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The Family Room by Michelle Martin

November 8, 2009

Day of the dead

My kids don’t have a whole lot of experience with death.

There was One Fish, of course — the bowl-mate of Two Fish, who eventually morphed into Three Fish and Four Fish without any undue attention being drawn to the fact.

A little more than a year ago, our dog Kirby died. We made the decision to have him put down as cancer robbed him of his appetite, his mobility and finally his joy in life. Frank has memorialized him with a drawing taped on to his bedroom door, marked with a sign that clearly directs, “Don’t take this down.”

But as for actual people that they know, there have not been that many who have died. The only one I can think of offhand is their great-grandfather, whose death they accepted with a little bit of sadness, but no shock or tears. He had been sick for a while, outlived his original prognosis and died at home in bed.

He just didn’t get up one morning. As deaths go, it tended to reinforce their childlike belief that death is something that happens to old people, not to them or those on whom they depend.

So why did Frank go through a phase where death seemed to weigh heavily on his mind?

For a couple of years, he often asked whether he would die, whether I would die, whether people we know would die.

I would always tell him yes, everyone who is alive will die. It’s the natural order of things on this earth. But, I would reassure him, I didn’t expect either one of us to die anytime soon, and even after I died, I assured him, I would still love him.

As he got older, he had his own contributions to make to the conversation. He soon told me that he would love me more than ever when we were together in heaven, and that even when I died, we wouldn’t be separated for long.

He may have only been 5 or 6, but what he was talking about was the communion of saints, the Catholic belief that all people, living and dead, are connected to one another, and that we can still interact, praying for those we love who have died, and praying to them for their intercession. They, in turn, can pray for us.

November is when the year starts to turn dark, the blaze of autumn color gives way to bare branches and bleak skies and the thoughts of people the world over (at least in the northern hemisphere) turn to death.

But it is also the time when we give thanks: for another productive year, for our families, for our lives. And for those who remind us that this life isn’t the only one we have.  

Martin is assistant editor of the Catholic New World. Contact her at [email protected].