Every life makes an impact.
I am teaching this to my son. He's attended many funerals and memorial services. We talk about death frankly in ways he can process. It is my hope that he will see death as a part of life rather as something terrifying that is to be avoided at all costs. At four-years-old, he is death positive.
This summer he came running inside the house shouting that he had found a bird that needed help. I could see he had a bird cupped in his hands and together we gently hustled back outside to investigate - I surely didn't want a bird who was ill or injured to attempt to take flight in a house with animals who would have seen that as the best day ever.
We sat on the front step and he slowly opened his hands to reveal a sparrow.
"This bird needs help, Mom. What can we do?" he asked.
Oh, my sweet boy.
"This bird is dead; her body stopped working. We can't help her get better. We can say goodbye to her and thank her for the life she brought to our forest." I put my arm around him and held him tightly to me as I spoke in a whispered hush.
We arranged a small, quiet service for this lady bird. The Boy helped me to find leaves in which to wrap her tiny body.
We held her and thanked her for what she brought to our forest. We told her that while we didn't know her, we appreciated her song. We thanked her for being a part of our world.
We buried her. She has a place under a large maple tree. The Boy dug the hole himself with his boy-sized shovel. He filled the hole above her. He did it because he wanted to.
This is how we can begin to change the culture regarding death. This was a ceremony for us. It was a moment of reverence and reflection. Our focus was on caring for the body of this bird and acknowledging the beauty of her spirit.
Children can do this. While I appreciate that at four years of life experience and brain development, the permanence of death is something beyond The Boy's reach, I also know that being honest with him from the beginning feels right to me and honors him. This bird didn't "go to sleep."
For those of you who are curious, we also talked about why it's important not to pick up dead or injured animals and did a lot of washing of hands.
I see a lot of incredible moments of the human experience while being with families in love and grief. From each family I learn, and those lessons and points to ponder are what I wish to share with you here.