Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday Musings ~ On death and dying

My daughter was seven when she got her first aquarium. She picked out three tropical fish and promptly named them Special, Colorful, and Beautiful. We took the fish home and admired their beauty and quick moves.

Two days later, Special was dead. I was stunned by my child’s devastation. She cried beyond comfort.

Her dad went outside, dug a tiny hole, and gave Special a proper burial. We said goodbye to the little fish and came back inside. The ritual seemed to help, in some small way.

Through the years, we have buried various species in our backyard. There was the baby bird we found injured and couldn’t nurse back to health. Then there was Sam, Ruth, Rick, and Lori—all goldfish named by my daughter, who enjoyed long lives in our small water pond outdoors. And finally, our beloved 13-year-old collie, Princess, on a cold day in January, was laid to rest beneath the pear tree in the backyard.

After each loss, we talked about the reality of death. Most people are uncomfortable talking about death, but it’s a natural part of life. We live. We will die.

Anna Marie was 10 when we got the call to come to the bedside of my husband’s mother. Mildred was dying. It would be the first time that my child would see death so close-up. A few well-meaning friends worried about her seeing her grandmother in “that” condition, but I have long believed that children should not be shielded from the reality of death. It's as much a part of life as being born.

Prior to our trip, I tried to prepare her for what she would encounter. Her grandmother was moving on to the next phase of her life, I told her. A phase we know little of, but fully expect to discover. Mee Maw had been faithful to her family all of these years, and now we would be with her until the end. God would carry her from there.

When we walked into the hospital room, Anna Marie gripped my hand. It shocked her to see the grandmother she adored so frail and unresponsive. But once her initial distress passed, she relaxed. We took turns holding Mildred’s hand, telling her, as best we could, how much she’d meant to us through the years.

In my mother-in-law’s final hours, I watched as her granddaughter sat bravely beside her, singing in tearful sobs, “I just called to say ‘I love you.’” The image of the two of them—one so alive, the other one fading away—was agonizing to watch, but it’s an image I cherish, even now.

I think we do our children a disservice when we don’t allow them to play a part in such a momentous event as the death of a loved one. And being a Christian, I don’t believe death is the end. It is the end of our mortal lives, yes, but only a pause between this life and the life to come.

The Apostle Paul wrote in the fourth chapter of First Thessalonians: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”

No wonder the Apostle Paul concluded by saying, “Comfort one another with these words,” for I can think of no words more comforting.

Note: September 29th marks the anniversary of my mother-in-law's death. She's been gone 14 years now, and I still miss her.


  1. Hello Dayle...I agree that we should not shield our kids from death. As Christians, we know that the end is just a beginning. Very nice post. Sincerely, Susan

  2. I feel just as you do. My dad (a very new believer at age 84) died in 2006. All but one of his 13 grandchildren were able to visit with him and my mom, sister, brother and my oldest daughter were with him even to the moment he entered eternity.

  3. I agree, death is part of life, and for believers it is not the end. We don't shield our kids from death, acting like it's a scary, dreaded thing. But more matter-of-fact. We get sad, but we know God is bigger than life and death. I also love the way dealing with the death of pets helps us prepare our kids in small ways for the eventual loss of family members and friends.

  4. Dayle, that is so true. And it was a lesson of loving that your daughter learned.

  5. Couldn't agree with you more! Thinking of you as you mark the homegoing of your MIL.

  6. What a lovely way to remember your mother-in-law, sharing that story with us.

  7. I've been thinking a lot about funerals lately as I attended one on Saturday. It really makes you think about the way you live your life. I absolutely believe children should not be shielded. It is a major life lesson, and a great teaching tool that true life continues on with Jesus.

  8. Dayle, I am so very glad I read this post today - -timely as it is for my family (as you know). My children both bid their grandmother farewell as she lay on her deathbed -- it was both tragic and joyful, and as you say, a memory I won't forget and will cherish always. We are talking A LOT about death at our house these days, but it's good. We are walking through it together.

  9. Dayle - I agree with you. Children should not be "sheltered" from such events. I was probably 4 or 5 years old when I attended the funeral of my Dad's aunt. I believed it helped to face the death of loved ones easier, while I know of some people who even as adults can't handle death. And yes, as Christians, death is just the beginning.


  10. I totally agree, Dayle.
    By "walking your walk" and setting such a loving ~ yet factual ~ example, you've given your daughter a precious gift. Perhaps someday, she in turn will pass to her own children.

  11. This is such a sweet tribute and one that I agree with wholeheartedly.

  12. dayle,

    i agree. we have friends who conceal so many things
    from their children, but we never have. we include
    them in our life, the happy and the sad. i think they
    are stronger and more grounded for that.

    when my daughter's hamster died, for the second
    time, we had a solemn funeral . . . .her big brother
    almost bust to keep a solemn face when my husband
    said, "dearly beloved, we are gathered here. . . "

  13. Dayle,
    I was 16 when I attended the funeral of my paternal grandfather. He had died suddenly of a massive stroke and we were all still in shock. It was hard to see the raw emotion on display but I think it made me a stronger adult. As Christians we need never fear death.


  14. I would tend to agree with you from my own experience of not really being up close to death until I was over twenty years old. It made it doubly difficult to have had no real life experience. (I should say that that is not because I was shielded as much as blessed not to have a death in the family after the age of six. At six, you don't really get what's going on anyway. )

    I love that song she sang. My dad sang it to me on a call from the recovery room once.

  15. It's so hard to decide what would be more devastating for a child, to not say goodbye or be given the chance to actually say goodbye. I think you made the right decision.


Dear Readers, I adore your company and your comments. If you ask questions here, I respond to them here, so please check back when you have a chance. Kind regards, Dayle