The Hardest Lesson of All — Death and Dying
We tackled the greatest lessons of all this past week… life, living, love, dying and death.
It was a difficult week for our family… the final days of a beloved family member, the kids’ Great Grandmother, Vovo. Yesterday, she passed away. She was 93 and had lived an incredibly full life. She was well educated (had numerous Master’s degrees), well loved and made an incredible difference in the lives of many. She worked for many, many years at a university.
A week ago, Hubby’s grandmother had a stroke. After a flurry of phone calls, Hubby decided to fly out to Missouri to visit and to be with her. He spent Tuesday through Saturday out there along with his Mom and Uncle. He spent precious time in those final days with his grandmother, whom we call Vovo because she was raised in Brazil. For a couple of days when Hubby first arrived, Vovo was responsive (though unable to talk) and watched videos and pictures of the kids, saw their artwork. Hubby, his Mom and Uncle sang and talked to her and spent as much time as possible holding her hand and stroking her face and arms. It was clear as Hubby left to fly home Saturday evening that the end was near. Her breathing was shallow and labored; she no longer opened her eyes or communicated. Vovo passed away a few hours later at 2am (Saturday night/Sunday morning). Hubby’s Mom was with her and it was a peaceful passing.
Meanwhile, here at home I had to have some very sad conversations with the kids about death and dying this past week. They know my Mom and Hubby’s Dad have both died, but this is the first time they’ve had to accept the death of someone they know and love. As is my nature, I ordered a whole lot of books to share with the kids. We had some really deep (sad) discussions. I’ll highlight the ones we read…
Note: The books below are all affiliate links to Amazon.
This isn’t a book about death/dying per se, but I loved the premise of this book–that everyone is connected by love, an invisible string or bond that exists even if you’re not with them.
This is a story about a squirrel and a tree who find out their friend Willow is not going to make it through her illness. It’s a story that explores the feelings of disbelief, distress and sadness that go along when someone (Willow) is going to die. This book was really valuable this past week — especially as the kids said they didn’t think Vovo was really going to die. We talked a lot about how the most important thing you can give to someone as they’re passing away is love. The kids did this by sending cards and talking to Vovo on the phone — telling her about their activities, what they were doing, etc.
This book came in the mail as we were heading out somewhere one day this past week and the kids read this one to themselves. They said it was really sad. The book traces the life of an oak tree from the nut, to seedling, to tree, to an old fallen tree that decomposes in the woods. Since we live in the woods and the kids have picked up acorns that have sprouted, see the tree that fell over in a storm two winters ago… can see the rotting logs right out in their backyard, this was something my family could relate to a lot.
We sat together to read it again after we found out Vovo had passed away the kids really wanted to talk about what would happen to Vovo’s body — and we talked with the older kids about cremation and/or being buried in a coffin. You’d have to assess how this style suits your family (some Amazon reviewers thought it was terrible because it talks about the tree decomposing), but for us it helped us address some tough questions. Plus, this was a gorgeously illustrated book.
This was a book that really addresses the issue of grief really, really well. I loved the imagery of someone making Tear Soup… and sometimes making that soup long after others have “gotten over” making their own soup. We talked a lot about the pain of losing someone we love… and I talked a lot about how difficult it was to get over my Mom’s death. (Do you ever really stop making that soup?) Grieving is personal and important and completely okay. I really loved this book.
Two books we read addressed the very difficult questions of what happens after you die. You may or may not be interested in tackling these questions — or may have firm answers with your faith. I liked both these books for different reasons:
This small book talks about water bugs who live under water. Occasionally, a water bug will go up to the surface and no one knows what happens to it. They make a pact that the next bug to go to the surface will come back and explain what happens. One bug makes the journey, transforms into a dragonfly and realizes it cannot go back to its friends. It realizes every bug will have to make that journey and experience the wonderful change for itself.
While the story itself is not religious, it talks about going to a ‘better place’ rather than ‘Heaven.’ At the back of the book, it has suggestions of how to fit this into your Christian faith if that is your religion.
We also read The Next Place. The kids thought the illustrations were beautiful. I don’t think they could relate to this book quite as much as Water Bugs and Dragonflies, but then on the other hand the girls took it off to the craft table and did some artwork based on one of the pages. It’s a book that poetically deals with what the Next Place will be like using descriptive words and imagery like — peaceful, familiar, free, quiet, brilliant… it’ll be beyond rainbows. It’s a beautifully illustrated book, but not a concrete story. That’s not a bad thing, but I’m glad we had a selection of different types of books to go along with this one.
This week I couldn’t help but to think a lot about that beautiful poem, The Dash by Linda Ellis… Go read it since I can’t reproduce it here. The dates on a tombstone show the beginning and the end, but it’s really the dash– how you spent your life — that matters. Our beloved Vovo lived her dash well.
So that’s about it. I have a few more batches of Tear Soup to make, I think.