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It's so strange that autumn is beautiful, yet everything is dying.- Unknown

As the year dies, it is only natural that our thoughts turn to musings on our own mortality.  For Catholics, Halloween is not only about pumpkins and trick-or-treating; it is the eve of the Feast of All Saints, followed immediately by the Feast of All Souls, days set aside for us to remember and pray for the dead.

As we get older it becomes harder to ignore the fact that every second that passes brings us that much closer to our own deaths.  Children, for whom time seems almost to stand still so that the time between Christmases feels infinite, usually don’t think about the inevitability of death as we do.

But children will encounter death, some sooner than others, and how we prepare them for this and help them deal with it when it comes is important.

There doesn’t have to be some big moment where you sit your kids down and explain death to them.  Better for it to be introduced early, before they can really comprehend it, as a natural process.  You can start with what your kids encounter as they play–dead insects.  If they’ve heard you talking about the fact that an insect is dead from infancy, they’ll always have at least a vague concept of what death is, which you can flesh out later when they have questions.  Tell them that the insect got tired and old and its body couldn’t work anymore, so it was time for it to die.

When they ask questions about their own eventual deaths or yours, it’s best to reassure them by saying that they–and you–are still very young and it will be a long time before you die.  There’s no need to muddy the waters at this point with discussions of death by accident or illness.  Sadly, there will no doubt come a time when you will have to answer those kinds of questions.

My children had their first close encounter with death when my grandmother died.  They were 16, 13, 12, six, and three at the time.  They knew Mima well so they were definitely affected by her death and I felt they should be a part of it.  We told the little ones that, like the insects, Mima was old and her body had worn out, but we also added that she had gone to Heaven to be with God as we all hope to one day. (I personally don’t think that it’s particularly necessary or useful to bring up the concept of Purgatory with little kids right when they are grieving the loss of a loved one.)

We took all the kids with us to the funeral home.  The open casket was at the far end of the room and we let the kids decide whether to approach.  Lorelei and her cousin Ella, who were three and five at the time, were interested and spent time looking at Mima.  William, who was six, did not want to look at her and stayed at the other end of the room.  The children also attended the funeral Mass and the graveside service.

It’s very important not to impose your own–or other people’s–expectations or interpretations on the grieving of children.  They may not look as upset as you think they should look, but don’t make assumptions.  When my dog was hit by a car when I was four, I was very upset, too upset to even talk about it.  I will never forget an adult making the comment that it didn’t seem like I cared very much.  So keep in mind that your children may need space to grieve, or they may need for you to draw them out so that they can express their feelings or ask questions.  I was very impressed by a friend whose husband died when their son was about ten years old.  He wanted to go sit with his friends at the funeral.  Some people might have insisted that he sit up front with the family but she gave him the space he needed and allowed him to find comfort with his friends.

Many children’s first experience with death is the loss of a pet.  My children experienced this for the first time a couple of years ago, when we had to put our elderly dog to sleep.  Lorelei and William accompanied me to the veterinarian and we all supported each other.  I was proud of how brave they were and how they comforted our dog through the process, constantly petting him and reassuring him with loving words.  When kids lose a pet they will almost certainly ask you if the pet will go to Heaven.  The best answer I’ve heard to that question is that when you go to Heaven and want your pet, he will be there.

Like everything else, children will learn more from your actions around death than your words.  Do you talk about how you miss those who have died, or do your avoid discussing uncomfortable feelings?  Do you pray for those who have died and encourage your children to join in? (That’s when you can explain about Purgatory!)  Do you lead by example by attending funerals of those you know whenever possible and encouraging your children to come when appropriate?

My grandfather died when I was 13, and his was the first funeral I ever attended.  For years I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of “viewing” the body, and dreaded going to funerals.  But forcing myself to attend many out of a sense of duty and obligation over the past several years changed my attitude.  In one tragic week several summers ago, a high school friend’s son committed suicide, the father of one of Teddy’s football teammates died in an accident, and the father of one of his classmates committed suicide.  I took Teddy to the funeral of one father, and he accompanied me to take food to the family of the other one.  Set an example for your children with your actions when death touches you, and encourage their participation, and they will internalize the value of these rituals and will not fear them.

This post is part of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network Bloghop.  For more writing on this topic, click below.

siena-sisters

blog hop death

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Growing up, one of my most prized possessions was my Webster’s Third New International Dictionary.  One of those massive volumes you see (or used to) at the library, it was very expensive, and my grandmother bought it for me so that I could look up pronunciations for the words in my Spelling Bee book.  Before that my father had to go to the library and spend an entire day using their copy!

I lost my dictionary when my house burned down, but it had been years since I’d needed it, the Internet having taken its place as the ultimate reference tool.  But I still have that impulse to look up words, especially when I’m seeking inspiration in my writing.

As I sat down to write my piece on Mission, with many ideas already swirling in my head, I looked up the meaning and history of the term, to confirm what I thought I knew: that mission comes from a Latin word meaning “to send.”  Why do I know this?  Because many priests have mentioned it in the context of explaining that the final words of the Latin Mass: “Ite, missa est,” should be interpreted as a charge to the assembly, that we are being sent forth to do God’s work in the world.

You can read the rest here:  Everyday Ediths

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I’m sitting here in my office working on bills as if it were any other Saturday even though a seismic shift occurred in my world less than 24 hours ago.  Because life does, in fact, go on.

Twenty-two-and-a-half years ago, give or take, we welcomed our third child.  This was our second baby in just over a year, and we brought him home to a 2.5 bedroom apartment and placed him in the cradle by our bed, which we hadn’t even bothered to put away between babies.

We named this 12 lb. bundle of joy Richard Theodore because I’d always wanted a boy I could call Teddy, and the name suited him well as he grew from big baby to roly-poly toddler who filled out 4T rompers by the time he was a year old.

Teddy and the Teletubbies 2

Teddy was my baby for six years.  I developed extremely toned biceps from toting around my 75 lb. four-year-old.  He was none too pleased about the arrival of his baby brother, but he was in kindergarten by then and already building a reputation as the smart, academic achiever that he would continue to be all the way through college.

Teddy Zorro Birthday 2

You know the rest of the story.  The days are long but the years are short and all that.

Teddy (or to use his preferred name, Theo) graduated from college in May.  Yesterday I dropped him off at the airport.  Now he’s in San Francisco, where he’ll start his first professional job on Monday.

Right now I feel like posting a comment on every baby picture I see on Facebook saying enjoy them while you can they grow so fast but that’s not a thing that anyone really understands or wants to hear when their kids are fretful infants or whining toddlers or stubborn preschoolers.  I’ve read many a thread and post complaining about the meddlesome old ladies who say those kinds of things.  But here’s the deal:  we aren’t trying to be bossy or irritating or to minimalize the work and stress of coping with small children–we just want you to realize what we didn’t; we want you to fully experience the joy of what you have, because we would give anything just to have one more day of it.

Because twenty-two-and-a-half years ago I brought a baby boy home from the hospital.

And just like that, he was gone.

Teddy Leaving for SF

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Leaps of faith are a fact of life in our family.  Our family life has been built on radical acts of trusting that everything would work out one way or the other.

John and I had been married eleven months and had a baby on the way when we abandoned good jobs in Washington, D.C. and moved back to my hometown, where we had family but no prospects at all.  Oh, we tried to find jobs before moving, but our failure didn’t put a damper on our plans in the least.   In the year it took for John to gain resident status so he would be eligible for in-state tuition at the University of Tennessee College of Law, he worked at the UT Traffic Office by day and sold shoes by night.  I got a secretarial job just weeks before I could no longer conceal my pregnancy, which would have severely limited my ability to find a good job.

We had one kid by the time John started law school and the third was on the way by the time he passed the bar exam.  There were hard and scary times, uncertain times, and often it was only looking back at what we’d been through that we could see how our prayers were always answered.  Not necessarily in the way that we thought we wanted them to be, not always immediately, but always, in God’s time.

Read the rest at Everyday Ediths!

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Last night I told my daughter I felt like I had lived at least a month in the past week or so.  Have you ever felt that way?

Because of all that I and my family have been through in the last twelve days, I find myself starting at my computer screen this morning praying for inspiration for the blog post I should have had ready to go last night at the very latest–last night when I was completing a 550 mile drive back from an unexpected funeral.

Wait a minute . . . inspiration is coming . . .

Read the rest at Everyday Ediths!

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Although I graduated from college almost 30 years ago, I still say I AM an English major rather than I WAS an English major.  That self-identification is probably indicative of why I enjoy usage manuals like The Elements of Style by Strunk and White entirely too much.

Thinking about writing on this month’s theme of Hope, I kept coming back to this passage:

Hopefully. This once-useful adverb meaning “with hope” has been distorted and is now widely used to mean “I hope” or “it is to be hoped.” Such use is not merely wrong, it is silly. To say “Hopefully I’ll leave on the noon plane” is to talk nonsense. Do you mean you’ll leave on the noon plane in a hopeful frame of mind? Or do you mean you hope you’ll leave on the noon plane? Whichever you mean, you haven’t said it clearly. Although the word in its new, free-floating capacity may be pleasurable and even useful to many, it offends the ear of many others, who do not like to see words dulled or eroded, particularly when the erosion leads to ambiguity, softness, or nonsense.

Read more at Everyday Ediths!

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Mothers are closer to God the Creator

It’s been three weeks now since Anni tagged me to participate in the #RockingMotherhood challenge.  I hadn’t forgotten about the challenge–I was just thinking.

Because it IS a challenge, in a society that’s hell bent on making mothers feel that they are never quite good enough, to focus on the positive.  And it can be intimidating to toot one’s own horn, especially since I just did not long ago.  Plus I am a perfectionist, and am far more likely to be berating myself for my motherhood failures than congratulating myself on my wins.

So to get myself in the proper frame of mind, I decided to ask the people who ought to really know the answer to this question: my family.

My big kids all wanted time to think up a good answer.  I’m still waiting. But William’s answer to the question: “How am I a good mother?” was just what I needed:  “How AREN’T you a good mother?”

Seriously, y’all, William is my biggest cheerleader.

Lorelei said, “You feed me,” but that’s a pretty low bar for motherhood, I have to say.  She did add, “You look at my pictures,” and allowed that I could translate that into, “You support my artistic pursuits,” which I think I can work with.

John had two answers, and since they were the two things I’d already thought of myself, I considered it a sign that I was on the right track.   (I marked those with a *)

So here, without further ado, is the list of some ways I am #RockingMotherhood.

  • I am a good advocate for my children.*  William has an IEP.  I show up at meetings with an intimidating-looking binder full of research/ammunition and an attitude.  Yes, I am That Mom.  I don’t care if anyone at the school likes me and some of them probably don’t, but most of them understand and appreciate parents who educate themselves and are engaged in their children’s education.  I was not always as good at this as I am now, which leads me to my next point . . .
  • I learn from my mistakes.  I am not under some kind of illusion that I know everything about parenting.  In fact, as the years go on I really feel like I know less and less.  I don’t see anything wrong with apologizing when I don’t get it right, or with changing my approach from kid to kid or even from week to week.
  • I have (mostly) figured out the truly important aspects of parenting teenagers.* You can read more about that here.
  • I know how to provide the right kind of support for my adult kids.  I didn’t tell my big kids where to go to college.  I didn’t tell them what classes to take or what to major in.  I don’t pry into their personal affairs or tell them more than once that I disagree with a choice they have made. I DO give advice when requested, feed them when they are hungry, help them with adult things they haven’t learned about yet, and provide financial support when requested if I can.
  • I celebrate and support my kids’ interests, even when I don’t share them.  It’s easy for me to support Emily’s interests in literature and writing, since I love those things too.  It’s harder to remain enthralled by William’s fascination with all things Godzilla.  But I listen and learn.  I consider it a privilege that my kids want to share their passions with me.  And you know what?  You can develop an interest in anything that is loved by the people you love, if you try hard enough.
  • I don’t live a life that revolves around my children.  My kids know that my relationship with their father is important and that he and I will be spending time away from them frequently.  They know that I need time alone.  They know that I have interests and passions and they are expected to pay attention if I want to share about those just as I listen when they tell me about their passions.
  • I model faith, morals, values, and principles.  My kids have seen me go to Mass every Sunday and they’ve watched me march for causes I believe in.  We have conversations about politics, ethics, philosophy, and theology.  They know I am a person of strong opinions and they know what I think about things.  With this foundation, they are learning how to think (not WHAT to think), and the importance of having their own strong beliefs in these areas and standing up for them.
  • I love my children and they KNOW that I love them.  That may sound like another baseline requirement for motherhood–and I truly believe it’s a rare mother who doesn’t love her child–but the second part is just as important.  They have to know they are loved, just as they are and no matter what.  They have to be hugged and kissed and listened to and affirmed, and I am confident that I have done all those things, notwithstanding the impatience and the screaming and the inconsistent discipline and all the many other mistakes that I have made.

Here’s where I tag other bloggers to participate in this #RockingMotherhood challenge!

I am nominating:

Yanique of Kiddie Matters

Kim of This Ole Mom

Kim of Knock It Off Kim

Crystal of So-So Mom

The “rules” are simple:

  1. Thank the blogger who tagged you, and provide a link back to them;
  2. List 10 things (plus, or minus) you believe make you a good mother;
  3. Tag some other bloggers to participate in the challenge.

I picked these ladies because I KNOW they are rocking motherhood–but there’s no punishment for not participating in the challenge!  And if you weren’t tagged, feel free to tell me how you rock right here in the comments.

And here, by the way, is my actual MEDAL for being a good mother–part of a custom necklace that my sister gave me for Christmas, made from an antique French medal still given out to mothers of many kids today.

mother award necklace

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