Death and Division


There are some nights Miss Diva might claim that math is going to kill her, but last night was not one of them. As I explained the intricacies of dividing decimals, I got a call. Truthfully, I had been expecting it, as my aunt’s health had spiraled quickly down in the last month. After the call, as she worked her math problems, Miss Diva proceeded to quiz me on whom I had been talking to. So, I shared the sad news.

It’s an interesting thing, the way children attempt to grasp the concept of death. At about two, Miss Diva went “fishing” in the fish tank and accidentally killed one of the goldfish. She didn’t even notice. At three or four she spotted a dead bird outside and for weeks after was obsessed by it. It upset her greatly to learn that no amount of poking it with a stick would make it get up and that Mommy could not make it better. Even after the carcass was discarded, she’d walk by the spot and comment on the poor bird. Sometimes I got another round of “20 Questions on Death”. At 6 we had the tragic loss of two healthy young pets back-to-back, and she mourned her cat long after other kitties joined the family. We had other minor pet tragedies, which led to my rule of no prey animals in a house full of predators. That just doesn’t end well.

A close friend of mine, whom she had met, died a couple of years ago, which again presented another situation where the children asked me about death. The friend was older than me, but not more than 12-15 years or so. That sparked the question, “How old do you have to be to die?”

Needless to say, learning that even babies not yet born or just born can die is sobering. In the way of children though, these grim thoughts are quickly forgotten.

“How old was Aunt K?”

“About 78, I think.”

“That’s not old!”

I was a bit surprised by Miss Diva’s response, because the way the kids talk, one would think I’m ancient. “Well, maybe not like REALLY old, but yes, that’s definitely old.”

“But Grandpa is 76 and he’s just fine!”

The light dawned. I agreed that yes he was (which may be a bit of a stretch, as he has chronic health issues, but that’s not for her to worry over), but sometimes at that age if people get sick, it’s a whole lot harder to get better. She then proceeded to ask me about Aunt K.

She, and her brother and sister had met my Aunt briefly a handful of times. When I explained that my aunt had Alzheimer’s and could not remember anything anymore, that was yet another shocker for Miss Diva. I explained how the disease damages brain cells so that the brain doesn’t work right,  and she’d had it for quite some time.

Our conversation was terminated by Miss Drama’s request for assistance on her project. I know Miss Diva isn’t very upset, because she was not close to my aunt. She’ll store the information and go back to her usual youthful immortal view.

Meanwhile I think on the handful of visits I had with my aunt and wonder how much of her is in me. Is that sometimes overly pragmatic streak from her? What was she like at my age? At the same time I look at Miss Diva and her siblings and distinctly recall being their ages. Time stretches infinitely in both directions and I’m just a microscopic blip.

Yet, I’m connected with my mother, aunts, grandparents, and legions of cousins and ancestors, as are my children and all those who will come after. It is both humbling to face your mortality and amazing to see the connections that extend far beyond imagining.

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