Scenes from My Memoir: On Death, Baby Possums, Golden Retrievers, and Caskets

April 5, 2013 — 1 Comment

Scenes from my memoir pin

I’ve been dealing with dead animals lately.

I decided to make a resurrection garden with the kids as a fun and informative craft leading up to Easter. After our trip to Wal-Mart to gather the needed supplies, we all walked into the back yard to start digging in the dirt. We found a dead baby possum instead, which makes talking about “Resurrection,” “New life,” and “The tomb being empty,” a rather awkward conversation.

Cause of death? Loved by a golden retriever.


Things you Need to Know about Golden Retrievers:

1) They shed a lot. Like a lot. Like mountains of long, golden, wispy hairs all over the hardwood floors. Like lie down on the carpet stand up with a fur coat kind of shedding.

2) They are lovers not fighters. (This is the part that makes #1 bearable.)

Goldens are built for play. Give a golden a tennis ball, and he’s your biggest fan for life. So, when a golden retriever like our sweet boy Sam finds a mouse or a baby possum, or just this morning, a squirrel, he can’t help but get excited about having a new toy and also friend. He tosses his friend in the air. He plays hide-and-seek with his new friend. He carries his friend around in his mouth. He bats his friend around with his paws. Eventually, the poor critter dies a slow, slobbery, suffocating death. It’s a death by love. If my life were a Steinbeck novel, Sam would be Lenny. He just doesn’t understand when to stop petting.

It’s a lot like this:

In a way, this is a nice death for me. Instead of having to clean up squirrel parts throughout the yard, I only have to pick up one stock-still, slobbered to death rodent with a shovel. It’s almost convenient.

Anyway, the boys have been amazed by dead things in the yard and how to properly dispose of them. All this burial talk reminded me of the time my son Parker stared death in the face and didn’t find it at all scary. It’s a story that’s been off of the Internets for too long.

Taking Your Children to Funeral Homes: A Cautionary Tale

Almost two years ago, my husband’s grandfather passed away. He was 90 years old. He had lived a great life, and he died peacefully. On the way to the funeral, Tyler and I discussed how we would talk about this with our sons.

Following our parenting mantra that usually the simplest and most truthful explanation works best, we decided not to worry too much about our three-year-old (Parker). We would keep him informed about the basics without going into graphic detail. Then, for our five-year-old (Keynan), we would take him to the visitation and burial service, but not worry about the funeral service at the church.

During the visitation at the funeral home, I stayed with Parker and our baby girl in the parlor area. My husband took Keynan into the visitation room. Tyler explained the casket and the body situation along with our beliefs about God and Heaven and such. Keynan took it well, asking a few questions before saying he’d like to go back and look at the fish aquarium in the parlor. At this point, Tyler’s uncle volunteered to watch the boys, so that I could go to the visitation room myself. I thanked him and walked into the room. I paid my respects at the casket, and then started talking to other family members.

Meanwhile, back at the parlor, “keeping watch” to Tyler’s uncle actually meant “going exploring.” With two mischievous boys. At a funeral home. They were racing down the empty corridors, giggling and laughing along the way. Of course, after awhile, my energetic Parker bounced into the visitation room, free from the supervision of his uncle. Before I could get to him, Parker ran up to the casket and pulled up at the opening to get a better look at what was inside the giant box in the room.

Standing on tip toes, Parker peeped into the casket, and then blurted out, “Hey, that’s Grandaddy! Dad, did you see Grandaddy?!”

Tyler and I looked at each other in mutual understanding. “Welp, here we go.”

Tyler picked Parker up, and quietly talked to him, (I’m not sure what he said). Parker listened with intensity and absolute curiosity. In a few minutes, he started a conversation, shaking his head for emphasis, “Grandaddy was sick, but now he DEAD. Grandaddy’s right there, and he DEAD. That’s my Grandaddy. He DEAD! Mom! Did you see Grandaddy?! He DEAD!!!” He handled the whole thing with seriousness, but he was also pretty matter-of-fact about it. Obviously. And he wasn’t traumatized in the least.

Lessons Learned: Don’t underestimate a child’s capacity to understand death. Don’t let Tyler’s uncle be in charge of pre-schoolers.

Kelly Wiggains

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Kelly Wiggains, a high school English teacher turned homeschooling mom, likes to surround herself with good literature, beautiful things, and big ideas, and she wants her home to reflect those things, too. Here at she talks about everything From Literature to Living., 5 eBooks for $7.40!