I remember the first time as a child that I really thought about death. Weirdly enough, it was an episode of The Jeffersons that brought on my existential moment. I can't remember the exact plot details - I think George had to give the eulogy at a friend's funeral - but it made a significant impression. It was not the expected emotions of sadness, or even fear, that the storyline conjured up. No, all I could think about was the all-encompassing inevitably of dying.
I was the kind of kid who could always talk her way out of unpleasant predicaments. But that night, long after the TV turned to the test pattern, I lay awake pondering how I could possibly get out of "going gentle into that good night." Around 3 a.m., reality sunk in. Since I had been born, eventually I would die and there was nothing I could do about it.
But I was exceedingly fortunate as a child. I didn't really have to deal with the actual death of a loved one until my freshman year at college, when my grandfather died after an extended battle with kidney disease. Incredibly sad, absolutely, but I was prepared and able to accept it.
I wish could say the same for my own kids. They had come to terms with the unexpected death of their beloved Grandma Ruby about five years ago, following a brief illness. I was the parent at home who had to deliver the news to my oldest, nine at the time. It was August and a major swim meet was starting the next day. I will never forget his response upon hearing that we were leaving in the morning for Oklahoma City to say goodbye because Grandma wasn't expected to make it through the weekend.
First, there were the expected tears, and then poignant display of childhood sadness: "Mom, I am so mad I have to have to miss All-City, and for the saddest thing I can imagine." His ability to articulate both anger and grief in one truthful utterance will always stay with me. It was the first time he realized that life could really suck. Nine, seven and five just seemed way too young to have to deal with this heavy stuff.
Two all-too-short years later Granddad Billy, died--another major loss; a one-two punch. But he was significantly older than Grandma, so it made logical sense to them somehow. And the kids truly seemed to get the concept that one could die, albeit rather slowly, from a broken heart. But it was still hard, nonetheless, to know just what to say to the kids. As a parent, all you want to do is make it easier.
I have no idea how you soften this blow for children, especially if the person lost is a parent. Just this past summer, two dads in our elementary school community passed on. One died very suddenly, a few short months after what was, according to all accounts, a successful heart transplant. I did my best, in the immediate days after his death, to help with arrangements and offer support. But I was at loss for what to do in the longer term. This was unfamiliar territory -- not just grief, but trauma, the kind of death that has little forewarning?
The second dad passed on after many years of living life to the fullest with brain cancer. This story was so different. Time to prepare, perhaps, but also time to live with the overwhelming heaviness that must come from knowing that death is imminent.
And if the loss is a peer, as is the case for the third grade friends of Christina Taylor Green in Arizona, what do you say? How do you help them make any sense of the brutal, tragic death of someone whose death so upends the natural order of things? I wish I had a clue.
HospiceCare, Inc., I have heard from many, is an amazing support to those who have a loved one with a life-limiting condition. On January 20, 2011, HospiceCare starts a three-week group for kids who have a loved one whose death is anticipated.
Death. It isn't something you get over. My kids, especially the youngest, still experience waves of grief, often bought on by the weirdest triggers. But we also have our pictures, mementos and nightly discussions about Grandma Ruby's uncanny ability to make a recipe off the back of a Hershey's Cocoa can all her own.
Memories, they are our greatest, and perhaps only, defense.comments powered by Disqus
Is it just me or does each summer seem to go by quicker than the last? The end of summer is upon us and for many families this means the start of a new school year.
This past week, on the way to the grocery store, my daughter asked what I believed she thought would be a innocuous question, "Mom, when are we going back-to-school shopping?"
Volunteering with the Young Writers Summer Camp this past week really helped me to remember how utterly creative kids can be when encouraged to come up with their own ideas and use their own words.
This past week I gleefully accepted an offer for new job on the UW-Madison campus. My kids are getting are older and I guess I've felt for a while now that it was time to figure out what would be next for me on the professional front.
"Kids spend so much time in and around school, it's the only place where some have a chance to develop an appreciation for a healthy lifestyle," says Katie Hensel, founder and executive director of Tri 4 Schools.
"I'm envious, mom," said my twelve-year-old daughter as she hopped in the car after theater camp last week. "All the other kids in my group seem to really like, and to be really good at, singing, dancing and acting. But I think all those things are just okay."
"People are looking to book space here all the time," says Remy Fernández-O'Brien, communications and facilities coordinator for the Lussier Community Education Center, a private, nonprofit community center on Madison's west side. "They want to throw their child's first birthday party here or hold a Girl Scout meeting. We're really busy year-round, but it's especially lively here in the summer."
Last week, in response to the county-wide Sleep Safe, Sleep Well public health campaign that encourages parents to "share the room, not the bed" with their sleeping infants, Isthmus contributor Ruth Conniff penned a lovely opinion piece in defense of bed sharing entitled "Confessions of a Co-Sleeper."
As much as I'd like to believe there is latent genius in my daughter's early finger paintings, I'm pretty sure her works are not distinguishable from those created by the pointer fingers and pinkies of thousands of other children from across the world.
Seeing Romeo and Juliet this past weekend was a definite reminder that I need to prepare for something that might resemble a (Near) West Side Story around our place pretty soon.
All during childhood, we calmly tell our kids they don't need to be afraid of the dark, thunder or the monster under the bed. But it's pretty hard to keep your parental cool when your kid is about to embark on the one thing that terrifies you. I knew the problem wasn't really with him. It was with me.
Last January, when temperatures dipped below minus 30 and most people between the ages of 16 and 24 did anything to stay inside, a small yet sturdy group of at-risk teenage boys and young men stacked wood and managed controlled burns at Festge County Park near Cross Plains. Five months later, following a temperature swing of more than 100 degrees, Isthmus found some of those same guys removing invasive honeysuckle and buckthorn at Lake View Hill County Park on Madison's north side.
The first week of summer break at our place usually comes and goes without incident. At times, one could argue, it even verges on pleasant. I have no school lunches to pack and the kids have no 7 a.m. buses to catch.
Have you tried getting anywhere on either Verona Road or East Johnson lately? I'm pretty sure a six-month old could crawl to Fitchburg, or across the isthmus, in less time that it takes me to drive there these days.
As soon as the door closed behind him, I poured myself a cup of the coffee he had made and took a moment to let the enormity of what just happened sink in. My son was ready that morning despite my inability to properly set an alarm clock. My kid was ready that morning without nudging, cajoling, or reminding. He was ready, even when I wasn't.
For the past 17 years or so (i.e., since I've had kids), I haven't made books the priority in my life I know they should be. It's not that I don't try. Just this past weekend I had the best of intentions of picking up, and even finishing, I am Malala, this year's UW-Madison's Go Big Read pick. But the copy still sits untouched on my nightstand.
The longest day of the year is upon us. For those of you keeping track, the sun will rise at 5:18 a.m. and set at 8:41 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. All that daylight, courtesy of the annual summer solstice, will provide the perfect backdrop for Make Music Madison, a daylong event featuring hours and hours of free performances in nearly every corner of the city.
Last week, for the first time, I made my way up to one of the open gallery nights during Madison West's Fine Arts Week, the school's annual showcase for all things creative. The scope of the event is huge, with nearly 1,600 students participating, and the quality of the presented works is phenomenal. It's almost as if the school had been lifted off its perch on Regent Street and traveled back in time to Belle Époque Paris.
If you have aspiring authors in your house, this summer offers a fabulous opportunity for them refine their writing skills. For its second summer, the Greater Madison Writing Project, in partnership with Olbrich Botanical Gardens, is sponsoring two week-long camps in August for young writers entering grades 3-8.
There are lots of benefits to living in a college town. First and foremost, there is always something going on -- a lecture, a film series. Maybe even a protest, if you're lucky. And since becoming a Madisonian, I, for the first time in my life, find myself interested in college football.