First Encounters with Death

Our son-in-law’s mother died last week after a prolonged illness, saddening the whole family and her many friends. Our grandkids understand that they will never see her again, but our six-year-old granddaughter is really struggling with it. Her reaction reminds me of my son’s response at the same age to the death of my mother.

Joel suddenly began to think he’d broken a bone if he merely bumped his arm or leg. He concocted slings and crutches and seemed very preoccupied with his body’s intactness. When he carried these concerns into his elementary school his first day back, we decided to confront it. Joel must think he is going to die, and sooner, not later.

“When Nonnie died,” I began, “it made me really face that I was going to die someday, too.”

Six-year-old Joel burst into tears. “And you’re going to die before me, Mommy.”

Aha. He wasn’t fussing about his own death, but my husband’s and mine.

“Oh, honey,” I said. “I’m not going to die till you’re 35.”

And like magic, his symptoms disappeared.

Our granddaughter seems shaken up, too, by her first experience with death. She’s asking lots of questions, pointing to photos of my parents and my husband’s parents. “Do you miss them, Nini?”

But she’s also as cranky and fearful as she is curious.

And I find myself wondering if I’m so different from these six-year-olds as this senior person confronting life’s major challenges, our big mysteries.




About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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1 Response to First Encounters with Death

  1. Myron says:

    Condolences to your entire family.
    Exceptional children to an exceptional mother! They’re certainly precocious to have such existential querying bubbling in them.
    I was the same age as Joel when my grandpa passed on. Even though we codwelled, and I was literally around grandpa’s deathbed in his final hours, I remember having a rather numb reaction to such a momentous event. But one makes this kind of querying eventually. Guess it’s better it happened at your kids’ age, so that they wise up sooner.

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