Jan 7, 2010

Of Lying and Dying

How do you find that middle ground between sending your children out into the world no holds barred on one hand and protecting them from the big, bad world and all the facts of life that come with it on the other? Take the subject of dying, for example.

(Sometime right after Michael Jackson's death)
Mak: Mama, are you going to sleep forever?
Me: Yes. We all will.
Tato: When? Tomorrow?
Me: No. When I'm 100 years old.
Mak: Everyone dies when they're 100? That's old!
Me: Yes.

Cut me some slack. The boy caught me flat-footed. And I was still grieving for the King of Pop. Part of me wanted to tell them how death is all part of the beautiful cycle of life. How we all witnessed Original Nana take her last breath comforted by the thought that she would be back in the arms of dear Abuelo and an opportune time for her to down drink after drink (with alcohol, of course!) Up There with her brothers, friends and the grandchild she adored so much. Another part couldn't bear to even begin to tell them about those that die so young. Those that die senselessly. And those that cancer took away.

And so I told a white lie. But lying comes back and bites you on your behind always.
(Last Tuesday, after school)
Tato: Mama, you said everyone sleeps forever when they're 100. You were joking us.
Me: What makes you say that?
Tato: Marley's grandma died yesterday. And she was 90. That's not 100, Mama.
Me: Oh.

Flat-footed. Again. And all I could say was Oh. And I'm still kicking myself for not knowing what to say or how to answer four-year olds curious about living and dying. I'm going to have to work on a better answer. I better.

Somewhere in the stacks and stacks of books in that treasure trove of a place Nona took me, I found the book BRODIE. I thought the cover looked interesting ( and yes, i do judge some of them by that way) so I bought it. And read it right away. I have yet to read it to the boys.

Brodie is that very cool, very lovable classmate we'd all love to have. The joker, the talented artist, the dreamer who talked about being a pilot and obsessed about choppers and planes.

Except he was very ill. And when he was too sick to come to school the class sent him get-well cards to the hospital. Until the day their teacher, Mrs. Patawai gave them the sad news:
"Brodie died last night. You know he's been ill for a very long time."
For some tears came like rain, a little at first, and then a lot... It seemed I wasn't crying for Brodie but for myself, because I hurt so much inside.
Mrs. Patawai passed around the box of tissues. "We feel sad because we loved Brodie. I know we made Brodie cards and gave him presents, but I think the best thing we gave him was our love." She blew her nose. "Love was the gift he took with him."
And the questions persisted: Why? Where did he go?

Days went by, and the hurt didn't go away. It did get smaller though, so we could talk about Brodie without crying. Sometimes we laughed at his tricks. Remember when Brodie said this? Remember when Brodie did that? But we still missed him like anything. Mrs. Patawai said that, in a funny way, the hurt was good because it meant that Brodie was still alive in our hearts and in our minds.

This is author Joy Cowley's answer to a not-too-simple request by teachers to help children come to terms with the death of classmates. The illustrations are gorgeous but the message is even more beautiful. And when mommies like this can only say Oh or are in dire need of answers for our own sake as well, these pages embrace us with comforting thoughts. I'm glad I picked out this book. Thank you, Ms. Cowley. In Brodie's own words: "Stupendously awesome".

This is for my sister K who makes it all a wee-bit more bearable. You are Mrs. Patawai personified. Thank you.

Edited to add: I just found out that an aunt that spoils the boys and all her nieces and nephews rotten and makes the world's best banana bread just passed away. All so suddenly. Tato was texting her a few days ago while she wasn't feeling well. 'Be better', he texted her. 'I also have an owee'. I don't have the heart to tell them she is gone. Death is never easy.


Cely said...

Love that post. Thank you, dear Nana.

Kids ask very direct questions about death, and I imagine how difficult it is to explain death to them. I have to admit, I'm already afraid to broach that subject with my little one. But I guess I have to work on an answer.. from now.

Will see if I can find "Brodie" somewhere here. By the way, I urge you to read "Oscar and the Lady in Pink" by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt.
It's a story of a boy that is preparing to die. It's very well written in the form of letters to God from a 10 year old Oscar, who has leukemia. Despite the sad ending leaves you with a good feeling in your heart. This book is a must. I laughed, cried and stayed up very late into the night reading it.

Link: http://www.eric-emmanuel-schmitt.com/en/work_details_en.php?oesec_id=4&oeit_id=26&oecat_id=4&section_id=1&table=oeuvre_item

Cely said...

Oh Nana, I just read your "edited to add". I'm so sorry to hear that. My prayers are with you and yours, and my heart goes out to you. Love and hugs.

Strategic Stiletto said...

Hi, Nana. I almost texted our dear AuntieBee a couple of days ago, but didn't want to bother her. Then 12 hours after, I hear from my siterdear that she was off to Synchronize with the original Nana. She upgraded us to a familoo and indeed made us all laugh. We will miss her dearly.

I suppose Tato the genius boy will understand that AuntieBee's owee got to be too much for her, and she had to sleep forever to truly be better.