Tag Archives: death

Tract for the Day of the Dead

One of my first official acts as a newly minted 40-year-old was to help my mother pronounce my stepfather dead after a prolonged and terrible brain illness.

It was dawn on the morning after my birthday and it was harder to be sure of this than you might imagine. He left this realm the way a flashlight dims – flickering into a barely perceptible glow before extinguishing completely. We called hospice. A nurse came to confirm our suspicions and called the funeral home. I watched my five-year-old son touch his grandfather’s cool face and arms before he asked me “how do you know for sure?” The undertaker arrived. I remember moving a clay bust my mom made of my stepfather’s face out of the foyer, because I had a sudden and vivid fear that the gurney carrying his body would snag the pillar it was on and smash it to bits. They took the body and left an artificial rose on his bed.

And then I helped my mother organize his funeral.  He was a spiritual man, but not at all religious. There was no minister to call for assistance. We arranged to use the chapel in the funeral home. My stepbrothers and brother and I each committed to deliver a eulogy – four in words, one in classical music. But we felt we needed to wrap the service and burial in some kind of formality, so my mother and my future ex-husband and I dug our way through books and books of one thing we knew my stepfather had faith in – poetry.

We ended up selecting pieces by Wallace Stevens and George Santayana.  But my mother had heard the most from my stepfather about his admiration for Imagist poet and New Jersey physician William Carlos Williams (also mentor to Allen Ginsberg).  We pushed through volume after volume, looking for something of his that one of us could read. The first poem we found related to death or loss began:

He’s dead

the dog won’t have to
sleep on his potatoes
any more to keep them
from freezing

So that hardly seemed appropriate.  Actually, we laughed at its total inappropriateness. Fresh grief can be like that – manic and grimly hysterical. Then there was another poem. It felt too raw at the time, so we didn’t read it either. Williams was left out of the funeral. But that other poem is still with me.

Last week, I completed training to be hospice volunteer for the organization that took such extraordinary care of all of us before and after my stepfather passed. We have had (I have had) several other losses since then, and none of those experiences have felt alike.  The training made me think more deeply about all of the pressure valves people blow open and seal shut in dark times or mourning, the crazy emotional acrobatics and contortions that can lead to accepting — or never accepting — a loss.  For some people, cracking a single emotion may take remarkable courage. Others (like me) may expectorate feelings with more persistence than we are usually able to muster to wipe down the kitchen counters.

I like Emily Dickinson’s poem, which begins “I measure every grief…” because of her stark consideration of several ways that grief may manifest and her conclusion that its very existence is something that unites us all. Death, loss and everyone’s inevitable experience of them at some time bind us like quantum physics, the interconnectedness of Buddhist philosophy or Walt Whitman’s beautiful line from Leaves of Grass – “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

When someone dies after a long illness, particularly one that seems to strip away the person that you knew in pinpricks and bold strokes, it can take time to recover; time to begin to remember them well.  My stepfather was an intellectual, an elitist, even, but a brilliant and loyal man. He inherited me as his very first daughter-like person when I was 19 and while I know I flummoxed him at first, we grew into a relationship that ended with the intimacy of hallucinations and dying.

And I have him to thank for the fact that I’ve read a lot more William Carlos Williams in the last two years than ever before.

I’ve always loved the rituals around Day of the Dead/All Saints’ Day, because they give memories a chance to breathe within us. We can make offerings to the people we’ve lost, remember the parts of ourselves that they gave us.

I think my stepfather would have liked it if this poem had been read at his funeral. It would have been bold. But I think, rightly, that it might have been too raw for those who were grieving for him. So I make it as an offering to him, and anyone who needs permission to feel anything at all they need to feel, today:

By William Carlos Williams

I will teach you my townspeople
how to perform a funeral
for you have it over a troop
of artists—
unless one should scour the world—
you have the ground sense necessary.

See! the hearse leads.
I begin with a design for a hearse.
For Christ’s sake not black—
nor white either — and not polished!
Let it be weathered—like a farm wagon—
with gilt wheels (this could be
applied fresh at small expense)
or no wheels at all:
a rough dray to drag over the ground.

Knock the glass out!
My God—glass, my townspeople!
For what purpose? Is it for the dead
to look out or for us to see
the flowers or the lack of them—
or what?
To keep the rain and snow from him?
He will have a heavier rain soon:
pebbles and dirt and what not.
Let there be no glass—
and no upholstery, phew!
and no little brass rollers
and small easy wheels on the bottom—
my townspeople, what are you thinking of?
A rough plain hearse then
with gilt wheels and no top at all.
On this the coffin lies
by its own weight.

No wreathes please—
especially no hot house flowers.
Some common memento is better,
something he prized and is known by:
his old clothes—a few books perhaps—
God knows what! You realize
how we are about these things
my townspeople—
something will be found—anything
even flowers if he had come to that.
So much for the hearse.

For heaven’s sake though see to the driver!
Take off the silk hat! In fact
that’s no place at all for him—
up there unceremoniously
dragging our friend out to his own dignity!
Bring him down—bring him down!
Low and inconspicuous! I’d not have him ride
on the wagon at all—damn him!—
the undertaker’s understrapper!
Let him hold the reins
and walk at the side
and inconspicuously too!

Then briefly as to yourselves:
Walk behind—as they do in France,
seventh class, or if you ride
Hell take curtains! Go with some show
of inconvenience; sit openly—
to the weather as to grief.
Or do you think you can shut grief in?
What—from us? We who have perhaps
nothing to lose? Share with us
share with us—it will be money
in your pockets.
Go now
I think you are ready.


I remember you, Stephen.


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Hope & death & Patti Smith

At the beginning of the year, I made the aspiration to read fewer Buddhist and self-help books. I bought and started Just Kids by Patti Smith, but I didn’t get very far. Life-changing things just kept happening. I needed my little daily meditations and other methods of head-clearing. I lacked the focus for much else. So I decided to wait on the story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe until I could give it my full attention.

I’ve just been to a Catholic funeral mass for the woman who has been my mother-in-law for over 11 years. It brought up all of the sad feelings I’ve come to anticipate as well as some fragile new hope that I didn’t. Death, a dear friend said to me a few months ago, “can be so generous sometimes.”

This, after three non-religious memorials and a Baptist home-going since last August. On some days the grief is fathoms deep and I do stupid things, like watch “Game of Thrones” (not a good idea when your emotional constitution is weakened) or reach out to people that I know are far too self-involved to practice compassion (also not a good idea — even an exceptionally bad one — when your emotional constitution is weakened).

Other days I recognize stupid moves and emotional missteps for what they are: no big deal. Because I can mitigate any bad day or personal embarrassment with the reminder that nobody died and mean it (although I can’t seem to let “nobody died” leave my mouth without adding “yet,” just in case). I’m like that seemingly insensitive dad guy, shrugging off the horrible, embarrassing thing that happened to you at school because “it’s not like anybody died.” And honestly, on a day when nobody near or dear to you dies, I know with certainty that things could be worse.

For the first time in over a year and a half, I am not acquainted with anyone who is fighting an acute terminal illness (to my knowledge). It’s a weirdly liberating realization. And one I don’t want to be too superstitious to appreciate because things can always change a moment from this one.

So I’m reading. I’m reading a book about the history of cancer because four different cancers claimed four different people that I cared about in the last eight months. There is something comforting about recognizing just how fucking crazy the history of pathology and surgery and radiation really is, how erratic and accidental so many discoveries about cancer have been. There is also something empowering about realizing how many different ways our DNA can get broken, how we can temper the risks of that through some of our choices, but ultimately, like most things, it’s outside of our control.

I’m also reading about rock and roll and art. I came back to Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe. And damn if it doesn’t feel like self-help. Or Buddhism:

“The things I thought would happen didn’t. Things I never anticipated unfolded.”

It’s a line from Just Kids about the precipice of Smith’s career – the weeks, days, months before her destiny as a poet, playwright and rock goddess began to root.

Now, I go to meetings where people struggle and fight with themselves, sometimes for years, to just let go. To begin to realize that simply responding within the life you have can be so much more magical and rewarding than trying to force the life you think you want to have to happen; to get to “Things I never anticipated unfolded.”

Is that a platitude, or too simple-sounding? Maybe. But I am long since over dismissing things that are true or helpful simply because they aren’t clever enough. I think of all of the years that I gagged myself on cleverness when I could have been happier. There’s really no honor in suffering, especially when you have the choice to not suffer. Happier is better. Happier is more honorable.

Patti Smith grew into her superpowers by surrendering. She and Robert Mapplethorpe used to choose a record to listen to over and over again to let it create the tone of their evening for them. She let her mistakes lead her to the next place instead of withdrawing from the world because of them. She kept herself open to opportunities and took them as they came – like reading her poetry backed by Lenny Kaye’s guitar, which haphazardly landed them in a musical relationship that’s lasted for decades. Smith set out to be a poet, not a rock and roll icon, but the latter evolved because she let it. When she had her children, she let all of that slip away for a while to give herself to the experience being a mother. She seems to have had the inherent wisdom to live inside of the life she had instead of constantly pushing for a different one, as so many of us do.

Then an unfathomable series of deaths slowly brought her back to a public life. Her husband, her brother, her best friend and a dear band-mate all passed away in short order, all young and unexpectedly. But instead of letting it harden her, she surrendered to it. Here’s what she said in an interview with Shambala Sun about 16 years ago:

“I find that sorrow breaks the heart open, makes you more vulnerable. In some ways sorrow is a beautiful state. It can heighten one’s sense of humor. You can find strength and clarity in sorrow. Sorrow is a gift. You have to treasure it. The important thing is to honor it.”

It’s no wonder that when I saw her play live ten or eleven years ago it felt like a religious experience. She may be a bodhisattva.

Now she’s added both of her parents and more close friends and colleagues to the list of those she’s lost, but every time I hear her interviewed, she says something insanely hopeful, like “I promise if you listen, you will hear the dead speaking to you.” She shares stories about the ways that the dead now fill her with warmth, how they live within and speak through her as long as she remains open. I’m beginning to really understand this. I am. And it’s nothing I expected or thought I wanted to know.

Outside of the fact that we don’t know when, where or how we or our loved ones are going to die, death is not that mysterious. But there’s still plenty of mystery in rock and roll, in art, in people, in surrendering, in living.

Lately, when I’ve wanted to give myself a laugh in the dark manner that a surgeon’s granddaughter is wont to do, I listen to “People Who Died” by Jim Carroll. In 2009, Jim Carroll died, and Patti Smith began covering his song regularly in his honor, encouraging audience members to call out the names of their dead loved ones in the middle of the song.

Ironically (to me, anyway) this live performance was recorded the day after my 40th birthday, in 2010. The day my stepfather died, died. It is powerful. You should watch it.

It’s not that nobody died. It’s that you’re alive.

For another celebration of our delicate, beautiful mortality, click this:

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I am dead people

The news was bad for dogs last week. Apparently, dragons hate them, so the new Chinese year is predicted to be a rough one for people like myself, born in the year of the metal canine. The year of the tiger shredded me to the bone, as the world’s largest predators are wont to do, and last year’s bunny wasn’t exactly cuddly, so threats from a dragon were not what I wanted to hear.

I generally don’t put much stock in horoscopes unless they are good and I happen to need something to believe in. Still… crappy predictions have a way at nagging at you. So I was grateful when I opened up Free Will Astrology a couple of days after the dragon commenced, in which Rob Brezny advised my other astrological self – the moonchild — to “go in quest of… a useful and beautiful blessing bequeathed to you by the departed spirit of someone you love or admire.”

I happen to be in possession of many useful blessings bequeathed to me by beloved and departed spirits, but lately, I’ve found myself forgetting them too easily and too often. The death toll of people I am connected to who have passed away in the last two years cranked up to 11 in January – some have been family, a couple were personal mentors, others have been friends, dear ones to my near and dear ones and acquaintances that I used to have warm conversations with out in the world.

Multiple funerals have a way of making the deaths that you hear about in passing – the ones that used to be abstract – more vivid. I hadn’t been keeping count, but when the number jumped from eight to ten during the same week in October, it started to feel enormous and it rarely let up since. I let the number consume me, paralyzing me like the sitting ghost, slowly eclipsing the memories of the very individuals I miss.

When grief takes up residence in your life, it’s a cunning shape-shifter. Once its immediate deep fog, harsh lights and wild cactus needles retreat, life starts to become less ouchy. Then it reemerges in sudden fits and vibrations. It’s in the handwritten note you had forgotten about and find under the front seat of the car; in the smell of an old bottle of Jean Naté body splash; in hearing the corny joke that no one else would laugh at with you except the person you can’t share it with anymore.

But the latter is also the better part of grief. You might get caught crying while holding a bottle of Maraschino cherries at the supermarket because Shirley Temples make you think of big dinners with now-dead relatives, wearing wide lapels and odd-shaped sideburns without a trace of irony. But that glass urn of fruit and disgusting red dye also tells you that those people are still with you, making funny faces at your seven-year-old self. They are your emotional DNA.

The number ten, closely followed by eleven, cut me off from that better part of grief. I started filling myself with sad, self-involved stories. I pulled the covers over my face because I’m 41, not 81, and since my life doesn’t resemble Jim Carroll’s, I felt there should be no way I know that many dead people. I told myself that the universe doesn’t want me to be happy, doesn’t want to let me feel any of the lightness that I’m longing for. I obsessed over things that I thought could yank me into some kind of joy, or at least some strong feelings that were not grief.

On the day I read the horoscope that suggested I quest for my blessings, I knew where I could go. A spiritual mentor of mine died last summer, but the support group she ran for families of addicts and alcoholics did not. I arrived late, but my entrance invited silent warmth from several familiar faces that I’ve grown to love.

The only chair open was in the spot where I best remember her looking upon everyone in the room, telling it like it was. I sat down in the lap of her memory and felt what it was like when she taught me that the tighter you throw your arms around the things that you imagine will make you happy, the more likely you are to strangle them in the process. And the more likely you are to overlook better things out there for you – the things you never imagined. The other people in the room remembered more lessons, some that I knew, and others that I didn’t and was glad to hear. Our mentor was with us, exceptionally present, stronger and more beautiful as we sat in the space she carved out for us together.

A lot of the best things in the world are plentiful, a friend reminded me recently. Water. Oxygen. Life… from the endless microbial stuff we can’t see to dolphins to the people that irritate us in traffic. And death.

“Death is everywhere. There’s an awful lot of it in the universe,” she said. “So there must be a lot of good reasons for it.”

Death inhabits us just like life does. Our cells prove it over and over every second. I don’t want to run from big numbers anymore. I want to swallow them, let these dead people camp out under my skin, help me with the living part. Today I want to love my son with the force and acceptance my aunt had for her two boys. I want to practice the ease and gentleness three men I used to talk to out in the world always had with people in social situations, in a way I’ve never been good at, but always admired. I want to pass on the kindness and guidance to others that two strong women so generously gave to me.

Look out death, we’re starting something new.

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Washing away

I was all set to do laundry on New Year’s Day. The baskets were loaded, the darks picked clean of stray white socks. Then I happened upon the superstition that if you do the wash on the first of the year, you may “wash away a loved one” in the process. I slow-cooked my pork and sauerkraut and waited for January 2.

Five people I knew passed in 2010. One man held me as a baby. One death ushered me into 40. Three more friends, acquaintances, members of my extended community, were gone in a grim flipbook of months or moments.

I make weekly visits to a woman who put her hand over my heart and lifted me last year, who has comforted me with Kleenex and new community and wise words like “go home and read everything you can about acceptance.” Now she is on a twisting journey through metastasized stage four pancreatic cancer and even when I see her under the auspices of showing up to help her, it’s me who gets the help.

I take her food stamp card out to pick up sockeye salmon, orange juice and grits. I walk her granddaughter into a doctor’s office where I am met with a raft of love and prayers and good wishes to take back to the little apartment she so loves because it is surrounded by trees and the walls are increasingly papered with get well cards. I learn how little a person can have and still give and give and light up the lives of other people. I relearn the importance of waking up early, holding my son’s face in my hands and telling him how grateful I am that his face is the first one I laid eyes on in 2011. As much as I want to shed the chaos and pain of the past year’s trail of loss, I also want to stay here, present in what it’s given me, for as long as I am.

I’m learning more than I ever imagined at my age about many ways that people get sick. About many ways that people die. About Jedi nutrition tricks, magical thinking and cold, dark, depressed spaces. I’m stretched thin along the hair’s distance between life and death, between health and a hard diagnosis.

In the days before 2010 expired, I found out there are other people I care about who are now doing their own dances with cancer. After learning her own fate, one gave me a strong symbol of her faith for Christmas, a bit of protection, a message that in the midst of fracturing family, certain things are not lost.  I’m wondering if it’s time to lose a few inches of hair again and offer it to cancer.

I couldn’t do the laundry on New Year’s Day. But not exactly because I am afraid of losing another person. I know that I will, and whether that happens in 2011 or 2021 is not in my hands. But there is not one thing, not one person, not one stain from the experiences of this (or any) tour around the sun that I want to see cleansed from my life.

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I’ve run along the periphery of Columbus music for 16 or 17 years, and sometimes right through its center. I’ve written about it, talked about it, consumed it, even married and had a child with one of its central stewards.

Let me tell you, it’s a world full of dudes. Dudes who play, editorialize about, promote, gloat over or criticize, but ultimately love music. Several of those dudes have only ever referred to me by my initials. Why call someone Tracy when you can call her TZT? I’m okay with that. It makes me feel like an honorary dude.

In this scene, there are jerk dudes, frustrated genius dudes, drunk dudes, well-meaning dudes, lecherous dudes, armchair comedian dudes and awkward dudes. And then there are the kind ones. The ones who are generous of spirit and might play in the realm of dudes, but you quickly discover that they are also good, decent men. They are the ones who don’t run away from you when they hear you lost your job or that your grandfather died. They see you out in the city and they walk toward you. They put an arm around you and acknowledge your loss openly, thoughtfully. They say something encouraging or offer a listening ear. The whole thing may last all of five minutes, and you may not see that person again for weeks, even months, but you walk away from a man like that and you just feel happy that you know him. Happy that you walk in the same circles and will surely see him again soon.

The city lost one of those good men this weekend. A man who gave body-crushing hugs and radiated warmth. The news broke last night that Andy “Andyman” Davis – a veteran of local radio – drowned Saturday while on family vacation, and the more that I sit with that fact, the harder I find it to accept.

I’ve seen a lot of friendships made through music. You find out that someone loves what you love, they relate to what you relate to, and suddenly, you are connected. You may drift apart or even have a falling out, but if that person introduced you to a song or artist that’s continued to keep you company, their dearness is never completely lost. Andy is that kind of friend to countless people that he hasn’t even met because he’s been the face and voice of one of our only local, independent stations for so long.

To me, he was a local media colleague and a social friend – someone I probably saw and shared words with weekly to monthly in my twenties and early thirties at my husband’s clubs, Andy’s bar or some other show in the Columbus universe.

He had been a dad for a while by the time I became a mom. Once I made that transition, I only saw him once or twice a year, but our casual conversations shifted. When I saw him at Comfest last year, I got one of his bear hugs before he held onto my hand and stood with me, looking at my son the same way I do – like something miraculous and joyful. He pulled out the pictures of his two boys and told me about his third baby coming. I don’t remember the words we shared exactly, but that feeling of belonging you get when you relate to another person about music? Change that to two music-bound people talking about being parents and the feeling is amplified by a zillion. I love being a mom. I know he loved being a dad. That’s what has my heart caught today.

I’ve been through a fair bit of grief and loss lately, but please don’t feel the need to console me for this one. There are certainly hundreds, likely thousands, who are feeling this loss. Between social media and the airwaves, you can sense our community grieving. My hope is that every one of us who has felt that warmth from Andy, be it first-hand or through the airwaves, can reflect it back to his family — especially his wife Molly and their three sons — and surround them with it for years to come.

You can find information about a memorial fund that’s been established for them at the CD101 web site.

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My son and I went to the grocery store today. It had been days.

As we finished up in the self-checkout lane, an older woman behind us didn’t wait for us to finish bagging before she threw her groceries onto the conveyor belt. One package of applesauce cups came flying down to us. Then another. And another. And another. We could tell where our groceries ended and hers began because of the growing barricade of applesauce.

“Sorry,” she said. But she didn’t stop what she was doing so that we could finish bagging. She looked hurried and preoccupied. I flung the rest off our things into bags and got out of her way as quickly as I could. Not that she noticed.

“That was a lot of applesauce,” said Declan. “Do you think maybe her husband is very sick? Or maybe he could be dying.”

When a person can swallow very little, but still needs medication, applesauce is one way to deliver it.

My stepfather passed away the morning after my birthday.  Quietly. Peacefully. In my mother’s home, where we are staying. It took three days before hospice came and took the hospital bed. It was six days before we held the the funeral.

Today, I woke up thinking about yesterday’s solar eclipse, wondering if it will really change the world as much as astrologers said that it would. Today is the first average weekday since our little world shifted. Our perspective on just about everything has shifted. Including applesauce.

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As we drove home from school today, Declan told me that he knew nanodiamonds could keep our dog Arrow from dying. Now, Arrow is barely six years old and pretty robust, so I’m not sure why this was on his mind (other than the fact that a National Geographic special about spatial relationships in the universe schooled him on the nanodiamonds stuff), but he was insistent.

I told him that nothing could keep Arrow, or anyone, from dying sooner or later, but that Arrow seemed very healthy and happy to me right now. He was angry with me and pretended to sleep for a while. I let it be until the next question comes.

I’ve only watched the news after Declan is asleep or when he is elsewhere this week. It takes my breath away to watch the devastation, the human suffering, the chaos happening in Haiti. At this death-sensitive age, I can’t imagine him being able to process much about this, so I haven’t figured out what to tell him. Meanwhile, I feel helpless and grateful for every little thing I have here – fresh air, clean water, a roof, a car, family, schools for my son, food, music, books, love, jokes.

This afternoon, the father of one of his schoolmates passed away after a short battle with cancer. The boy Declan shared a class with last year was the older of two and their third child is due in less than a month. The preschool’s community and friends of the family have rallied to do everything from laundry to childcare to grocery shopping to help them during this tragic time, but this is just heartbreaking news. I wish him peace.

This is a loving and kind family. The mother is a young and passionate wife and parent. I can’t fathom the stress of being self-employed, almost nine months pregnant, parenting two young children and losing your spouse. So if you’re listening, and you’re feeling generous, you could help them out a little bit financially to help ease some of their material stress as they begin to grieve and await this new birth.

Take care. Breathe. Hug your loved ones tight.

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It’s my 500th post! Let’s talk about death…

“Why are these big rocks covering them?” he asked me, as though someone had put the gravestone there to hold my grandparents under the earth.

“They help you and I to find the place where their bodies are buried,” I told him.

“Where are they? Have they turned to dust yet? Why can’t I see them?”

My last grandmother died a year before Declan was born. My grandfather five years before that. He knows them from pictures and stories.

“They’re buried six feet below here. Inside of a casket – a big wooden box with… pillows.”

“But why can’t I see them?”

“Most people don’t like to be remembered the way they look when they’re dead and turning into dust — they want to be remembered the way they looked when they were alive, like they look in the pictures we have.”

When I went to a parent education session about sex, death and lying in early spring of this year, the teachers warned me that age 4 is when these issues come calling. Don’t offer him a bunch of information about it, they suggested. But when the questions come, be honest and answer them. If you make stuff up because you don’t want to worry or upset them, they’ll eventually find out. Better to be with them through the hard feelings instead of thinking we need to protect them from them. Better to be compassionate and someone they can trust.

It took Dec all of a month after turning four before the questions began this summer. We had big tears before bedtime for two weeks in a row when the thought of my ill stepfather (Dec calls him grandfafa), dying left him breathless. And the questions… Does it hurt when you die? When will grandfafa die? Will I have to die when grandfafa dies?

For weeks, it continued to emerge at all hours. We’d be talking about kids at play camp in the car, then I’d hear his throat suddenly start to tighten and he’d ask me “why does everything have to die? I don’t want anyone to die, I don’t want things to change.”

I was afraid that science was going to be our foil as the intransigence of these biological truths hit him. I was afraid of the day when his knowledge of black holes and colliding galaxies and dark matter began to merge with an understanding of mortality. How overwhelming to be four and have such a sense of the vastness and forces of space, which often make Earth’s Mother Nature look as ferocious as a gnat.

For a few weeks, that fear felt justified. He was scared about the sun, because he knows it will expand in 4.6 billion years and likely incinerate the Earth, but it was hard to convince him what a long time from now that really is. He came up with complicated methods to save the earth from burning. I tried, gingerly, to explain that we, and no one that we now know will be here when that happens. He worried that the sun could become a black hole until a nice physics student told him it wasn’t big enough to do that. And somewhere in that barrage of constant questions and explanations, he finally drew his own tear-filled conclusion that he will die, too.

But science has actually been our savior though this process. I took the box with my dog Samson’s ashes from the china cabinet and let him examine them, tried to help him understand how much I loved my dog and that I knew it didn’t hurt when he burned because he was dead. We’ve talked about all of the things that dust has helped create – planets, moons, dinosaurs, us. We talk about perennial and annual flowers and how things regenerate. Our cat brought us a dead mouse the other day and I buried it in the yard. For days afterwards he asked me, “is it turning to dust yet?”

We explained heaven and reincarnation as ideas that some people believe in. We told him that death is one of those things that no one understands for certain. He seems to find the greatest comfort in some of the scientific certainties about what happens to a body or a flower or a star, which I honestly didn’t see coming.

He likes to die dramatically, repeatedly on the playground, preferably in slow motion. And we are still constantly addressing questions about what dies, how it dies, how long it takes it to die. I’m sure we’ll be in this process for a long time. But I’m so much more hopeful and less afraid about his capacity to emotionally process these things now.

Last night we were talking about what he dreams his life might be like when he’s older. Do you want to dance? Sell tomatoes? Be a dog doctor? Teach kids? Study the stars? Paint pictures?
(I try not to make a career in science a foregone conclusion. I want him to be comfortable choosing whatever he wants to be.)

Becoming a daddy keeps coming up first on his list.

“Someday, when I die, I’ll be a grandfather, and then I will turn to dust,” he told me. “It’s all part of my journey to become part of everything in the universe.”

Declan= MC2

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