Tag Archives: death

Understanding Death

A few weeks ago, our precious dog passed away. What makes her passing even harder for us all was the fact that we were away and so was she when it happened. The kids were visiting relatives, and I was out of town. Our dog traveled with us often, but considering the amount of travel we had been doing, we decided to leave her with a friend for the last few weeks.

She was an old dog, adopted about 8 years ago when she was already a little over a year old. My best friend agreed to keep her, and updated us regularly on how sweet and easy going she was. And oh was she sweet. In fact, I blogged many times with pictures of my children loving on her. However, after the second week, her health took a sudden turn. Within a few days, our dog was gone.

I wasn’t with her for her last days. My children weren’t with her. The heartache of suffering with her and preparing for her after life care was put on the shoulders of my friend. I grieved from another state, choosing to delay telling the kids until after my son’s 14th birthday.

The older 4 (out of 7) understood what the death of their dog meant: they would not be returning to her in a week and she would not be returning to them. As for the younger 3, the understanding of death is not something they can truly grasp, especially without seeing her sick. The last they knew of their dog was walks through Mount Lemmon.

My very busy, smart and chatty 3 year old has come up to me nonchalantly a few times and said, “Nala is dead.” My 6 year old, who is verbal but autistic, asked where Nala was yesterday. I told him, but he had left the conversation before hearing my reply.

My 4 year old loves dogs. He hugs every dog he sees. It’s been so hard losing our precious family member and she will be missed forever.

But I am going to wrap up children’s understanding of death with something sweet, funny and curious:

Yesterday, the friend who was watching Nala when she passed, stopped by the house. The 4 year old said,

“I want my dog back!”

She crouched down and said very sweetly, but with much sadness, “oh baby, your dog went to be with Jesus.”

The four year old demanded, “why did Jesus take my dog?!”


In Celebration of Life

My cursor blinks rhythmically on the screen, waiting… I sit in front of it, compelled to write something about how I am feeling after watching the most disturbing and depressing movie I have perhaps ever seen.  After watching it last night, I cried as I looked deeper into the issue of assisted suicide, or as it has been deceivingly called: Death with Dignity.

I thought about diving into the issue of suicide, whether “assisted” or not, of depression, loss, etc.  I thought of how to weave my empathy for those suffering from debilitating mental illnesses, chronic pain, terminal illnesses or life-changing accidents, into the very divided issues of death, dying and our  “right to choose.”  And while I pour over the sadness and pain these people no doubtingly feel, there are also those who never get such a “chance:” children who would choose life but never will be able; children who have never known anything but death, destruction and disability, like 5-year old Omran from Syria.

So as my cursor blinks and my heart aches with my racing mind… how does one address such an issue?  For certain, it is not one issue, but a multi-faceted topic that touches each human being on this Earth.  We have all known death.  Pain.  Loss of some form.  Known or experienced first hand mental illness.  We have all been faced with choices that have altered our lives forever.  And depending on how we have experienced these, coupled with our beliefs, we as a people have wide views on such hard topics.  Some may argue that because of these different beliefs and experiences, are we all correct in our thinking?  If you can make a fair argument for why this man should be allowed to take his life, are you right?  If I can make a fair argument in opposition, am I not also right?  We use words such as “choice,” “this is my body,” “my life.” As a fellow blogger put it: we live in the era of ME.

But I do not want to discuss choices or right and wrong.  I think my position is probably clear that I am for life.  I do not say pro-life because I am not limiting my statement to abortion.  I am for all life.  Every life is worth living. And so, in opposition to the movie (yet so appropriately titled), Me Before You, I would like to celebrate examples of lives that could have been seen as lost, but instead were turned into something extraordinary.

I first read the book about Joni Eareckson Tada before the age of 12, at the recommendation of my mother.  An incredible athlete from a young age, Mrs. Tada became a quadriplegic after breaking her neck in a diving accident.  Like the character in the film, she experienced the depression and helplessness of her new disability.  Yet with beautiful dignity, she did not choose death.  Instead, she became a famous artist using her tongue to create unbelievable artwork for the whole world to admire.

Joni Tada.jpg

Another example and similar story is that of Marcus C. Thomas.  He was a triathlete who also became a quadriplegic after a horrible accident.  He learned to paint using only his tongue. Like Tada, he has given the world not only inspiration and perseverance, but also true beauty through his story and artwork.

MrThomas

A woman named Celestine Tate Harrington did not suffer a tragic accident, but instead, was born with a congenital joint condition that eventually left her without the use of her arms and legs.  But she lived her life happily, and was known for her cheerful, bubbly personality.  In addition to her contagious disposition, she was an accomplished street musician.  More astonishingly than that, she gave birth to a little girl and fought for custody in the most remarkable way: After seeking public assistance for her child, she instead found herself before a judge and courtroom ready to deem her unfit because of her disability.  To the complete surprise of them and the world, she dressed and undressed her baby girl in the courtroom using only her teeth!  She won custody of her daughter, and a year later, moved her and her daughter to their own home.  She supported them both by the money she earned playing music using only her mouth!  She died at the age of 42 from complications of her condition.

Another remarkable story is that of Talia Joy Castellano. She battled childhood cancer bravely for over six years until her death at the age of 13.  She used her living years to create YouTube makeup videos, showing the world both her struggle and beauty.  She was also a Covergirl model with a YouTube channel that amassed a huge, supportive following.

talia-castellano-taliajoy18-600x369

There have been many other stories of children who battled and died of cancer who, instead of choosing death, used their lives to do amazing things for the world.  Trevor Sims died of cancer at the age of 11, but not before using his illness and struggle to raise money and food donations for the Baton Rouge Food Bank.

These are just a few of the countless people who have lived their lives to the fullest.  I have no doubt that they faced fear over their conditions, depression and maybe even wished they could end their suffering early.  But they saw the beauty in their lives and embraced it, in turn, leaving our world that much brighter because of their struggle.

They saw the truth: Every life is worth living.

 


True Wisdom from a Five-Year Old

I must admit that many times I listen to the ramblings and questions of my kids with a “Mmm hmm” or an “I don’t know…”  Like when they ask how many kids Robert Downey Jr. has, or if Val Kilmer will loose weight and shave his beard (yes, I’m serious on that one!) or what happened for the umpteenth time in a movie they just watched.  And while they have some very brilliant ideas, thoughts and questions they share with me throughout the day, there are a few times when I am actually taken back by the innocent wisdom of a child.

My daughter is usually the first to wake up in the morning.  She comes quietly into my room and watches while I get ready and put on my makeup.  She tells me about her dreams and all the other thoughts in her pretty little head.  This morning, however, she fixated on a certain wooden treasure chest that sits untouched on my bathroom counter.  It has been there for almost a year, unopened.  As many times as she has seen it and not thought about it, this morning was different.

“I want to see what’s inside this treasure chest,” she said, trying to reach it.

“No, I don’t want to open it,” I said, dusting my face with foundation.

“But I want to know what’s in it.”  A little pain went through my chest and I ignored her.  But she didn’t give up.  “Please… I just want to see.”

“I will open it but I don’t want to get anything out, okay?”  So I opened the box carefully and she stood on her tippy toes to see.  Inside was a collection of sea shells and two brightly painted wooden fish.  She immediately wanted to take out one of the fish to examine it.  “No,” I said,  “They are special and I don’t want anything to happen to them so we are not going to take them out right now.”

“But they are so pretty!  You should use them for decoration.”  Nearly a year ago, I had actually taken them out and arranged them decoratively on my counter, only to quickly put them back in the chest when the tears began to flow.  They had been my uncle’s decorations that my kids used to love to look at when we visited his house.  Now that he had passed away, I found them painful to look at.  It’s funny how certain things of a loved one can bring memories and tears, and other things not so much.

“I am not ready to take them out and use them for decoration,” I said, realizing she was not going to be silenced with just simple answers.  I took the fish from her and put it away, closing back up the chest.  She waited for a moment, then got the scale to use as a step stool so that she could open it again.  “What are you doing?  Put the scale back.  First of all, it won’t work as a step stool.  Secondly, I told you I don’t want to open it and take the things out.”  She put it back, but asked once more if she could just please see the pretty things in the box one more time.  I sighed and opened it, taking out both fish this time.  She peered in to see the shells, then carefully turned the fish over in her hands, admiring them with wide, blue eyes.

“They are so pretty!  You should put them out for decoration.”

“No.”

“Can I put them in my room as decoration?”

“No.  I want you to put them back now.  I let you see them, now let’s put them away.”

“But why do you keep them in the box?”

Sighing heavily, I admitted,  “Because they were Uncle Charlie’s and I miss him very much.”

“But he is in heaven now,” she said.

“Yes, I know.  But these things are special to me and I don’t want anything to happen to them.”

“But we all miss him and they are special to all of us.  We would never let anything happen to them.”

In my selfish mourning, I had not thought of this.  Initially, I took them because it was my kids who always admired them while he was living.  I actually never paid them much attention until after his death.  But in my own grief I had forgotten that and locked them away, taking from them the very reason I had kept them in the first place.  Needless to say, I was greatly humbled by my young daughter.


Memory Eternal

As with so many near and dear to us, there will be no flashy front page articles on the passing of one’s life.  The world will go on as it did just yesterday.  But for those of us who are mourning the death of a loved one, our lives are now different and forever changed by our loss.  What we have now are our memories and our love and our prayers.

If my uncle were on the front page this morning, the article might read something to this effect:  “Early this morning, the world said good bye to a great man…  Charles, who lost his battle to liver cancer, passed away peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones…”  And while his passing was indeed peaceful, and while he was surrounded by his youngest brother and sister in law while the rest of the world slept unknowingly, I would argue that it was not a battle lost, but a battle won.

We all share struggles in this life.  My uncle’s struggle with cancer was very brief, as he only became aware of it mid-July of this year.  He has always been a sweet and loving man, generous and outgoing.  He was nothing less while he suffered through his cancer these past months.  And though his last week or two was uncomfortable, he endured it peacefully and humbly.

He has always been very close t0 my five children.  Today, with tears in their eyes, they remember the ball games he took them to, the movies they saw together: Avatar, Madagascar, Toy Story 3, just to name a few.  They remember how he made the four hour drive to our home to visit us when my 6 year old turned 7, and how whenever we drove down to where he and much of our other family live, he always opened his house to us.  He adored us all and he especially adored my children.  As he had none of his own, I always felt like he lived out “Dad” through them at times.

But perhaps the most remarkable and miraculous thing was his spirituality during his past few months.  Many people get religious and go looking for God and cures when faced with a terminal illness.  But he seemed to not find Him out of superstition or in hopes of a cure, yet out of a genuine conversion.  He was baptized into the Orthodox Church, coincidently, the same day his father passed away seven years prior.  And while we will all miss him terribly, we know that he is now at peace, whole and well.  He is in Paradise, where there is no suffering, no sighing and no tears.

Memory Eternal, beloved Uncle, Great Uncle, nephew and brother!

Uncle Charlie with my 11-year old, 8-year old and hubby, 5 days before his death.