway. Again, I’d like to praise you on a very interesting read.
    Have a nice day. x

  11. yeah, I’m with you there- I want to be cremated too- for the record. Dead bodies stink- these are among my deepest thoughts.

  12. Great blog, thanks for sharing!

  13. Being cremated robs the earth of any benefit it might have gained by having let you exist in the first place. When you get yourself cremated you’re taking yourself even further outside the natural life cycle than if you’d allowed yourself to be embalmed and buried in an airtight casket. Neither allows nature to use your remains the way they were intended to be used- as fertilizer and sustenance for other creatures.

    • Fascinating comment! I had always thought I’d want to get cremated, but now I will have to give it another think. Maybe I should just ask “them” to place me in a biodegradable paper casket? Seriously…there could be a great start-up idea there…

      • Already Happening in Australia, where the body is wrapped in cloth, buried in a shallow grave. Located by GPS and left in a forest to return to the cosmos as star stuff.

      • Among hindus – the dead bodies are burnt to ashes. Isnt that a simple solution.

  14. I remember Where the Red Fern Grows – I know I cried.

    It’s curious that the more “civilized” a nation becomes, the more its citizens fear death and are removed from it. We live in a country where people die, like anywhere else on Earth, yet the dead and dying are so aptly isolated from the living (or maybe vise versa) that you fall victim to the illusion that death is somewhere else, that other people die, in other countries.

    But in many countries around the world death really IS a part of life – childre grow up familiar with it, and do not fear it.

    Thank you for the introspective post.

  15. There’s a book called Lifetimes by Brian Mellonie that was illustrated by Robert Ingpen – I’ve used it to ehlp my children deal with death. It does help a little.

  16. thank you for the story and your opinions

  17. When you go to a wakes never look at the dead. It keeps good, alive memories, of them in. Always the happy days with them.

  18. I understand what your post and the comments are about. Still, I was drawn here by the image featured at wordpress. I was immediately mentelaported back to the day almost exactly 3 years ago when I ‘got’ to see a brain-spankin new national cemetery in my state. I was there because of my dead dad, who lived through the european engagement as a kid soldier in the ’40s, became an engineer because of the g.i.bill (he was a lower working class kid from detroit), and dedicated his adult working life to the warren army tank arsenal. Heard of the bradley personnel killer? Anyway, because of all that, I get to live in a nice house now. So what?

    When I saw that new graveyard already filling up with those goddam crosses and watched one of those dead kids’ gramma and sister supporting each other as they left the cemetary office – well let’s just say I am old and have read a lot of death books. Nothing prepared me for that national cemetery and the 4’x5′ portrait of G.W.Bush’s smirk that presided over it. The funeral services there were so numerous and formulaic that they were pretty good replications of gettin your lunch from mickey d’s side window. I could go on, but I won’t. I, the MotHER, suggest avoiding at all costs books like “The Giving Tree” and instead concentrate on the gift of Life, not the theft of Life. And take responsibility for educating your kids about the true history of the u.s.a. They won’t learn it in school. Thank you for this stimulating post.

    • Thank YOU, Sally, for your stimulating post. As someone who has never had family ties to the military (but has several good friends serving now), I could never begin to imagine what you felt that day, and most likely still feel quite often. While I understand that your father was older, I have often been brought to tears by the stories and images of young children who have lost a parent to a current war. In fact, there is a particular image HERE that I received as part of an email that just breaks my heart.

  19. I understand exactly how you feel. It is difficult enough for us grown ups to deal with death and loss, then how do you explain it to a child? However, I think explaining to children about loss is vital in my opinion. You will never be able to wrap them in cotton wool, we all know that, life will happen in one way or the other and I think it always is better to be “prepared” for lack of a better word. The beauty of a child’s mind though is that in so many occassions it is so much more accepting and understanding than that of us adults.

  20. Interesting.. I had no idea that in some parts of the world not experiencing death could be an issue. For us, we worry about too many people dying and the way it’s almost routine to bury them now. funerals on saturdays..

  21. My first experience with death happened when I was 9; three of our kittens died, and my brothers and I lay their tiny bodies in an old shoebox and buried them by the side of a pond in the woods near our home. During the following two years, two of my grandparents, two great-aunts, and my baby brother died. Each was traumatic, but these days I think that my reaction would have been different had I not experienced the kittens’ death. Books do not prepare children for life; life prepares children for life. Now that I have a child of my own, I know that one day she will experience for herself what I did. I only hope that I can be strong enough to offer her support and care like my own parents did.

    • I too remember the mostly non-emotional death of a family pet when I was 4, and the much more raw death of the family dog I pretty much grew up with. It’s funny, but I’ve always sarcastically referred to pets as “your own little personal tragedy” because we get so attached to them – they truly become a member of the family. I’ve never really thought about those losses as a teaching tool. Thanks for the comment!

  22. Hmm story about death… best solution? To have good morning 😉

  23. “Where the Red Fern Grows” at Christmas, to read to the kids. I’ve been avoiding it because as much as I loved that book when I read it as a child, it is a heartbreaking story.

    How does it compare to Bambi or Old Yeller?

    • That’s a good question. My kids used to watch the Bambi video all the time, when they were around 4 or 5. I now recall touching on the mother’s death then, but at that age I guess I was less concerned with it. I have never read Old Yeller myself! I’m sure it’s comparable. Thanks for the comment!

      • Old Yeller the film will be airing on TCM June 6 at 8pm. Watching the movie before reading the source material could be interesting?

  24. Thanks for the thought-provoking post. While I’m not a parent (though I do teach), it’s interesting to think of the impact that a healthy society has. We haven’t really ever seen anything like this, so it will be difficult to say what will happen…

  25. Thank you for that.

  26. Children grieve differently from adults. They play and create fantasy worlds as ways to tell their own version of what has happened. I wonder what your experience of your children might be if you played with them and discovered what they are about? I’ve worked with children who have lost a beloved person to death; we call the work “the butterfly process”–you know, the caterpillar crawls into a cocoon and eventually emerges as a butterfly. While in the cocoon, the metamorphoses of the caterpillar into the butterfly comes about through a shedding of multiple layers of skin and then as the butterfly bangs against the cocoon wall to break free of the cocoon, that little butterfly is also pushing the fluid from its wings so that when it does emerge, it can fly. Children know that process instinctively, and too many adults don’t. Stop worrying and play with your children. They have lots to teach you!

  27. My first experience with death was age 15. I still remember my mom returning home without my older brother. I knew it was apart of life’s journey, but even today it still bothers me to think on death. But I know we were all born to die. Great post!

  28. […] comments from around the world, I thought this might be something worth discussing further.  The Death Void (Part 1) can be viewed here if you need to catch […]

  29. For anyone who’s interested, I have now created a follow-up post called “The Death Void, Part 2” here: Thank you!

  30. This blog is very good. Thanks for this. I will bookmark this page.

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