Demystifying Death

Today would have been my father’s 100th birthday if he didn’t pass on when I was eight years old. It has been a very long time but today, for some reason, it hit me harder than it has in decades. I felt a need to share this day with my children for several reasons but mostly because I wanted to take some of the fear and mystery out of death for them. Morbid? Ok. Maybe a little, but hear me out first. When I was growing up certain words were just not said in my house; pregnant (with child was used instead), cancer (the Big C) and dead (passed on) were words that my very old fashioned family did not use ( editors note- I find it hilarious that my original typo read as “very mold”. C’mon- that was funny!)
Moving on…
Where was I? Oh- the naughty words (keep in mind that the actual naughty words were used constantly but I digress) were never said, as ridiculous as it was. Conversations about such matters were never discussed anywhere but in hushed tones at the kitchen table and children were NEVER permitted to even think of listening in. (Little did they know that I was able to hear EVERY “hushed” word they said by listening at the vent outside of my bedroom – Italians are not exactly known for their “indoor” voices). It was at my cozy spot at the vent at age 4 where I learned that my father had colon cancer. It was there that I leaned that he had needed his leg amputated a couple of years later, and also where I learned that he might die. I could NOT tell a soul about this because I would have been in deep doo doo for listening in on a private conversation. I was left to figure things out on my own and as you can imagine, I got a few things wrong. I didn’t want my children to experience that. I also wanted to introduce them to death on MY terms, not once it is forced upon us by a highly unfortunate circumstance. I also wanted to teach them that we should always take the opportunities to celebrate life.
So… I took them on a field trip to the cemetery to plant flowers for my father’s birthday.
Now before you start thinking that I’m weirder than you already think I am, l must clarify – I hate the place. My overactive imagination gets going and I start picturing things that I shouldn’t. It creeps me out and I usually avoid it at all costs. Today, however, I felt drawn to go.
While my daughter and I were waiting for my son to finish up his OT session, I decided to feel out how she felt about going to the cemetery. I asked a few gently phrased questions and she seemed ok with it so I opted to go. When we were all loaded in the car, I told my son about the plans and he was all excited (???) about it. Um… Ok kid- ya KNOW I didn’t say Disney World, right? You did hear me, yes?
“Yup! Gotcha! Graveyard. Cool!”.
We went to the local nursery and bought a pretty flowering plant. I actually thought planting basil would have been appropriate for him, but didn’t think other people visiting nearby graves would appreciate the crazy lady planting an herb garden in front of a tombstone. (shrugs). For once, I opted for decorum.
Plant, tiny shovel, and water bottle in hand, we headed off towards my dad’s stone. So far, so good…until I started to dig then hole for the flowers. Cue the amplified freaking out by the kids. “MOM!!! You didn’t tell us you were gonna dig him up!?!?!?!?” (sorry – but I was there and that was pretty darn funny). Once I had them assured that no, we were only digging the hole for the plant we bought, they were calm and curious again. They wanted to tour the area and check out some of the different stones. It was actually not weird at all, in a weird kind of way. ( I’m guessing if you’ve read this far, you get what I mean).
As we were getting back in the car, my darling love of a son looked at me and said “Mom, I think we should get a cake to celebrate you dad’s birthday”. Out of the mouths of babes! Now I’m no fool. I know this kid will use ANY opportunity to get his mouth around some cake, but STILL! I thought it was a brilliant idea.
Since my little plan worked out so well, we headed out to the neighborhood pool that we love so much. We drove back past the park that my dad would take me to as a small child to ride my favorite pony and my children listened to me tell them stories about the grandfather they never met. They asked some questions but mostly just listened.
When we arrived on the grounds of the park where the pool was, I remembered that it was one of the special places that my dad and I would visit during our Saturday dates when he was healthy. It has always been such a special place for me. How fitting that today, of all days, I would end up here. Over the past couple of years, it has become a special place for me with my own children. I’m glad it’s still there. When I kick it, I want to be cremated and that’s where I want my ashes scattered- right in the icky waters of the Long Island Sound. ( Not stuffed and used as a coat rack in the living room as my husband has declared would be his choice- see? Warped married warped).

Looking back on the day, I hope I managed to remove some fear of the unknown for my children and also instill the value of celebrating life. My daddy taught me that last part of the lesson and its only right that I share it with my babes. And you can bet that there was cake! Lots and lots of cake!
Happy 100th birthday Daddy Dear. Gone but never, ever forgotten. Thanks for all you gave me in the few years we shared. Its my joy to pass it to your grandchildren. You live in them always.