Monday, August 17, 2009

On Death and Dying

Our five-year-old twins handled the death with more poise and strength than we grown-ups did.
My father-in-law--their Papa Jim--passed away somewhat unexpectedly on August 12 at age 63. It was an untimely, unfair and painful ending for an individual who had a big personaliaty in life and, as an investigative television reporter, an even bigger one on the small screen.
My husband caught a flight up to Michigan as soon as he heard things were souring.
Then, suddenly, there were plans to be made. Paperwork needed to be done. An apartment needed to be cleaned.
Meanwhile, I was left in Texas 35 weeks pregnant. My role was to hold the fort, which included explaining things.
I've tried my best over the past two years to decode the circle of life--to make it normal when it doesn't seem so understandable to me despite an upbringing in the Episcopal church.
We'll drive by a graveyard, for example, and the kids will want to know whey there are fresh dirt mounds.
"Well," I say, "When your body becomes a problem, you leave it behind you when you go to Heaven. Sort of like when spring comes and you get rid of your heavy clothes. You wouldn't want to wear a winter coat during a Texas summer would you?"
William and Elizabeth seem to get that one.
"But I'm really going to miss Papa Jim," my daughter said.
I told her it is okay to feel such emotions--we all do--but we're happy he's an angel now.
"Mom, only God picks the angels," Elizabeth said in an attempt to clarify.
I told her that Papa Jim was probably one of the lucky ones. If not, he was likely interviewing them which might be more to his liking anyhow.
"Well," she wanted to know, "Does he part the clouds and look down on us?"
Most likely, I said.
"How old are you when you become an angel?" she continued. "Like, are you a kid again?"
I told her as much as I could.
"I've never been to Heaven to see what's it's like, Babe," I said, "and few people report back when they get there so we don't really know much."
By the time Jim got back from Michigan five days later, Elizabeth was still processing things.
"Dad," she said at bedtime last night, "it would really stink to die on your birthday."
Her face then lit up.
"But you know, the good thing would be that if you were an angel, you could eat angel food cake to celebrate."
That's the thing about being five years old: You see a bright side to everything.
I know her Papa Jim would be pleased.


terri said...

I'm sorry to hear about your father-in-law.

It sounds like you've found a good way to explain it to your children.

My condolences for you and your family.

AngieB said...

This brought tears to my eyes -- I think they teach us more than we teach them sometimes.