Mommy, Read Me A Story About Death & Destruction
February 04, 2011
We're headed back to Pennsylvania AGAIN this weekend, travel exhaustion and desperate homebody desires to sit on the couch be damned.
Grandma's memorial service in on Sunday. We're taking the boys, since it's really not a "funeral" -- no viewing or casket or urn, just a family-and-friends gathering at her nursing home. My mother-in-law thinks their presence will be a welcome distraction for everybody, especially Grandma's remaining friends, who do always adore visiting grandchildren, no matter who they "belong" to.
(Of course, my mother-in-law also thought it was totally appropriate to take the boys to visit Grandma last week, when we were in New York, and she was officially on her deathbed -- a decision that, after Jason saw Grandma on Saturday, he was little upset about. Yes, it's a natural part of life and all but HE was so rattled and shaken by how sick and already dead she looked, and would have preferred our two- and five-year-old children being spared that particular sight. Or at the very least, being consulted ahead of time would have been nice.)
(Free babysitting! No such thing. There's always a price tag. Like say, your babysitters jumping the gun on the whole death discussion with your preschooler, and coming at it from a completely different point of view and religious philosophy than your own. Fantastic.)
The kids know PopPop is sick. They know he's been sick for a long time now, and goes to the hospital a lot, but haven't really asked any questions about, say, whether he'll get better. Or what will happen if he doesn't.
And no, I haven't yet offered any answers to unasked questions. Because I am a big fat chicken.
Noah knows all the words related to death, like "dead" and "killed" and "BLASTED TO DEATH WITH MY LASER GUN PEW PEW PEW," but the concept exists only in the movie-and-video-game sense. Not real. Animated. Disney-Pixar montage-y. With plenty of respawn points when your health gets too low.
Obviously, with this weekend looming ahead, it's time for us to sack up and have a talk with Noah. I don't think Great-Grandma's death will be a particularly affecting one for him (her dementia has been pretty profound for most of his life), but I know he needs a heads up about the hows and whys of the service and the sight of grieving adults.
So last night, we went to the bookstore.
When Dinosaurs Die was recommended in the comments section 'round these parts at least a dozen times, after various entries about my dad's illness, and I swear I attempted to order it through Amazon at least two dozen times. But then I broke down and canceled the transaction at the last second, because I just wasn't ready for it myself.
This time I was able to convince my brain that I was buying it because of Great-Grandma and only Great-Grandma. I know. I probably should have walked over to the Grown-Up Book Section for a Grown-Up Book About Grown-Up Coping Skills, but...eh. I have a Kindle. I'll look for something to download on there. Tomorrow. Next week.
Anyway, SHOCKER OF SHOCKS, you guys were right. This was by far the best option on the shelf. It covers everything, but is laid out in a way that allows a parent of a younger child to decide just how much to read per page. I don't plan to read every word to Noah at five, but I probably would to Noah at say, eight or nine. Definitely one with a nice shelf life, so to speak. IF YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE. BOTH WITH "SHELF" and "LIFE" HA HA HA BOOK PUNS AND DEATH JOKES ARE UNCOMFORTABLE okay I'm done now.
(The afterlife discussion, if you're in the market for a book like this yourself [I'm sorry] and consider that a big wild card in the decision-making, is presented as: "No one knows for sure, but there are a lot of different ideas, and it's normal to have lots of questions." And then it encourages those questions to be directed at you, the parent, or a religious leader. Exactly the tone I personally was looking for.)
I picked up Lifetimes, too, just because I liked it. It's not as detailed as the dinosaur book, but is really limited to just explaining the fact that everything has a beginning and an end, and the middle part is living. It's very nature-focused (trees live hundreds of years, butterflies live only a few weeks) before it extends the concept to humans and our lifetimes, but certainly not hippy-new-age or anything. There's absolutely no discussion of the afterlife or even what happens to your body once you die, but it's a nice, matter-of-fact way to explain that death is simply part of how things are.
Plus, a lot of the books about death were just painfully LONG. Thirty-plus pages. A hundred-plus words per page. This one is more your traditional picture-storybook length. Judge my kids' attention spans and my bedtime-story patience level all you want, but GAAAAAAHHHHH GET ON WITH IT, SUESS, IT'S 8 PM AND MAH SHOWS ARE ABOUT TO START, LET'S GET THESE MONKEYS TO BED ALREADY.
It was around this point that I picked up another book -- I don't remember the title, but it seemed like a kind of abstract take on the afterlife, describing heaven without being overtly religious, or even explicitly calling it heaven. I thought it might be a good option to have on hand if Noah brought up some of the stuff my in-laws talked to him about last week, but by the time I got to the fifth page I suddenly realized I was reading a book designed to help sick children come to terms with their OWN DEATH.
*strangled gurgled crying sound*
So! I decided it was officially Time To Back The Hell Away From The "Growing Up/Tough Issues" Shelf, Oh My God.
Noah and Ezra were playing with trains, but I convinced them to join me on a bench and let me read them a story.
I did not read either of the books I'd just picked out. I read this one instead:
We read it again last night before bed, and we laughed and laughed and laughed, because oh, that Pigeon. Will he EVER learn?
Tonight, we'll read one of the other books. Or maybe both.
And then probably the Pigeon one again.