Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thinking Like a Child

Today is the day for the memorial service for JoAnn Miles, mother of my former pastor, John, and his sisters Beka and Debi. I have shared posts from Beka here in recent weeks. After her mother passed away earlier this week, she wrote about the reaction of her little girls, ages 8 and 10:

When the girls woke up this morning, we all got in our big bed, and Len and I told them about mom’s death. They were both crying and sad. Katherine was also little ticked off. “I only got to know mammaw for 8 years and yall got to know her for a lot more years than that. Mammaw was a fun mammaw. It’s not fair.” They are going to miss out on so much. I’ve been crying a lot of the day, and Anna brought me various stuffed animals for comfort as well as a quilt mom had made for me when I was a girl. Katherine has been coming up and patting me and telling me it’s going to be okay and adding, “At least mammaw gets to go be with HER mommy now.” She has also been unhappy several times with the level of attention that her dad and sister were giving me. Several times I saw her shoot them a dirty look, jerk her head toward me, and whisper out the side of her mouth, “Get over here and COMFORT her.” She is her grandmother’s granddaughter. She not only goes the extra, but, by God, she is going make sure everybody else does too. (Len and Anna, by the way, went the extra mile and were great by my standards – just not by Katherine’s.)

I was reminded of my niece, Jasmine, and how traumatic it was for her when my brother died ten years ago, followed by the death of my dad just 13 months later. Jasmine was 8 when my brother died - 10 when she lost her Pap-pa. Death is hard to explain to children... the finality of it, much less the "why" it happened. Jasmine knew both her Uncle Tim and her Pap-pa were very sick, but still a child has as many (or more) questions as an adult. To help her feel a part of things, we asked her to create a drawing each time for the cover of the program folder at the funeral. I remembered that the young son of a schoolmate of mine, who lost a battle with breast cancer, had done this for her funeral. He drew his mother himself, and his brother, and he added a caption... "Mom is in heaven now... she will have hair." Jasmine worked so hard on her own drawings. I can still see her hunched over her pictures. Her Pap-pa's included fishing - one of his favorite activities, and her Uncle Tim's included his dog, Carmen. At the visitations, people stopped this little girl and complimented her on the artwork, which gave them something to say to her and also made her feel like she was an integral part of things.

I am also reminded of my little cousin, Olivia, who was only a little better than 2 years old when her Grand-dad passed away. She loved her "Gone-gone," and he adored her. In his last hours of life, the family gathered at his home, and Olivia was front and center. I spent much of the last two days with her - reading, singing, and playing... and otherwise engaging her so that she was not aware of the sadness of those around her. She knew something was happening, but by keeping her entertained and busy, we were able to enjoy Her brightness and joy without causing her any alarm. She knew people around her were sad, but we managed to keep our sadness from upsetting her, and that was a blessing for everyone.

We concentrate so much on the elderly side of this "sandwich" sometimes that we tend to overlook the thoughts and needs of our younger family and friends. Then we are surprised when they tell us something that has been on their mind or share an emotion they are experiencing. I know we have a lot of balls to juggle sometimes, but we have to stop and look at the young people and put things in perspective. How are we reacting to situations in our lives, and what is that saying to our children? I remember very well that my maternal grandmother was not at all fond of her mother-in-law, and she transferred a lot of her negative feelings to me and my siblings. It was not until I was a young woman that I began to realize just how special my great-grandmother had been - what a hard worker she was on her farm - how she made quilts and was a good cook - and what hardships she endured in her lifetime. I saw her only through my grandmother's colored glasses, and I missed a lot in the process!

We must be careful to balance our perspective... and I do include myself in this. I know it is challenging to meet the needs - and the demands - of some of our elderly loved ones and friends. But our children are watching what we do - and how we react - and they are forming their opinions and attitudes based upon ours. It is NOT fair that some children don't get to know their grandparents for very long - if at all. It is not fair that our children have to see us sad and upset and frustrated and mad - especially over an older person who is in our care. But there are lessons for ALL of us in each of life's experiences. It is up to us to make sure that they are good ones.

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