Saturday, January 21, 2012

Facing our demons: Children and Death

English: Scan of Postcard "856 - Angel of...Image via Wikipedia

On December 26th, a tragedy happened:

A family of four were enjoying their time together, when suddenly, the mom fainted. Everything was done to bring her back. Nothing helped: she died of a pulmonary embolism in the prime of her life. She left a loving husband and two beautiful daughters, ages 7 and 4.

I know of this tragic event, because one of my daughters is a classmate of the older girl.

As my girls attend a Catholic school, I thought things were going to be handled well. How wrong I was!

The first Friday after classes resumed, they celebrated a Mass in memory of this loving, beautiful wife and mom. Sadly, the school principal didn't consider necessary for the girls' classmates to attend. I understand the 4 year old children would be difficult to manage, but the 2nd grade students couldn't be there?

  • Her excuse: the lack of space inside the school chapel.
  • The truth: there was space enough for 40+ little girls to attend and learn how to be compassionate and caring towards a suffering friend, but someone was not facing their demons and their lack to be compassionate.

Last Wednesday's afternoon, I got an email from the school administrators letting me know that my little girl HAD - as it already had happened -attended a class with the school chaplain in which they talked about the tragedy that happen upon this beautiful family.

Now, let me get this right. I am not opposed to the fact that the school chaplain, which is a beautiful, compassionate, intelligent man spoke with my girl and her classmates about death.

What makes me mad beyond words is the fact that they did it without letting us parents know, beforehand, the nature of the class and its contents!!!!

I wouldn't be angrier if they spoke about pornography to my children without letting me know first. I wouldn't be more upset if they spoke about masturbation to my 8 year old girl!

How dare they violate my primary right, as a mother, to be the first to talk about this life-altering subject to my own child?

As many adults of my generation, I was brought up in a culture that thinks that because we do not talk about death, we can keep it at bay. A society that keeps death closeted in a sterile hospital and then in closed coffin and expects us to mourn and grieve in a "well-bread" way: avoiding others feeling discomfited because our open display of emotions.

We expect our children to understand it quickly and quietly and then, move on with their lives, happy and carefree as they were before the reality of life got the best of their childhood.

Well, let me tell you something: death is the only reality that we know, for sure, we will face. We tend not to think about it because we fear it. I do believe that we fear more the death of those we love that our own death, but still, we fear it all the same.

I have bad news for you: Death is a messy thing. Mourning and grief are messier. When a loved one dies, part of our own life dies as well. The loss might be unbearable; the pain, excruciating.

Our life changes radically: nothing will be the same as it was before. We need the time and space to face what happened, to work through our thoughts, feelings and emotions. Probably, our physical health might be compromised for a time being.

As we embark on our grief journey, we need all the help we can get, although we might not even be aware that we need it.

The grief we face after the death of a loved one does not resolve itself in a couple of months, or even in a couple of years. We need to be aware of this reality and make the best of it. This is what makes us stronger. As in the case of these little girls, they will revisit their grief over their loving mommy's death over and over, as they grow up and understand it in a different light and when significant events in their lives take place.

Now, I strongly believe that compassion is a learned human virtue. We are used to think that because we are human, we are compassionate. Well, I am sorry to disappoint you. Instinctually, we avoid pain. Even the one others suffer. When we see others in pain, we cringe inside either because it hurts us seeing another in pain or because it reminds us that it could be me the one that suffers.

Compassion has to be taught. The best way to teach it is with our example. It the case of the classmates of these girls, the school - being a Catholic school, staving to make good, virtuous women of all their student - lost a golden opportunity. They should have been present on that Mass. Lending their loving presence and strength to that friend that needed to feel surrounded by love and understanding.

Now, back to the other charge I lay here. Another golden opportunity was lost as well. I believe that trying to explain death to those little girls, considering their developmental stage and opening a trusting communication channel is an honor that should be cherished.

I confess I am a devout Catholic. This fact does not blind me to the need to understand things in a human, rational plain, and then elevate them to the theological point of view.

How easy is to talk about God's will when you are not in pain! How easy is to tell other to accept God's will when your loved ones are alive, happy and healthy!

I, as a parent, was wrongly deprived of my primary right to educate my girl about the truth of death. What is left to me is to pick up the pieces and try to make the best of it, and correct all the misconceptions my girl got last Wednesday, with all the lack of information I have because the school didn't gave us parents the content of that class and I have to work from what my 8 year old girl understood or misunderstood.

Even though, my area of expertise is parental grief, I do understand grief, as a 13 year old volunteer to The MISS Foundation.

I have read many, many books regarding children and teen grief.

I have had to work hard through my own misconceptions about death and my own complicated grief over the death of a beloved grandparent, as I did as society expected me to do at the time of his death and never got the chance of grieving his tragic death in a healthy way.

I have had the honor to walk along others through their grief journeys after the untimely death of their loving children. I have seen the consequences of bad death education and its repercussions in the grieving process, complicating the very difficult grief journey of a bereaved parent.

So, don't you think it is time to face our own demons in order to help others in need? Don't you think it is time to face yourself in the mirror and accept your limitations? Don't you think it is time to accept we can make mistakes, and even with the best of intentions, hurt others in need?

I urge all of you to look inside yourself. I urge you see if your incapacity to face pain and suffering is affecting others, is challenging your ability to educate and care for those you should teach how to be better.

I invite you to accept the reality of death in your own life. I invite you to face the fact that death will touch each and everyone of us, one way or another. I invite you to deal with your demons and be there, be really there, for those close to you that are in grief.

If, after looking inside yourself, you are brave enough to acknowledge that you don't have it in you to be there, please, I beg of you, look for someone who can lend the support you are unable to lend. It is nothing wrong with this. I applaud your honesty and bravery!

I wish, with all my heat and soul, that non of you were to feel the pain and grief of loosing a loved one to death. I wish, with all my heart, that I had the ability to shelter you from grief. Sadly, I know I can't.

If you have a moment, please say a little prayer for the family I told you about. Please say a little prayer for all the families that are going through the terrible tragedy of the death of a loved one. Thanks.

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