Do you ever think about the people who used to live in your neighborhood? Your house? Who used to sleep in your bedroom before you bought that house? What happened to them? I remember taking car rides with my dad when I was a little girl and I would spend the time looking out the window and wondering what everything would look like a hundred years ago.
I actually think about this often. When I’m out driving around, I look at houses and I wonder about what went on inside them. Because on the outside, my house looks normal (a bit ratty, but normal) and cheerful maybe. Random passersby would have no idea of the loss we’ve experienced or the pain we’ve felt. They have no idea that this Saturday when it was snowing like crazy, the family was gathering to celebrate a man who died almost a year ago on my parents’ 39th wedding anniversary. They would have no idea that the smell of bacon, scrapple and sausage was because my dad loved big breakfasts (although, I think he would have wanted some fried potatoes too). They would have no inkling that half of the family was unable to get out in the snow and were having their own celebrations at their homes. They wouldn’t be able to share in the memories and stories we told about the ones we love. They would drive by and completely miss out on what was happening inside.
What history am I missing in my little house? What happened to the generations of people who lived here before me? Over time their stories are lost and I find that sad because I could have learned from them. I would have grown from them.
Modern American families have lost the ability to prepare for death. We expect that all of us will be healthy and well and that if we’re not, the doctors should be able to fix it. Death comes as a surprise these days – even if we know that someone is sick! Jen had leukemia for eleven years and I still expected the doctors to run in at the last minute and say that they had an idea for something that would save her.
And all of us take for granted the days we have with our loved ones. We assume that we have lots of time left with them to say the things we want to say. To do the things we want to do. We think we’re doing ourselves a favor when we avoid thinking about death. Why be so morbid? I don’t think being prepared for death is about being afraid. I think being prepared for death is a celebration of life.
Imagine a time when disease was commonplace and death was everyday. Didn’t parents prepare their children for death instead of hide it from them? Oh, how I hope these losses in recent years have helped me to prepare my children for the possibility, no – the EVENTUALITY of death. How I hope I have not made my children afraid of death, but instead make them see it as a distinct part of life. As I live this life, I am more and more convinced that it is our duty as parents and relatives to prepare them for loss. From simple loss, like a broken toy, to big loss, like the death of a loved one. They will lose things. They will lose people they love. And if we don’t teach them to deal with it, who will? Society?! I don’t think so.
Sure, my kids see me at my worst. Like when I start crying when I’m cleaning a room because I’m afraid of cleaning away the last vestiges of Jake, Jen and Dad. Or when I illogically demand to watch a pretty silly movie because it reminds me of someone I love. But I hope my children also see me at my best – when I can show them the peace that I have in Christ and the hope that we will see our loved ones again in heaven. When I can feel happy in the memories I have with Jake, Jen and Dad and we can laugh and smile and talk about how they would have enjoyed our celebrations. When I can teach them what my loved ones would have taught them about faith, creativity, individuality and strength.
So, no. I don’t hide death from my children. Bo was 14 months old when Jake died, and we had a discussion with him about Jake’s death. He totally understood what was happening and cried with us in our mourning. But he also gave us more hugs, gave us more reasons to smile and reminded us of all the sweet things about life with Jake. Even at just one-year-old, Bo learned from his loss and helped to teach others through it.
More than that, my family and I have resolved to CELEBRATE our loved ones at every opportunity we have. Of course we celebrate them on birthdays and anniversaries, but we also celebrate the anniversaries of their deaths – not by mourning, but by gathering together and remembering them together. By being together with the loved ones who are still alive and creating more memories and taking every opportunity to enjoy the life we have.
So, my family, the two-year anniversary of Jen’s death is coming up in about a week. Where are we getting together? What are we doing? I’m thinking we need to crank up the New Kids on the Block and watch the movie Annie (the old one – NOT the new one) and eat some gummy bears, peach rings and sour gummy worms.