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.
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
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 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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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:
- Thank the blogger who tagged you, and provide a link back to them;
- List 10 things (plus, or minus) you believe make you a good mother;
- 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.
Until very recently, worry and anxiety have not been challenges for me. I have the kind of mind that just doesn’t hold on the those kinds of things. Unlike my husband, who is consumed with worry pretty much all the time, making him miserable, I have always been able to put problems aside to deal with whatever is right in front of me.
Lately, I’ve suffered from anxiety of the free-floating variety. Because it isn’t rational, it doesn’t respond to rational techniques. I tend to treat it by whiffing essential oils or going outside to sit in the sun. What’s worse is when it attaches itself to legitimate areas of worry that I would have been able to put out of my mind in the past. When that happens, and chanting my usual mantra (Cast your cares on God; that anchor holds.) isn’t working, there is one Scripture passage I turn to.
You know the jokes about Catholics–we don’t read our Bibles and we can’t quote chapter and verse like our Protestant brethren. Of course that’s not true of all Catholics, and the fact is that most of us are exposed to a lot of Scripture via the Mass readings. According to this source, a Catholic who attends Mass on Sundays and major feasts will hear about 41% of the New Testament and 4% of the Old (that doesn’t count the Psalms), even if they never crack open a Bible at home or in a study group.
So I know lots of Scripture, even if I don’t always know exactly where to find it. But I always remember that the passage about anxiety is in the book of Matthew, Chapter 6:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.
Even if I have trouble believing it right in the moment, I know that if Jesus said it, it must be true. Even if I can’t see how, I know He is working all things out for my good. Even though I can’t always manage it, I want to live as though I really, REALLY believe these words all the time.
And thanks to a new prayer practice I adopted this Lent, I am growing in this area. More than once, after I have shared my anxieties with God in my prayer journal, insight, answers, and comfort have followed within days. I find my thoughts turning toward journaling when I am facing a knotty problem in my life or when I am overcome with worries and anxiety. I find myself really trusting that it is all in God’s hands.
This post is part of the Catholic Women’s Blogger Network Blog Hop. For more articles on faith and worry, click below.
In thinking about what I could add to the discussion of sacrifice, having come late to the party and drawing the last spot of the month, I turned to one of my favorite sources for information: the dictionary.
Quickly I found myself falling down an etymological rabbit hole that only an English Major (yes, that would be me!) could love. This isn’t a scholarly article and I wouldn’t want to bore you anyway, but my investigation did suggest a line of approach to the topic of sacrifice.
To simplify, the roots of the word “sacrifice” are a noun meaning “holy” and a verb meaning “to make.”
Read the rest at Everyday Ediths!
Five years ago, I participated in an exercise in which bloggers were challenged to post a list of what they liked about themselves. The premise was that most women are a lot better at self-criticism than self-praise, that we are always focused on the ways in which we don’t measure up rather than on how we excel.
The originator of that challenge, Elena Sonnino, decided that this year would be a good time to reboot it. So I’ve had to come up with a new list to share. I’ve decided five makes a nice round number that is manageable with today’s writing schedule, so without further ado:
- I like the strength of my body. I’ve given birth to five children, including my 13 pound 5 ounce son who was born vaginally after three C-sections (which is a major abdominal surgery, not a walk in the park). I hiked all 40 miles of the Urban Wilderness trails. I work in the garden, I lift weights, I can move heavy boxes.
- I am awesome legal assistant to my husband. I write killer legal pleadings, research law, and run the office. Other than the guidance I nave received from him by asking questions and reviewing the pleadings he had written in the past, I’m completely self-taught.
- I am fluent in computers and social media. I may not be able to turn on the television, but even my adult kids have been known to ask me to figure out why their laptops aren’t running smoothly. I am active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+. I even have a Snapchat but I may have hit a wall on that. 😉
- I am an excellent advocate for my children. I am not afraid to be That Mom, in fact at this point I am used to it. I go to every meeting and conference (and after 21 years of kids in school that adds up to a scary amount). I have an intimidating binder to carry to IEP meetings. I’m not afraid to ask pointed questions, send emails, go over people’s heads, and let school personnel know I’ve done my research–or to be completely honest, even when I am afraid I don’t let it stop me.
- I’m a good cook. I enjoy preparing Blue Apron dinners but in everyday life I don’t need recipes. I am a champion pie baker and my birthday cakes are legendary. I have that natural ability to combine ingredients in my head to improvise meals–and John says those meals are the best ones.
Wow, that sounds like a lot of bragging! I think I will stop at five this go round.
Now, another thing I know is that YOU have gifts also. Even if you aren’t used to thinking about them! In fact, if it’s hard for you to come up with your own list, or if it makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s all the more reason you should do it. Write your own list! Post it on your blog, or Facebook or Instagram if you aren’t a blogger. And if you do it, link it up right here.