There has been a lot of talk over the last few weeks in our house about death. You can’t really tread too lightly over this subject when there’s a couple of kids in the house on the cusp of four asking a lot of questions about it. But there’s a fine line – intricate detail is not needed, either. Obviously.
Stephanie’s grandfather died this week. An absolutely wonderful man. Right up until the day before he passed, he was talking with me about the Bruins and how his favorite player was Patrice Bergeron, because he was a good player on both sides of the ice. His mind wasn’t the problem, his body was – he was 97 years old. It was only about three weeks ago when he was over our house, playing catch with little Zachary. Zachary asked him a few times that day, “when can you come back and play catch?” The look on both of their faces was obviously memorable.
He will be greatly missed and as I understand it, the endless parade of visitors into his room during his last days clearly showed his reach – long and far. He was a man who gave all and asked for little. I am more than proud to have known him for 11 years.
The subject of death, though, had made its way into our house a month or two before this sad event happened. How do you explain death to a child? Really, you don’t. At least not now. The questions are numerous. Sometimes they are heartbreaking, like when Nathan broke out in tears at the dinner table last week because he didn’t want himself or us to die. Or Zachary – we were explaining to him how Stephanie’s grandfather was too old to drive these days so their grandmother (his daughter) did a lot of driving him around. Zachary’s response was one I will never forget in my life: “but Daddy, when I’m too old to drive, will you drive me around?” Of course, I said yes, I would absolutely drive him around. There’s no need to take it any further than that.
There’s also brief mentions of death sprinkled here and there. Of course, it all about processing. They are processing this topic, among many others, but sometimes to listen to all the questions and the worry – it really hurts my heart. You hear this all the time – the adages about how you never want little kids to lose that sparkly-eyed innocence. Indisputably, I feel it more now that I am experiencing it.
Then there’s the humorous. A lot of questions about why half of the Beatles are dead. This came about when the boys went through a phase of wanting the Beatles to come to our house and play their music and I had to explain to them that I would try, but it would be really difficult because two of them weren’t around anymore. There are repeated questions about why some NHL player from the 1950’s broke his leg in a game and eventually died (literally a 1 minute vignette that showed on the NHL Network a few months ago, but they’ve latched onto it). When they play hockey in the basement, there’s the occasional breaking of the leg reenactment (glad this hasn’t happened in a while).
Tonight, out of nowhere during dinner, Nathan turns to me and says “when am I gonna die?” My answer “not for a long long long long long long time, buddy.” And then – on to the next topic.
Believe me, there are plenty of times that I want to fast-forward a few years and get out of the whiny-nagging-tantrum phase that we’re in, but I know the game – one day down the line I’ll be looking back, wishing for “those days when they said and did the cutest things.” That’s the push and pull of parenthood, I suppose.