Whether it is a pet or a family member, one of the toughest things to deal with as a parent is death. We’ve lost two dogs and a dear friend, who was the father of my daughter’s good friend, and last weekend, my grandmother died. Although my children had only met her a handful of times, my grief and loss was shared with my children. I can’t hide in the closet and cry.
I have always been honest with my children, and I want them to view death as naturally as they consider birth. It is a celebration of life. At times, it is relief to have young children around to hold and hug. At other times, children complicate the picture with their needs which forces a parent to push their grief aside. One of the most healing activities in our family is to share memories of the loved one who has gone on to the next life.
Today is the day of my grandmother’s funeral. For you Grandma, here are some fond memories I want to share. I remember making a paper mache horse with you, grandma, and using my hair for the mane and tail. This horse sat on my dresser the whole time I lived in my parents home, and I still remember being outside with you creating this special project. I remember your Christmas tree full of ornaments and finding my first sleeping bag under this tree. I have many of those ornaments now on my own tree, many you made with your own hands. Those ornaments will continue to bring your spirit into my home this holiday season. I remember challenging your Catholic beliefs and telling you Jesus was a vegetarian. You wrote me back quoting Bible passages justifying meat consumption, yet you still tried to make me a vegetarian meal. Everything you made was a kind of salad (fruit salad, green salad, potato salad), a whole meal of salads, only you forgot not to add the ham to the potato salad. I remember watching Dr. Zhivago and the Sound of Music at your house as a child. I remember your huge Thanksgiving dinners and priests drinking and socializing like normal people (where were the nuns?). I remember sitting on your step stool in the kitchen while you prepared food and cutting my hand on your oven. You bravely rubbed your own hand across the area seeing if you could cut your hand too. I remember you reading books to me and your amazing shelf of books (my grandma was a first grade teacher). Many of these books are in my home now, and I share them with your great grandchildren. I remember you promised to buy me a horse when I turned 16, only you didn’t remember that promise when I came of age…
When sharing death with children, one’s own mortality and beliefs come into play. This week, I’ve been consoled by my friend and Native American Elder Dr. Darryl Babe Wilson:
Gramma did not go far. She still has a duty here with the family. She will talk with you at dawn. Just listen carefully. At the proper moment you will feel her go. Whisper Ina’lum’qotmi and allow her journey to begin. I have already said Ina’lum’qotmi. In your instance you have said, “You must go but you must take my heart with you.”
Grandma, I have whispered Ina’lum’qotmi.