a time to be born and a time to die....
"With living in between," I explained to the children.
Today was a day I will never forget. It was perhaps the hardest and most difficult discussion I have had to ever initiate in my career. The sweet and innocent faces of thirteen Kindergarten and 1st graders looked to me with anticipation, knowing there was big news I was about to share. I hesitated and looked to the teachers nodding as if to say, "Okay, here I go." I then proceeded to break the news that their classmate would no longer be attending school. Her body had grown too weak from cancer and she was expected to soon die.
The silence of a room full of children is something you don't hear often. One student commented on how quiet it was. "Yes, it is very quiet, isn't it?" I responded. As the children gathered their thoughts, I sat with them in silence. Then the questions came. "Can she feed herself?" "Does she get to watch t.v. in her room?" "Does she know she's going to die?" "Will there be a funeral?" "Will we see her in heaven?"
What amazing questions these young children asked! How open they were in sharing their thoughts and feelings! Perhaps by initiating this discussion, we gave them permission to do so. All too often parents, teachers and others think children can't possibly understand death. I don't think we give them enough credit sometimes and out of our own discomfort with the topic avoid such discussions. Yet, death is a part of the life cyle of all living things. If we are so afraid to talk about death with children, children will learn to fear death rather than accept it as a natural part of life.
I have had many experiences with death. I've lost grandparents, a great aunt, a cousin, a step-brother, friends, two unborn children of my own, and many pets. I am all too familiar with death and the grief process - having experienced it first-hand many times. Yet, perhaps those experiences are what gave me the strength to talk about death so candidly and openly with these young children today, and for that I am grateful. If my experiences can help someone else as painful as they may have been for me, then it is all worth it.
"A tummy bug is very different from cancer, right?" one child asked. "That's right," I responded. "We all get sick sometimes with tummy bugs, the flu, chicken pox,....but cancer is very different." I went on to explain that there are many different kinds of cancer and many things doctors can do to treat cancer and even cure it in many cases, but sometimes they can't and people do die. I assured the kids that there is nothing they did to cause their classmate to get sick - even if they said something mean to her or cut in front of her in line - none of these things could cause her to get cancer. I also explained that cancer isn't contagious, and they can't catch it from her or anyone else.
As I sat there explaining about cancer, I thought about my own daughter's recent surgery and how ironic it is that I was having this discussion as I was awaiting the biopsy results of her lymph node. I wondered if the pathology report would bring relief from the worry I'd been carrying all week, or if I too would experience the shocking reality of having a child with cancer. I tried to not let my mind go there and continued....
"It is so sad when someone dies and it's okay to cry. I have cried too." I think of the time I sat at my desk reading the Caring Bridge website, allowing the tears to flow as I read the words of this child's grieving father.
The students shared memories of others they have known who have died - pets, grandparents, and others. We then shared memories about their classmate - how kind, caring, helpful, and compassionate she is. We talked about how these memories are what we will hold onto and keep with us to remember our friend when she does pass, and in this way she will always be with us - in our hearts and in our minds. I had flashes of the smiling faces of loved ones I have lost pass through my mind as we shared these memories. I told the kids that at first these memories may make them sad, but in time the sadness will heal and their memories will bring comfort.
The students were going to make cards for their classmate and then go out to play on the playground. As adults, we might wonder how children could just go play after hearing such heavy news. I let the children know that even though this very sad thing is happening that it's okay to still play, have fun, and be happy. I remembered the joy I felt when I went dancing soon after my step-brother died and the guilt that came as a result. I didn't want the kids to feel guilty for experiencing joy while grieving the loss of their friend.
There is a time to be born, a time to die....and in between is living.
There is a time to weep and a time to laugh....
To everything there is a season. Life does go on, and it's okay to have laughter along with the tears.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Balance is something I have continually strived for. Does anyone ever have their lives perfectly in balance? I have come to realize that with “balance” as my goal, I am living in a very tenuous state. Have you ever tried to stand on a balance board? You put weight on one foot then the other and try to distribute your weight equally until you find that balance, which only lasts momentarily before you are out of balance again.
As a kid, it was fun to ride the teeter-totter or see-saw. We’d find it fun to go back and forth, up and down, in a constant state of motion. We might try to find that balance somewhere in the middle, but we couldn’t do it alone. We had to work together, finding the exact positioning that would momentarily hang our lives in the balance.
To be “in balance” is to be at risk of being out of balance. It is a constant adjustment and readjustment of all the aspects of ourselves and our lives that we are trying to bring into balance. As a single, working Mom finding balance is no easy task. I juggle many balls - maintaining my responsibilities at work, caring for my girls, my pets and aging parents, maintaining a house and yard, tracking finances, etc. The more balls I am juggling, the harder it is to find that sense of balance. At one time perhaps I thought of “balance” as keeping those balls in the air without dropping them. More and more though, I find I am dropping balls. I have had to learn to say “No!” when someone tries to give me another ball, to pass a ball to others now and then, to not be so hard on myself when I do drop one, to just pick it up and try again, and to put the balls down on occasion and rest.
I think of yoga class and trying to find my balance in one of the yoga poses. It is fun to try to get to that place of balance, and with practice it becomes easier to get there and easier to maintain the pose. When I lose focus I tend to wobble and even lose my balance, falling out of position. In that moment I have a choice, I can give up or I can try again. In giving up, I am not recognizing that being out of balance is part of the process of learning to be in balance. Finding that balance is a constant shift and willingness to move in and out of balance.
As circumstances have changed for me in my life personally, I have essentially had to redefine what “balance” means to me. Where once it was the goal and something that I seemed to be able to achieve rather effortlessly, now, I have come to think of balance more as a static process. I have come to accept that at times I will feel in balance and that no sooner that I do I will feel out of balance again. It is a back and forth momentum – like riding that teeter-totter. As I have come to understand that being out of balance is as much a part of being “in balance” it has become easier to accept and enjoy the ride.