Death, and the holes it leaves

I’ve been working on this post for long time and I’ve been thinking about it for even longer.  Soulemama’s recent post about the animal deaths their farm has experienced made me come back to this and finally tidy up my thoughts. This is the first of several posts on the topic.   

Death is on my mind often. It always has been. Some people tell me that’s unusual but I think it’s only unusual for our current cultural context. In past times, and in other parts of the world, death was and is an ever present companion to life. We in modern, urban, North America expect to avoid death for much of our lives. As children we are often blissfully unaware of the pain of grief because it rarely intrudes in our lives to make itself known.  

I grew up on a farm though and death was part of the annual cycle. We would buy piglets, calves, chicks, goslings, turkeys, etc. and then we would feed them, play with them, raise them, butcher them, and eat them. We could often tell you the name of our bacon. (Although my mother made a rule that we were never allowed to share that information with company when they came for dinner.) Death was not an enemy to be avoided, it was a natural part of life.  

When I seven our neighbours had a tragic farm accident that killed their toddler son. That same year my own little brother very nearly died when a cow trampled him. The two accidents bonded our families and so we grew up together. We camped together in the summer, shared Christmas and Thanksgiving meals, and lived as one extended family. And the hole of their missing boy was always there. It was not the sad, awkward, unspeakable thing you might think but rather a natural place in the family. His photos were up in the home alongside their other children. His most prized toys were out on display and he was spoken of easily and fairly often. He was still a member of the family but he was simply not present. I don’t deny that it was extremely sad, but it was just a part of the fabric of that home.  

And so death has always been on my mind. It’s in every moment, every relationship, every choice. It’s woven through life at every turn.  

I have always had a back up plan for if my husband dies. I have thought about memorial tattoos I might get for my parents and siblings. I know which possessions I would love to keep from my friends if they were to pass away. I know that the death of my daughter would break me forever. It is not inevitable and so it does no good to ignore it. Better to approach it as I would any challenge – think it through in advance, considering as many variables as possible, and have some sort of a plan (knowing that nothing ever goes as planned and that likely things would be much more complicated and difficult than I can anticipate.)

My daughter’s former daycare provider recently died in a car collision and we had to break the news to her. The babysitter was 36 years old, a mother of 6 beautiful children with the youngest being only a week younger than my 5 year old daughter, and she was an extremely loving person. After we had explained as much as we knew and established that our daughter wanted to attend the funeral visitation, we then asked if she had any questions. Very matter-of-fact she answered “yes I have one question. Who will be their mom now?” It was heart breaking to explain that they just won’t have a mom now but we explained that they each still have their dad, they have aunts and uncles, grandparents, and many people who love them. It has been several months now and she often speaks about her friends, and the fact that they don’t have a mother. Together we remember the woman who loved our girl and whom we loved in return. We acknowledge that she left a hole. 

I believe that the holes left behind speak to the worth of the ones who left them.  I am grateful for a childhood that taught me how to appreciate these grand canyons without falling in and being devoured  by grief. 

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