Ask a child if she’s lost someone special and, if she has, she’ll tell you all about it. From the red rose Uncle Frederick tossed on the casket to the mac and cheese that tasted like poster board. From the ride to the cemetery in the long, sad car to the endless xbox games the adults offered to keep the children quiet. Most children are like faucets when it comes to losing a loved one. Turn them on and watch the water gush all over the kitchen counter and onto the floor. Adults are an entirely different book. Most of us have been taught that death is not something you talk about. If it’s discussed at all, it’s quickly pushed beneath the quilt of inappropriate conversation or packed up and shipped off to the therapist’s office. When we are allowed to talk about our grief, we often feel there’s an invisible timer ticking away, the buzzer ready to stop us short at any moment. Let’s ruminate a while on this. Why is it that children, when asked, seem to feel it’s okay to talk about their grief? Is it that they haven’t yet been taught that mourning is somehow wrong and therefore shouldn’t last very long and should never be openly expressed? Or could it be that they see the foolishness of our death-fear, our don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy? Whatever the underlying reason, I must say I am glad our terror takes a while before totally corrupting our young. When I visit schools and perform poems about losing folks I love, the students pull themselves near me wanting to hear every word, drink every drop. How did your mother die? How did her death change you? Do you talk about her to your children? It’s as if they’ve been waiting all their lives for this moment to talk about how this feels, the weight of their sadness. It’s bittersweet. I’m glad they have me to open up to but I know eventually they’ll join us adults in Tight-Lip land. They will learn that there are some things we don’t talk about. There are times when there are no toys but you still must pretend. Tears are noisy neighbors best left at home. Sadness has a time limit. Kids are so wise. Until we dig our claws into them they understand that talking about what hurts is good medicine. Playing a game or two when you’re sad can sometimes make you feel better. When someone asks you what’s wrong, you should tell them. And mac and cheese should never, ever taste like poster board. Will we ever learn?
%d bloggers like this: