Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Going to the Cemetery

This is a cemetery, according to my three year olds, who have spent a good part of each day talking about death ever since my dad died suddenly three weeks ago.

I had a babysitter for several hours today -- thank god -- and she set them up to do car painting, their favorite art activity of the moment. Diecast cars take the place of brushes, and the little wheels make lovely tracks after being pushed through a puddle of paint, ideally with the accompaniment of vrooming noises. It's a great form of painting for small people who enjoy making big gestures.

I wasn't paying much attention, until I realized what they were saying about what they were doing. "We're going to the cemetery!" Nini was exclaiming. "This is the cemetery!"

It was just yesterday that I had finally explained to her what had happened to her grandfather's body after he died. Some instinct made me hold off from telling the kids about bodies or burial right away; right or wrong, it seemed like too much information for them to absorb, when they were just grappling with the initial shock of his unexpected death.

But Nini has been pondering it all a great deal, and two days ago, she asked me, "How come when a bug dies, you see it lying there, but when Grandpa Butch died, he was just gone?" I started to answer, but she gave me a worried look and ran off to do something else before I could.

So yesterday, during a moment of closeness, I told her about what happened to Grandpa Butch's body after death, how it was placed in a beautiful wooden box with soft cushions and buried beneath a tall oak tree. A little later, I told Desmond.

They had seen the spot; on our way leaving town to head back home, I wanted to visit the grave. The kids drove around the cemetery with my husband while I had some time alone. They asked lots of questions, he said, but at that point they still hadn't asked anything about what happened to their grandpa after death. So he talked about the cemetery as a special place where people go to remember those who have died, and wasn't any more specific than that.

Obviously, what I said made a big impression. It was pretty disconcerting to hear Nini today, calling out as Desmond painted, "This is the cemetery! Grandpa Butch is going to the cemetery!"

But I know this is part of their way of making peace with disturbing news.

And the painting, fittingly enough, turned out to be quite beautiful, full of color and feeling and grace.

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