Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dealing with Death

I recently contributed to the Modern Dads Podcast in an episode about loss and death.

The episode, entitled On Loss, has 5 dads (myself included) talking about the loss of a parent and how they explained it to their children.

It's a very moving episode about a hard topic, so be prepared with a couple of tissues when you listen to it. (My part comes about 6 minutes in, but listen to the whole thing.  It's only 18 minutes long, and it's wonderful.)  Other contributors include Lance Somerfeld (founder of CityDads) Whit Honea, Jason Greene, and Josh Kross, who originated the idea.

I've included the text of what I contributed below the podcast embed if you are interested in reading it.

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Dealing with Death by Adam Gertsacov

Me and my dad
My parents never knew my son.  My dad died when I was 22 in a car accident, and my mom died  22 years later, about 10 days after we found out we were pregnant (But before we told anyone) 

My son does have both (or rather all three) of his grandparents on my wife’s side, and up until he was about 4, his great grandparents on my wife's side were also intact.  So he knows about grandparents,

My mom Karel Gertsacov
I wanted him to know about my parents, so from the time he was small, I’ve been telling him stories about my dad and about my mom.  When we’ve visited Rhode Island, we’ve gone to their gravesites and laid stones on their graves (as is the Jewish custom).

 When he was four and a half, his great grandfather (Great Hank) passed away at the age of 98.  My son knew him, in the way that you know all your elderly relatives when you are a kid.  You say hello, you were polite, you hoped for a dollar.  

 We traveled from NY to the funeral, and although we weren’t sure, we decided to bring him to the funeral (and to the interment) with us.

My wife and I talked about it, and we decided we wouldn’t sugar coat death or make up weird stories about how Great Hank was on an extended vacation. We decided to talk to him about it, maybe not with all the gory details, but to answer any questions that he had, to let him participate in the process. We felt that not talking about it, or talking down to him about it, would do everybody involved, including him and the deceased person, a dis-service.

At the cemetery my son was sad but very matter of fact about it, and it didn’t seem to phase him too much.  Great Hank was here, and now he’s not.  He’s in the box in the ground.  Dad, you are sad.  Mom is crying. Can I give you a hug? Can I go  play now?

Great Hank
I thought that maybe he didn’t understand the permanence of death, but about 6 months later, we were in the car driving home from kindergarten, and he started asking me questions about my mom’s funeral, and if she was in a box too, like Great Hank.  And if one day I would be in a box, if he would be in a box.

I answered him straightforwardly, forthrightly, yes, everybody dies, I’m going to die, you are going to die, mom is going to die,  but it’s a long way away, and you can’t worry about it now.

He thought about it for a minute and then said, “Dad, when you are in a box I will come and visit you.” 

I nearly swerved off the road.

Joey The Cat
About 6 months after that our cat Joey died.  He didn’t go into a box, but he got made into ashes that we spread across the farm he was born on in Indiana.

There were tears and there was sadness but my son, now age five and a half, knew the score.

And still now, two years later, we talk about my mom, and about Great Hank, and about Joey the cat with the fondest of memories.


Mom Knows Best said...

It is tough to talk about death. You did a good job with your son.