More mortality. My second guest post at Friend for the Ride about the death of a parent.
Thoughts on the Unexpected in Children's Literature
I write children’s and young adult fiction, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. I’ve come to the conclusion that we Americans are really wiggy about it. I don’t think we need to be.
Both my parents died within the last year. They weren’t even married to each other. I sat beside them each as they drew their last breaths.
In the 90’s, when we were young mothers, I spent the last five days of my best friend’s too short life with her. She died of pancreatic cancer and it impacted me profoundly.
Last, but not least, for awhile as a teen, I thought about death a lot because I wasn’t sure I wanted to live. I’m so glad I decided to stick around. For a young person to take their life is a tragedy beyond measure, and that’s an entirely different subject. That period of my life does come in handy now for writing YA.
Despite the fact that it hangs ever before us, we Americans wage all out war on dying. Obviously, our discomfort comes from fear of the unknown. Well, it’s healthy to be afraid or at least wary of the unknown.
And forestalling death by trying to eat right, stay fit, obtain good health care and to do all within our power to fight a mortal disease make excellent sense. Our obsession with youth, energy, botox, steroids, elective plastic surgery, old age homes, and reluctance to discuss death and dying make me wonder.
But here’s the thing: getting more familiar with natural death makes it less scary.
Every life form on the planet, every plant and animal and human, goes through the life cycle, with death being not only a normal part of this, but the most certain, guaranteed thing we’ve got.
At any rate, because it has to be done eventually, there comes a point when accepting it and moving forward into it also makes sense. Even if it’s just the last month, week or day. When that happens, all involved learn a lot about living.
My mom died at home under Hospice care. Dad was in the Hospice unit in the hospital. I cannot say enough good things about Hospice. They are such an antidote to our society’s fear and discomfort with death, dealing with both patients and their loved ones with dignity, in a gentle but straight forward manner, helping to make the “final stage” (as they dub it) as rich and rewarding as it can be stressful and emotional. They know a lot about it. They live with it every day.
Ask a Hospice worker about death. They’re not scared at all.
The days leading up to my friend’s and my parent’s deaths were incredibly rich and rewarding, as well as sad and difficult for us all. In the few days before, the family found its own rhythms of coming and going, talking and silence, laughing and crying, keeping vigil at their bedsides. I was honored and ultimately reassured to be present with both of my parents at the moment they stopped breathing in the quiet early morning hours.
The moment a loved one leaves this world is a sacred one, difficult to describe in its power and awesomeness. Being present at a birth (let alone giving birth) can be a similar experience. It brings us right up close with those big questions. Why are we here? Where did we come from?
Or…that really big question: what happens to us, after we take our last breath?
That I cannot answer, but I think most people who have been around death more than average, don’t think nothing happens. Or that this physical world is all there is. World religions make a good effort to reassure us on this front too. It’s envisioned uniquely in each one, and I wonder if what comes next is not easily comprehended by human minds or described by human language, earthly metaphor or parable. So we do our best.
Baby Boomers are entering their sixties and seventies. As they have influenced so many things in our culture by their sheer numbers, maybe as they start to reach their “final stage” in life we’ll all start taking a closer look at dying.
And maybe get a little less wiggy about it.
Kids and death: If we’re not wiggy, our kids won’t be either. Next, recommended middle grade books that deal well with death.
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