“Do you want to make a drawing for our friend? He’s not feeling well,” I asked Max.
“I don’t want to die,” Max said to me yesterday as I buckled the straps on his car seat. He wore his camouflage costume from last Halloween, his face serious under the floppy green and brown hat.
“I’m never, ever going to die,” he said.
I could think of nothing to say, so I kissed his nose and closed the door as gently as I could.
At our friend’s ceremony on Sunday, people told stories about him. I hadn’t known him very well, and I soaked in the stories. I heard of his generosity, how much he adored his wife, and his lifelong fascination with turtles.
“I’m never ever going to die, right?” Max asked the other day. I was parking the car so we could go to the playground.
When my brother died when I was 24, I spent a lot of time sitting in rooms with other grieving people. I heard about their husbands, mothers and children who had died. We sat in circles and told each other’s stories. The details and relationships were different, but the emotions were the same. “I feel like I’m going crazy,” someone would say. I stared at the candle in the middle of the room and I listened and nodded.
An early memory. I am four or five. I am standing in my backyard blowing bubbles. I lift my face up to watch them float, round and iridescent. The edges of the bubbles shimmer pink and blue as they rise and pop. And there is something about the colors and the empty sky that makes me think of my mom’s friend Gail who died. Something about all that shimmer and sky. And I thought that Gail was there somehow in those bubbles, in the slippery colors, lifting and disappearing. I was grateful for the crunch of the small pebbles beneath my feet to steady me.
“Yes, he is,” I said.
“Oh,” he said. He smiled at me. “Mama, can you please tell me about when me and Daddy and Papa went to the Red Claws game?”
That for the decade before you were born, I wrote about and talked about and worked around death. I believed that most of what we need to know about life can be found when we sidle up to death. But when I had you and Violet, I got scared and superstitious and quiet about death. That I am still scared and superstitious, but the other day when all those people lifted their hands to the sky, I started to remember what I’ve been trying to forget.
How do you talk about death with your children?