Last week my children had two experiences that helped broaden their outlook. One close to home, the other on the far side of the world.
Two Sundays ago we had dinner with our friends Bob and Mary and their kids. (The visit was partly social, partly business. Bob is an accountant and he looked over our tax returns before dinner, since I now work for myself and our taxes have become a bit more complicated. Thankfully, it was not as painful as I had imagined. But I digress . . .)
Mary’s father had just had a pacemaker put in and was still in the hospital. She said he was doing well.
Wednesday morning, Bob called me to say that Mary’s father had died. The wake was set for Friday, and the funeral for Saturday.
My kids have been to a funeral mass, but not a wake. They wanted to go to this one as a gesture of support for Bob and Mary’s kids. We were also dealing with local flooding, so my wife said she’d stay behind to keep an eye on our basement as we continued pump it out.
My daughter and son were expecting the wake to be a sad and somber event. What they found was a loud and genial gathering of friends and relatives paying their last respects to Mary’s dad. Tears were certainly shed, but laughter was more abundant as stories about the late Aldo made the rounds. It was good to see a life being celebrated more than a death being mourned.
We have been very honest with our children about death. They each had moments when they were younger where they comprehended the seeming finality of it, and were understandably upset. We talked through it, and they now see it as a normal part of life (at least that’s the way they talk about it). The wake demystified another aspect; they weren’t as upset as they thought they might be by viewing the deceased. I’m sure the reaction would be quite different if it were someone close to them, but it was an important step nonetheless.
All this took place against the distant backdrop of the devastation in Japan. While not experiencing it firsthand, the news coverage still makes the tragedy more immediate than reading about such things in the past. My kids are witnessing the destructive power of nature, and how fragile we are in the face of it. It’s a reminder that, while death is certain for us all, the time and place are not. We all travel different paths in life, but two things we all have in common are that we were born and we will die. What we do in between, and how mindful we are about it, is what matters.
At the wake, it was obvious that Mary’s dad had made every day count. I hope we can do as much.