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
I'm having trouble enjoying the season, because I can't keep myself from thinking about the miserable weather that's sure to be following close on the heels of the crisp, pleasant fall we've been having. I am not at all emotionally prepared to be the parent of two toddlers during a Wisconsin winter.
I've always been a supporter of companies that empower women and girls, and when the creator of such a company is a fellow Wisconsinite, I get even more excited. When Melissa Wardy of Janesville got fed up with stereotypes found in clothing for girls, she started her own company.
Do you have a little reader or an aspiring teenaged writer in your house? If so, you may want to venture to the Wisconsin Book Festival this weekend, to whet their appetite for wonderful words as well as your own.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband and I had two names picked out. Upon her arrival we had not yet come to a conclusion on what that name would be. Everyone told us that when we saw her we would just know. We didn't.
At age 10 months, my kids have seen the zoo a lot already. I was a zoology major in college, and I have something of a zoo addiction still, so the twins (and their dad) are more or less condemned to a future rife with zoo visits.
Home-schooling can be a lonely proposition. Even as a college professor, Juliana Hunt remembers struggling to find support to home-school her now-grown daughter. "I was always hoping to find like-minded people who were in the same position as me," she says. "I know that children learn best through a give-and-take, question-and-answer process of teaching and learning, but where do you find mentors who can make that happen?"
After sleep patterns, I think the next biggest parenting concern I have and hear about revolves around the topic of food. How can I make sure my kids are eating enough vegetables? Did I pack them a lunch that is healthy enough? What can I feed them after school that doesn't come from a box? How many gripes am I going to get about the dinner I'm about to prepare?
As far as places to embark on Baby's First Air Travel go, Dane County Regional Airport is a pretty sound choice, especially at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night. My biggest fear was that my nine-month-old son would start screaming in the airport; my second biggest fear was that my son would start screaming and some of my former Epic colleagues would be around to hear it.
The recent shift in the weather is just another sign that autumn is fast approaching. That means one of my favorite activities is just around the corner -- apple picking. My husband and I have been picking apples every fall since before our kids were born.
I have a lot of questions about what to put on my eight-month-olds' plates -- and, if I'm honest, a deep and abiding fear of putting the wrong thing there. Did I start them on solid foods at the right time? What's the deal with baby-led weaning -- how much self-feeding should they be doing? At what age should I give them potential allergens like shellfish or nut products?
Lily the potbellied pig arrived at Heartland Farm Sanctuary blind, lethargic and too overweight to walk. The children of Heartland's summer day camp program took it upon themselves to put the curl back in her tail.
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.