My almost 90 year old grandmother moved into a retirement home a few weeks ago. It was inevitable and a couple of years overdue. I won't go into the boring family saga behind this move.
It has been interesting to watch Will's reaction to our visits to the home. Whereas before, when he was much younger and we would visit my other grandmother at the nursing home, he would simply be bored and uncomfortable. Now he is thinking about the meaning of this place; a place filled with old people. "Why are there so many old people here?" he constantly asks.
I can feel his brain working things out. He has asked if he'll be living in a place like this one day. As a parent it is difficult and confronting to discuss such things with a 9 year old. I believe in simple honesty with children. Not too much information but small facts and the truth about not knowing what the future holds.
I don't want to fear old age and death; they are a natural part of life. The alternative is dying young and that isn't any better. When I talk to Will about old age and sickness and death I want to give him a simple version of my beliefs without making it sound scary. Sometimes I feel the words weighing heavy as they leave my mouth and I wonder what he makes of them. But I am never tempted to shy away from the truth or to sugar coat it for him (too much).
Possibly believing in God and a Bible-inspired afterlife may make such conversations easier but I don't have that crutch to lean on. I don't wish for that support structure in my life (though I do have moments of envy for people who have it).
My dad said he admires that I take the children to visit my grandmother and talk to them about aging and death. He says when he was a child (and even when I was) adults kept such things away from children, afraid of superstitions and jinxes, tempting fate, etc. I simply can not see the point of shying away from what is an inescapable part of life, though I do see it would be easier for me not take the children to the old people's home, not to talk to them about such sad things. But happiness and sadness are all part of a rich life; like day and night and Summer and Winter.
I wonder whether us weird and wonderful human beings would treasure life quite so much if we were immortal, if the end point of death was not in the equation. I think not. I hope for my children a love of life, an enjoyment of the everyday and an acceptance of the brief and temporary nature of our individual existence.