Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Gettin’ Ready

We’ve been wrestling with the idea of death at our house, lately.

It all started when Harrison asked why his friends all called him Harrison. The simple answer would have been, “Well, that’s your name, Goober Head. What else would you have them call you?”

I wanted him to be aware, however, of how special his name is. Harrison was named for my paternal Grandfather, a man who was very special in my life. He was what kids hope for in a grandparent—fun loving, full of interesting stories and knowledgeable tidbits and he had a huge capacity for love. He loved to sing and play his guitar and nothing tickled him as much as a good tall tale. He was human, which means that he wasn’t perfect, but from an adoring Granddaughter’s perspective, he couldn’t have been better. When I became pregnant with my first child, it was a no brainer that we would honor my Grandpa by naming my son after him.

This of course, tickled Grandpa to no end. He had several Josephs and Joes in the family, but no one had named their kid Harrison. When the baby arrived, he was as proud as a rooster of that tiny, blond boy. We got to visit Arkansas several times with Harrison before Grandpa died. On one of the most poignant visits, Harrison was just shy of a year old and had never had his hair cut. I decided to ask Grandpa if his barber might be interested in giving the baby his first hair cut so that he could say he had cut both Harrisons’ hair. Moving faster that I had seen him move in months—probably years—Grandpa jumped up, grabbed his cane and said, “Let’s drive into town!” An hour later, a very handsome little man-baby emerged and, tears staunched (he had gotten fed up with all the fussing about—I would have too!), smiled for the camera with his adoring Great-Grandpa.

So anyway, a few nights ago I wanted to make sure Harrison knew how important his name was and why his friends called him that. To all my explanations about name genesis, he asked, “Did he dead?”

“Yes, son, Great-Grandpa died when you were a little more than a year old.”

“Why did he dead—died?”

“Well, son, he had lived a long hand productive life and he was very, very old and it was just his time to go.”

“Am I going to died, Mommy?” He seemed particularly concerned about this one.

“Yes, baby, some day you will die too.”

“But I don’t want to died, Mommy!”

“I know, honey, but everyone has to die at some point. It’s the natural order of things—we all are born and we all have to die.”

“Are Nanny and Papa going to die?”

“Hopefully not for a very long time, son.”

By now, he was crying and I didn’t know how to dig us out of this hole we had dug. Robert called Harrison into the living room to talk to him. He explained that most people live a very long time and that there was nothing to be afraid of and tried to make Harrison as comfortable with the idea as he could. Harrison, by this time, had stumbled upon the idea that Mommy and Daddy were going to die some day, too. To put it lightly, it was a very emotional evening, but he was eventually calmed down and was made to understand that death happens to us all. He’s not happy about it, but I guess he more or less accepted it.

But now, out of the blue, he’ll ask again, “Mom, are Nanny and Papa going to die?” or “Mom, is that guy over there going to die?” We’ve gotten to the point that we tell him, “Yes, honey, but you don’t need to worry yourself over that now.” It all more or less blows over and he continues with whatever he was doing.

So today, we were leaving a friend’s house where we had gone to visit a new puppy. When we got back into the van, Harrison asked out of the blue, “Mom, are Nanny and Papa going to die?” so I gave him the ‘Yes, but don’t worry about it’ response and he was quiet for a few minutes. We saw one of our neighbors walking outside, and Harrison said, “He’s awfully old, isn’t he? His hair’s really gray!” I murmured my agreement and kept driving.

When we passed another neighbor, though, Harrison was much more definite about things. “Mom, he’s really old! He’s getting ready to die!”

There was a stop sign shortly thereafter so I  could collect my wits and do a few deep breaths before continuing on.

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