Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Life, or a reasonable facsimile

Everything takes on a sort of retroactive significance when someone dies. You look at pictures and automatically calculate how many days, months, weeks he had left when they were taken. The magazine on the table becomes not just a magazine, but The Last Thing He Read. When folding clothes, you think, He didn't know when he bought these that he was going to die. The universe is infinitely kind in not revealing the date of each person's demise in advance, because if everything we did was fraught with those sorts of thoughts when we did it, we would all be insane. Guaranteed.

Here's a good example: the day P died, he was wearing a T-shirt I got at my college graduation ceremony ten years ago. It was too big for me, so he immediately commandeered it as sleepwear, and every time he wore it, he'd joke about his "alma mater." Imagine if I had known that it was the shirt he was going to have on when he died. It doesn't bear thinking about. But then so many things don't these days.

I'm still not sure what G is thinking. She's mentioned P a few times, but very rarely. From the little she has said, I'm amazed at the depth of her understanding of what his absence means. Everything I've read about kids her age has said that they're just beginning to grasp death and may not really get it, but G appears to be totally grounded in reality. If I say something about P in the present tense, such as "Daddy likes this," she'll correct me: "You mean liked." Or she'll ask, "Was that when Daddy was still alive, or after?" She has no illusions about his coming back, which is a good thing, because it would be very hard to have to have that discussion over and over. On the other hand, it's a bit sad to see a little kid be so flatly realistic about death. I'm glad she understands, but I wish she didn't have to, at least not regarding her own father.

This weekend she went back to ballet class, and the night before, she asked me, "Did Miss Michelle tell the girls about July 2?" (This is how she refers to it, the way adults talk about Sept. 11. I suppose that makes sense, since to her it's the same sort of watershed date.)

"I told her about it," I said, "but I don't know if she told anyone else. Do you want her to?"


"If she didn't, do you want to tell them yourself?"


"What are you going to say?"

"I'll say that my dad died and we're all sad."

Luckily, it turned out that her dance teacher had told the class, so there wasn't any need for G to go into it. She wants people to know, but I don't think she's really comfortable about delivering the news herself. I think the parents of her non-school friends have already explained to them, and I've talked to her teacher from last year (he came to the funeral -- P was a room parent, and they knew each other well), but it'll be hard when school starts up again, especially since P and I both know a lot of the staff and kids through volunteering. G's teacher suggested that I notify the office and have them alert whichever teacher she's assigned to for next year, which sounds like a good plan. Poor G is going to have to explain forever that her dad died, but perhaps I can cut down on the amount of explaining she has to do right now.

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