Death Blog Post - Snoopy Wisdom

How to Talk to Kids About Death

Death Blog Post - Snoopy Wisdom

Dylan Asks About Death

“When will you die, Mummy?”

Whaaaaat?

Before I can splutter out an answer, I am pelted with more questions about death: “When will I die? What does dying feel like? Why do people die?” And, to finish: “When is the world going to end?”

I am able to squeak out a ridiculous answer to the last question involving a zombie apocalypse and robot uprising not happening until the year 3,178. This seems to placate my five-year old and he runs off to play.

But I am rooted to the spot, stupefied by Dylan’s open and honest queries about death.

 

Kick the Bucket

Like most of us, our inevitable mortality is a topic I don’t want to think about that much. The uncertainty and fear around death mean that discussion over it seems inappropriate, and well, morbid.

However, as I have just finished writing a book on bucket lists, a concept that is, for better or worse, linked to ‘kicking the bucket’ or dying, I have had to confront my beliefs and ideas about death anyway.

As I don’t hold firm religious beliefs, I don’t have an appropriate faith based answer for Dylan. But his questions, and the research around bucket lists that involved the regrets of the dying, have sparked my curiosity about what life itself means. Perhaps I could attempt to explain death to my kids more in terms of its relationship to life?

 

Two Deaths

This was brought home to me even further with two deaths that occurred twenty years and thousands of miles apart, one famous and one only known to a few people.

Recently, it was the 20th anniversary since Princess Diana passed away. Her death was incredibly shocking and sad for me – and millions of others – at the time. Actually, now I have become a mama, her death at age 36, leaving behind her two boys, seems even more tragic than it did back then.

Then this week, I read a series of blog posts from a friend, Kelly, who was told when she was pregnant with her third child that her baby would be ‘incompatible with life’. Her tiny daughter’s passing late last year was heartbreaking for the family and those closest to them.

How can I explain to a five year old about how short life can be? I would like to tell him he will not pass away until he is a ripe old age, but how can I when none of us knows how much time we have on this planet?

 

Three Nuggets of Wisdom

After much contemplation, this is what I have come up with. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are three little nuggets of wisdom about life and death. I hope that these help you if you are sucker punched with mortality talk from your children:

  1. We will all die at some point, and if we remember that, it should help us make the most of our life. If we were immortal, like vampires, we would get very bored, very quickly. Death is a way to remember to live life as best and as fully as we can.
  2. No one knows how long he or she has on this planet and that is a major blessing. If we knew we only had a certain number of days, would we attempt to build skyscrapers, write books or learn a violin concerto? Not knowing means you challenge yourself with long-term goals and try to create lasting relationships.
  3. If you at least try to live in a radically authentic and grateful way, your life will extend well beyond your physical presence here on Earth. You will leave a legacy – great memories, things you created or simply the love that shone out from you. We don’t need to live forever because something in us lives on.

 

Lessons from Diana

Twenty years on from Princess Diana’s untimely passing, William and Harry were asked about their memories of their late mother. They didn’t focus on her death. Instead they movingly recalled how her face would light up whenever she saw them. They told how she would break into the widest smile and envelope them with the warmest hug imaginable whenever she came back to the house. They reminisced about how naughty and silly she was as a mother – stuffing their pockets with sweets when they went off to school, and infamously inviting a couple of supermodels over to say hello to William when he had posters of the models on his walls. Most of all, they remembered her sparkling laughter.

Diana lived a life of grace. She had those three nuggets of wisdom ingrained in her heart. And because of that, she effortlessly lavished love on her sons and they remember her with great fondness. I have the rest of my – hopefully long – life to make sure my kids remember me the same way.

 

A Tweet Sized Version

I am fairly sure Dylan wouldn’t stick around for me to finish my dissertation about life and death, so how can I translate those three nuggets of wisdom in a way that a five-year old would understand?

Perhaps something like: No one knows exactly when they will die so make the most of every day, be kind and be yourself.

But of course, I don’t actually need to tell Dylan that because he does those things naturally!

It is me who must remember it.

 

References

Kelly’s Blog: Be Still and Know (have tissues at the ready)

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying Book: http://amzn.to/2fVu66t 

Death Blog Post - Princess Diana

Extraordinary Ordinary Blog Post - Grandma Wedding Day

Extraordinary Ordinary

 

Extraordinary Ordinary - Grandma Wedding Day

In Loving Memory
On the 5th of January 2015, my grandmother passed away suddenly but peacefully. She was my last grandparent and Dylan’s last great-grandparent still living. Although obviously shocked and saddened by her death, I was comforted by the fact that my Grandma had lived a happy and fulfilling life in her almost 88 years on this planet.

A Brief Biography
Grandma was the fourth child and first daughter born into a family of twelve (yes 12!!) children. Her only other sister was born the following year and then came a succession of seven more boys. As an illustration of the innocence of that era (or perhaps just of Grandma herself), she remembers asking the nurse who came to the family home when her mother was about to give birth, if the nurse could possibly “bring a girl with her this time”.

Typical of a large family in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, they were extremely poor, a kind of poverty that is unimaginable in the first world in the 21st century. Only Grandma and her sister ever had shoes as children – the boys simply went without. Throughout her childhood there was no electricity in the home. From a young age after school she would sell flowers just to add a few extra pennies to the family’s income each week.

However, they were a close and loving family who really did not know any different. They had enough land to grow a large vegetable patch for all the hungry mouths. Grandma always recalled her childhood with warmth and happiness while I would wonder how all the washing could be done for 12 children with no washing machine.

My Grandma, Marj, met my Granddad, George, just after World War Two finished and they were happily married for almost 60 years before his passing a few years ago. She is survived by her three children, three grandchildren (my sisters and I) and four great-grand children (Dylan and his cousins).

Wise, Grateful and Kind
A short history of someone’s life doesn’t really explain who they were or what they really mean to people. Grandma was unreservedly and unashamedly my absolute favourite grandparent. Why? Let me tell you about the real Marj:

Grandma, despite not being able to finish high school, was one of the most intelligent and wise people I have ever met. Until a few months before her passing, she did the crossword puzzle every day. She had a love of books and read prolifically, a love that was passed down to me. It was at Grandma and Granddad’s home that I first read the classic ‘Little Women’ and it was at their home that I read it another four or five times.

Grandma was really good-natured, appreciative and grateful of her life. She always said she was thankful for all the simple things – her family, where she lived and the things she had done and seen in her lifetime. After she celebrated her 80th she would say to us: “every day is a bonus”.

In addition, Grandma was kind and loving. She spent almost 60 years with Granddad and often said to us: “if he had two heads I would have married him”. We always thought it was funny imagining Granddad with two heads. She would go out of her way to help those less fortunate, active in various charities and community endeavours. I very rarely heard her say an unkind word about anyone.

My sisters and I were even luckier than most to experience her kind nature from the unique and privileged position of being her grandchildren. We have a childhood full of fond memories of visits at Grandma and Granddad’s place. Memories such as picking fresh beans and peas from their garden, splashing around with the hose and buckets of water, of building huts out of blankets and cushions in the lounge and being taught how to bake simple treats. It was a wondrous and amazing time.

I have always thought of Grandma as an ‘extraordinary ordinary’ human being. She didn’t change the world, but with her wise, kind and appreciative traits, she made her little corner of it a great place to be.

A Little Message
I get sad when I think that Dylan, who is now almost three, is likely to have no proper memories of his great-grandmother, so to him I have this to say:

Reach for the stars, achieve as much as you can in your life. Become the neuro-surgeon, Olympic athlete, environmental warrior, successful business entrepreneur, rock star or anything else you aspire to.

However, know that it is your character that you will be remembered for. Grandma somehow managed to effortlessly beam her timeless qualities of being wise, appreciative and loving. If you can capture even just a little of your amazing great-grandmother’s spirit and use it to enhance your corner of the world then you will be the man I want you to be.

Extraordinary Ordinary - Image of Dylan and Grandma

My Secret Hurt Blog Post - Sad Emoji

My Secret Hurt

My Secret Hurt Blog Post - Sad Emoji

Statistics

There are varying statistics bandied about, but it is said that up to one out of four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. This seems to me like a phenomenally high number. It supposes that many many women (and their partners) go through this. For something that is so widespread, I did used to wonder why no one ever seems to talk about it.

People endure other negative experiences – cancer, car accidents, natural disasters – and these are discussed at great length.   But miscarriages are almost never talked about. If they are brought up, it is often in a short conversation, spoken in hushed tones.

But now that I have gone through a miscarriage I do understand why we don’t talk about it. How can I discuss something that was nothing more tangible than a blue line? How can I talk about what was no more than a feeling in my body or a whisper of a promise of a new future? How can I tell someone how I am feeling when I feel such a mixed bag of emotions? It seems impossible to package up my ‘miscarriage story’ in a way that would be suitable for polite conversation.

 

How Do I Feel?

The first thing someone will probably ask me is how do I feel. And I tell them I am fine because it is much better than the following eclectic emotional monologue. This is how I feel right now:

Sad – At first it was an overwhelming heartache. I couldn’t stop crying when I got off the phone after the test results confirmed it. My gorgeous two year old kept saying “Mummy sad, Mummy sad” while trying to cuddle me. I felt weak crying in front of him but I hope one day he will understand better. Now, a few days later, it has changed to a quiet melancholy, but one I suspect that will stay with me for a long time.

Mad – Unlike my sadness which started high and has gone mild, my anger still fluctuates. I can be rage filled, fuming, livid or just a little annoyed. I am upset at myself for getting my hopes up and looking forward to a new future. I had already programmed the expected delivery date into the pregnancy app on my phone. I was getting emails: “Six weeks old – it is the size of a lentil”. I am furious at my husband who has stated quite honestly that he doesn’t feel the same way I do. And how could he? He saw a blue line on a pregnancy test and then went about life as normal. He is very supportive and giving me lots of hugs, but I am seething at him anyway. I guess it is an easy outlet. I am annoyed at the world and life and the unfairness of it all.

Puzzled and Confused – There are so many questions that I will never have answers to. Why did this happen? Why did it happen to me? What was wrong that caused it? What could I have done differently? Should I have not taken that flight/ eaten that ham sandwich/ had the couple of glasses of bubbles on my son’s birthday (before I knew I was pregnant)? Or would nothing have prevented it?

Happy and Relieved – In some ways I do weirdly feel okay. Maybe my body was not ready, or it was not viable in someway and it is a good thing that the pregnancy failed. And the miscarriage could have been a lot worse – it could have been much more painful, I could have needed hospital treatment or could have happened much later in the pregnancy.

A Wee Bit Selfish – For a couple of days afterwards I let myself have some ‘me’ time to grieve/ mope. I only wanted to give it a couple of days because I know in the scheme of things, this is simply not a big deal. There are far more tragic situations that occur every minute. Just amongst people I know I have heard recent stories of cancer diagnoses and terminally ill children. I need to get myself out of this, start feeling authentically grateful for my life and start to get happy about the future. I have a wonderful family and amazing two-year-old son. I know I am beyond blessed. But at the moment I simply want to eat chocolate and wallow.

 

What Not To Say

If we don’t go down the road of feelings, what else is there to discuss? If the conversation ventures down the “what happened?” road then we start to get into mucky territory as well. Most people don’t want to hear the finer details, as this will often involve words such as “blood”, “clots”, “discharge” and “cramps”. Too much personal and medical language for both parties.

So if we cannot discuss feelings, or details, there isn’t much left. Anything else stated will at best sound trite and meaningless and at worst make me want to punch you in the face or burst into tears. Statements along the lines of “ sorry for your loss”, “it is very common – my sister / friend/ aunty had one”, “well it shows you can get pregnant”, or “never mind you can try again soon” all fall into this category.

 

Secret or Shared?

I think for some of us, we want to keep miscarriage as our own secret hurt. There can be a preference to sort out our emotions privately and to not have to deal with the reactions of others. And I thought I was like that. Only a small handful of people currently know about my miscarriage.

Until now.

Because I also want it to be okay to talk about miscarriage. Yes it means that I will lose my privacy. Yes it means others will see me being emotional. Yes it means I am stepping out of my comfort zone and into a realm of extreme vulnerability. But perhaps then one day we can get to a deeper level of conversation about miscarriage. We can get past the short, hushed talks and open up about the emotional toll it has on women and families. And maybe this will lead to more soothing, helpful and meaningful responses from others.

Hopefully if we make the hurt a little less secret, this will help it to hurt a little less.

My Secret Hurt Blog Post - Chocolate