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Saying Goodbye: What Do We Teach Kids about Death?

Yes! Magazine
March 31, 2011

When we shelter ourselves from the realities of death, what else might we be sacrificing?

My grandfather is dying. He is 92, and just before Christmas he came down with pneumonia. His health and awareness have been in steady decline since then, and his doctors have begun preparing us for the end. Uncle Tommy and Aunt Kimmie, who moved in with him a few years ago, have been overseeing his care. They are now assisted by one day nurse, my Aunt Katie, and my dad, who take shifts to make sure Tommy and Kimmie can rest, and to guarantee that Grandpa can stay in his home.

I called my dad two nights ago to ask if I could join him on his shift for Sunday morning. He agreed, warning me that in the last few days, Grandpa had stopped conversing. I asked if he minded if I brought the girls.

“I don’t know. Maybe we can talk about it later.” With that, the conversation ended.

That was his code for telling me that I had to make the decision.

I thought back over my own experiences with death as a child. My brother and I cared for pets who were making their passages; attempted to save baby birds who’d fallen out of their nests; carried hypothermic lambs into the kitchen on cold winter nights, and worked to resuscitate them until they died in our arms; removed dead chickens from the coop. Coping with death was an on-farm necessity. But much of our family still preferred to keep it a safe distance from life.

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