Wondering about Death

by on October 17, 2010

Waldorf education encourages parents to let children “wonder” and not provide factual answers too soon. If a four-year-old asks how water comes out of the kitchen sink, we might smile and say “I wonder,” and the child can then come up with all sorts of creative and imaginative answers. We can play along. Perhaps, there is an ocean under our house, perhaps the water Gnome is busy pumping water into our pipes. When we provide children with too much factual information too soon, they start to lose their sense of wonder. When introducing a child to the color red, a Waldorf teacher might say this is the color of fire, this is the color of a strawberry, this is the color of a rose, without ever naming the color.  Eventually, the child would come to know and identify the color red.

Cole wondered the other day if given the choice, would I want to know the date I would die. It feels like yesterday when he wondered if I could see the fairies in the autumn leaves.  “No,” I said, “I wouldn’t.” He said he would choose to know his death date and wondered why I wouldn’t want to know. I explained that most of us like to be kept in denial about our own death, pretending it won’t happen. He thought about it a minute and said, “Mom, maybe you wouldn’t mind knowing when you were going to die if you didn’t have to know when anyone else was going to die.” I puzzled. Cole clarified, “Maybe people are less afraid of dying than they are of people close to them dying. I would never want to know when you were going to die.” I just looked at him in wonderment.

Do you have matter-of-fact conversations about death with those you love?  Cole’s friends often talk about death together. I listen silently as they count up family members who have died, discuss funerals and current affairs. Teen suicide is on the rise and in the news, so being able to discuss death and understand its finality cannot be underestimated. Teens need to be free to wonder out loud about death. As adults, we need to stay open as they wonder and question death and eternity, without pat religious answers, lectures, dismay or fear. Wondering with our teens, instead of acting the knowing teacher can lead to reassuring insights. For instance, when Cole heard about Tyler Clementi, he wondered about his mother and felt sorry for her. He knows what it feels like to be left behind.

It’s hard to discuss death without drama.  A good starting place is humor. For those of you who have been with loved ones as they have gone through the dying process, you have shared with me that humor is often the only place to start. A walk through the cemetery can spark interesting conversation. Family stories about relatives who have died seem to interest teens – as long as they don’t include a moral. The key is to find your level of openness, and to let wonder be a part of the conversation.

Please accept an invitation to wonder about death together on Odd; to have a conversation without drama, without facts, without moralizing; just pure wonderment. There is a survey on the right-hand sidebar of Odd titled, “Would you want to know the date and year you would die?”

Glad you were in my Odd neighborhood. Feel free to hang around with us any time. Odd Loves Company and odd loves you and you and you!! I would love to hear from you in the comment section of this blog, or on Facebook or Twitter


Katybeth

Thank you Nancy,  for sharing this song its beautiful and reflects the tone of my post.

Cole and I like cemeteries; after breakfast this morning we took a drive through the neighborhood cemetery. We drove by this gravestone, without meaning any disrespect it did amuse us.

{ 10 comments }

Melanie Kemp

We have taken our kids to funerals and wakes were it was appropriate and tried stay somewhat neutral to their questions. I did tell my kids when they worried about death when they were little that we would all live until forever. They never really associated other people dying with the idea we might die until much later. I think you are right death is not something to dwell on but to wonder about.

Katybeth Jensen

I think kids need to believe their parents will live forever. It was even reassuring to my 13 year old to have me say “I am not going to die.” He knew the rational truth but needed to be believe the “irrational.”
“Death is not something to dwell on…but to wonder about..” Lovely way of putting it.

Nancy Gaynor Leahy

I grew up learning this song about death. We learned to laugh, cry and get drunk over death and than to move on.
Singing songs and booze made it a little easier. Another thing we went to funerals and wakes all the time! I mean at least once every two weeks you were dragged to a funeral and a wake. Perhaps it is a good thing when it comes to having to accept death at our own front door.
Finnegan’s Wake ( A song to join in and sing)

Tim Finnegan lived in Walkin Street,
A gentle Irishman mighty odd
He had a brogue both rich and sweet,
An’ to rise in the world he carried a hod
You see he’d a sort of a tipplers way
but for the love for the liquor poor Tim was born
To help him on his way each day,
he’d a drop of the craythur every morn

Whack fol the dah now dance to yer partner
round the flure yer trotters shake
Bend an ear to the truth they tell ye,
we had lots of fun at Finnegan’s Wake

One morning Tim got rather full,
his head felt heavy which made him shake
Fell from a ladder and he broke his skull, and
they carried him home his corpse to wake
Rolled him up in a nice clean sheet,
and laid him out upon the bed
A bottle of whiskey at his feet
and a barrel of porter at his head

His friends assembled at the wake,
and Widow Finnegan called for lunch
First she brought in tay and cake,
then pipes, tobacco and whiskey punch
Biddy O’Brien began to cry,
“Such a nice clean corpse, did you ever see,
Tim, auvreem! O, why did you die?”,
“Will ye hould your gob?” said Paddy McGee

Then Maggie O’Connor took up the cry,
“O Biddy” says she “you’re wrong, I’m sure”
Biddy gave her a belt in the gob
and sent her sprawling on the floor
Then the war did soon engage,
t’was woman to woman and man to man
Shillelagh law was all the rage
and a row and a ruction soon began

Mickey Maloney ducked his head
when a bucket of whiskey flew at him
It missed, and falling on the bed,
the liquor scattered over Tim
Now the spirits new life gave the corpse, my joy!
Tim jumped like a Trojan from the bed
Cryin will ye walup each girl and boy,
t’underin’ Jaysus, do ye think I’m dead?”

Katybeth Jensen

Thank you for sharing Nancy. I do think wakes/funerals should be a part of every child’s growing up–I know I took Cole to my great aunts funeral when he was 4 because she was very old, and I felt it would be a good introduction to death–and I knew “Mimi” would be pleased. One reason we had Joe’s memorial at home is because I wanted the kids (and there was lots of them) to be comfortable and a part of things.

Geri

The tombstone was funny…the music was lovely and the post was “wonder”ful.

Katybeth Jensen

I knew you would appreciate the tombstone most of all Geri! Thanks for dropping by Odd!

Kathy Jernigan

Death is hard for most of us. I have had preacher relatives that have died; I ask them if they were scared and the look on ther face told me they were. I asked my pastor how he can be afraid to die, when he has been in sevice to God all his life and knows where he will be after he leaves us on earth. My preacher said it is the unknown. Everyone is afraid of the unknown. This is the one thing you do alone and no one can go come back 😕 and tell you what to expect. If you dont think most are worried about death then try and discuss it with loved ones. They dont want to admit that someday they will die. But sooner or later everyone does. I would rather know what their wishes are then trying to figure it out at a time when thinking is hard. But I would love to live like the song says, “I want to live like I was dying” and then I won’t waste one single minute.

Katybeth Jensen

We tease in my family “can I have that when you die.” or my mom will tell me she is leaving her jewelry to her dogs. I know what my parents wishes are, and I’m very grateful they have been very clear with me.
The idea of living life to its fullest is an important one, Kathy.

Mindy Scott

I think it might be kind of liberating to know the date of my death. A “dead”line so to speak. However, I would not want to know when my love one’s would die because I would spend every last second trying to prevent the inevitable.

elaine

I would not want to know the exact date of my death…unless, that was the human condition. That we would all know. Just like we have a birthday, that is part of our general information, we would also have a death day or maybe it would be more accurate to call it a transition day! After all, its the only HUGE event in our life that we often dont prepare for.
Since I have had a close call with transition day, I will say that it creates an energy inside to do the things i havent done that really matter to me, to hug people when i see them, to really listen, to be with my children and try to send messages ahead, to truly BE alive this minute.
But, short of all of us knowing, I would like to remain in the mystery of the moment, hoping that when it comes to me, i can accept my destiny.

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