Monday, January 07, 2008

Doing the Hard Thing

What a sorrow-filled day, and yet incongruently a celebratory day as well. We attended the funeral of our 8 year old friend this morning, how in the world can something like that be anything but gut-wrenching?

We had a dilemma with this, as did many of our Scout parents who struggled with the decision of bringing their children to the service or not. Most of our boys are 7-9 years old, which is so young to be witness to something so desperately sad. Each child is different, each child handles things in their own way. It also is hard to know at this age when it is time for real life to start being introduced and when it is time to continue to protect their innocence just a little longer.

In our case, we quickly came to the conclusion that Kenny was simply too emotionally immature to attend...we couldn't count on him to act appropriately and understand the solemnity of the occasion. Josh is tender hearted and too young to handle it well. Matthew was the one we were uncertain about.

We ultimately decided to let him lead us a bit on this, to steer us down the right path. I hated that his first real encounter with death was with someone his own age...that seems so wrong, so out of order. But here we were, faced with this situation and having to make a decision. The night before the service we sat him down alone and had a long talk with him.

Matthew had already hinted a little that he might want to go, but was obviously uncomfortable with not knowing what might happen. We explained what would happen there, that everyone would likely be crying at some point during the service because it is all so terribly sad, we talked about what it means to the family to know their child was loved and cared about by people other than themselves...and frankly I told him that sometimes doing the "hard thing" is the right thing because sometimes we need to put others feelings and needs before our own...but that I also totally understood if he felt he wasn't ready for this, if he wasn't up to facing that much sorrow. I also told him that Daddy and I would most definitely probably be crying, but that those tears are also important and nothing to be ashamed of, that if he cried it was ok and if he didn't it was ok too...but that the tears were also not just about his friend dying, but that his happy little smile had brightened our life and we were filled with joy that he had lived at least 8 years so we could get to know him. At that Matthew smiled widely himself and said "He was always smiling, wasn't he? He never got mad or anything that I ever remember!" and then he looked up at me and quietly said "I really do want to go I think...I know if I died I'd want my friends to come and remember me.".

So off we went this morning, all 3 of us not saying much, each of us lost in our own thoughts. We parked the car and walked through the snowy streets under the deep gray skies, all the while feeling the weight of our final destination. We stood in line along with the many grieving family members and friends, and as we came to the podium where the guest book awaited our signature I had a very hard time holding it together when there, sitting right next to the book, was the Christmas ornament this little boy had made in Cub Scouts a mere 4 weeks earlier, his name and the year emblazoned across it. Oh, if time could only be turned back. Who would have ever guessed it would be his last Christmas?

The service was lovely, a wonderful way to remember a special little boy. I found myself quietly crying throughout, my arms wrapped tightly around Matthew as if I could ever truly protect him from something as tragic as this...knowing full well that if God ever called any of my children home to be with Him I would be powerless to stop it.

After the service we left, Matthew leaning into Dominick and I as we found our way back to the car, asking me quietly if I was ok as I in return asked him the same thing. He said it wasn't as scary as he had expected it to be, but that it was very sad. The discussion then turned to the practical aspects of death...what happens to the body before and after they put it in the casket, who gives them the clothes and dresses the body. We talked about how hard it would be for his family for a really long time, that even though they knew he was in heaven they would miss seeing him every day. We also talked about how people are so uncomfortable with death that they often avoid talking about the person who died, and that sometimes that can make the family left behind feel as if their loved one wasn't important...that it is ok to talk about someone who has died, to rejoice in their life...and that ignoring someones loss because we feel uncomfortable about it can be unkind, and that it takes courage to "do the hard thing", which really has become a core value of our family.

I find I am often caught between wanting to protect my children, and knowing they have to grow up eventually. I was proud of Matthew for making the decision he made, and yet I wondered if this was just a little too much while still too young. I reminded myself though that my job as his mom is not necessarily to protect him from the normal, natural things that occur in life...and death is certainly one of those things...but to walk with him hand and hand right through those events, offering him support and encouragement, and setting the example for him. Our society has mystified death, has so distanced itself from it that death feels unnatural, even though each and every one of us will eventually find ourselves experiencing the same fate. I am not sure that is a good thing, but then when we have a society that medicates itself for every possible uncomfortable situation under the sun I guess it is natural for us to want to turn tail and run rather than face the grief and sadness that accompanies a loss.

So tomorrow I am officially starting 2008 all over again in the hopes that the remainder of the year will prove to be happier than the first week has been. We will leave the illness and sadness where it belongs and move forward. Saturday I received paperwork in the mail to begin our final adoption, and as overwhelming as that seems at the moment it is time to dig in and get to work. We have winter to get through with weather delays and flight cancellations and long drives through snow packed roads. We have elk to avoid (saw a HUGE one on the road the other day) and much planning ahead. I never really make serious New Year's resolutions, but I think I am going to do so here:

1. I will make more of an effort to let those who are important to me know that they hold a special place in my heart. I will show more appreciation to those who touch our lives.

2. I will trust in God, I will not question His guidance even when others think we have gone stark raving mad.

3. I will work harder at letting go of the things in life that are not important, and embracing all that is.

4. I will make more time for me, carving out an hour here or there to go out with my camera, to read a good novel, to go for a walk. I will rejuvenate more frequently so I can give more to others without feeling hollowed out.

5. I will blaze through adoption paperwork faster than I ever have before.

6. I will be more complimentary of my husband, who really deserves it.

7. I will drink less Diet Coke. Ok, maybe not significantly less, but a little less.

8. I will blog more frequently.

9. I will work hard at not being a pious, judgmental, holier-than-thou Christian, but a more real, touchable, down-to-earth Christian. Without preaching I will make every effort to have others see how God has worked in my life and continues to do so on an hourly basis.

10. I will keep the inside of my car clean enough not to be embarrassed when someone else gets in it.

OK..#10 may be a flat out impossibility, but I'll work on it!

So here is to "doing the hard thing", here is to 2008 and all it will bring with it.


DG said...

This is a lovely blog, and the posts very touching...I was crying a little myself when I was reading about the loss of your little friend, and learned a lot about how to really deal with children when under extreme emotionally trying situations.

Thankyou for sharing, and hope the rest of 2008 is a year full of blessings for you.

Karen said...

What a powerful post. I love what you wrote about not necessarily protecting your child, but walking with him hand in hand with encouragement and support. That is exactly how I hope to raise our son. My thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

Mom to 2 Angels said...

It is so hard to decide what to protect them from and how long. It sounds like you guys made the absolute right decision for your family and Matthew understood he was showing respect for his friend and would want the same done for him. BTW, I so hear you on your #10 goal, I am HORRIBLE at this one and it drives my husband crazy! Happy Second New Year.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, again, for sharing your heart with all of us. We also deal with the protection vs. teaching issues on many levels for our two seven-year olds: mental and physical illness, racial issues (the kids are learning about segregation in history in school, and it's very hard to explain), dangers (as in, most people are good, but some are bad), internet use (why all internet use must be carefully supervised by parents), rude language, parents slapping children (which they saw in a store a year ago and still remember), rude drivers, etc. And then there are all the questions about adoption and what it means to them. But in the end, as much as I want to protect their innocence, I think their best protection is to gently and lovingly expose them to the tough issues in life so they will one day be prepared to walk on their own. And of course, teaching that trusting God and following Him as best we can is the best protection of all.

On the car issue... I'll trade with you anytime... You should see our van after a car trip!

Love and blessings from friends in Virginia

Laura said...

It is so hard to understand how a life can be lost so young. I think that you made the right choice in taking Matthew so that he could honor and pay respects to his friend. Matthew sounds like such a mature boy with a heart of gold.

Jamie said...

We are so sorry for the loss of your little friend, and we are keeping your family and his family on our prayers. I think you did an amazing job guiding your children through this, especially Matthew. I lost one of my best friends between 1st and 2nd grade I think it was. My parents did not allow me to go to the funeral..I am sure they were trying to act in my best interests. I have always regretted that...missing the chance to tell her goodbye. I know it was a hard thing for Matthew to do, but I am sure it impacted him, and that it will help shape him into an even more caring young man. I hope that the rest of January brings you great joy! Congrats on the newest adoption...we wish you a speedy process!