And A Little Child shall Lead Them:
Thoughts on Death.
I’ve had some health issues lately, and notice my mind veering toward worst-case scenarios; which leaves me musing on how nothing makes one think of death so much as illness, unless it’s aging with its uncomfortable elbow-jostling toward the downward slide. Yet that’s not true either. I remember how when I was a vibrant 23-year-old I suddenly woke up to the horrifying idea that someday I would die (AGHH!). Blink out!? Be Gone? How could that be? Night after night I lay in bed beside my husband struggling—straining—to find a solution. Finally, I forced myself to stop thinking about it: all we can do is live. Now I notice how my little grandchildren, even at the age of five or six, are aware of death. It’s not their own they fear, however. They are scared their mother will die, or their father. I don’t think they had this recognition earlier, at say three or four.
Perhaps at that earlier age the child, still “trailing clouds of glory,” sees farther than we do, piercing the veil between the worlds. Here is a story from a woman I met recently, Vera Green. I find it comforting.
Vera’s mother’s nickname was Gigi. Before she died at 93, Gigi was very close to her three-year-old great-grandson, Tristan. This took place in Frederick, Maryland. Tristan was originally a twin, but his sister, Taylor, had died in utero, so that Tristan never knew her and had never heard her name. One day, his mother was standing on a ladder, painting a wall, while the little boy played at her feet. Suddenly he called out the window, “Hi, Gigi,” and returned his attention to his toys.
“What was that?” asked his mother.
“I just saw Gigi out the window. She was holding Taylor,” said Tristan. And went back to playing.
I heard also of a little girl who began talking to her departed grandmother one night as she was going to bed.
“Who are you talking to?” her mother asked.
“I’m talking to Nana. She’s right there,” she said, pointing. “Nighty-night, Nana.”
How odd that during all those months when I was struggling with the terror of my own demise—extinguished, blown out – Poof! — that no one mentioned it won’t be like that. I who had been reared an Episcopalian with a good grounding in the Bible and Christianity completely missed the idea of a spiritual dimension, of hope.