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The D-Word

I read Lisa Belkin’s “Motherlode” blog on the NYT pretty regularly, despite my reservations about Ms. Belkin’s research style, which often seems to consist of looking around at other moms who share her rarified lifestyle.

Last week, two posts got me to thinking. One was about the correlation between having children and self-reported unhappiness (Yes, unhappiness; more later). The other, which was as or more intriguing, was about talking to your children about death.

Or, as the guest blogger would have it, emphatically not talking to your children about death.  The writer, Jody Becker, was so concerned about broaching this disturbing subject with her daughters that she has taken what I’d consider extreme measures to avoid it. Referring to her beloved grandmother’s tea set she writes, “The tea set is hidden because I don’t have a ready answer for the question, ‘Where is your Grandma, mommy?'”

Really? The timing of this was especially interesting to me because about two weeks ago, I began talking to Simon about death. When we drive to school, we pass the house my Bubbie and Zadie lived in from around 1951 until just after my Zadie’s death in 1993. Matt, who is the one to take Simon to school in the morning, always points out “great-great-grand-bubbie’s house” to Simon as they drive by it. Recently, Simon has taken to pointing it out for me when we pass it on the way home from school after lunch.

So about two weeks ago I took the plunge:

Do you know who Grand-bubbie was, Simon? (Matt calls her great-great-grandbubbie, but that’s two generations too far up the tree.) She was my bubbie-your bubbie’s mommy. And we all loved her very much and she would love you very much, but she’s not here with us now. We miss her, and seeing her house makes us think about her. When we get home, I’ll show you a picture of her.

There. How hard was that? A day or so later, when tucking Simon into bed for his nap, I took a look at the blanket we use for mid-day naps—hand-knit by my Aunt Marcia—and took the plunge again:

Do you know why we call this the Aunt Marcia blanket, honey? It’s because my Aunt Marcia made this for you. You met her a few times when you were a baby, before you were a big boy like you are now, but she’s gone now. She loved us very much, and it’s nice that we have this blanket so we can think of her. I’ll show you a picture of her when you wake up.

That didn’t seem so hard, either. To be fair, Simon is probably too young to understand any of what I said to him and is certainly too young to ask any difficult questions in response. But I assumed that now was a fine time to plant the seeds for a future conversation—that talking about people I loved who were now gone was a great way to get the conversation rolling when he’s ready.

It seems to me that if you can’t discuss the death of someone unknown to your kids, that you are going to be in a horrible pinch when someone near or dear to them dies.

Curious, I clicked into the comments field to see what others had to say about Ms. Becker’s essay, and I was extremely relieved to see that the nearly unanimous consensus was that Ms. Becker is avoiding a natural and gentle way to introduce the topic. Quite a few went so far as to use the word “crazy”, and many relayed stories about how they approached the topic with their young kids and even had a book suggestion or two.

I’m a big believer in listening to the village. I hope Jody Becker is, too, and that she gets down that tea set and hopes her daughters will ask her about it.

One Response to “The D-Word”

  1. bethnbobinnc says:

    I totally agree with you on this one. I think it’s really sweet how you have used the objects that remind you of your loved ones to tell Simon about them. I’ll have to remember that for future use. PS. I miss your Bubbie too. She was a sweetheart!!

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