Death and Parenting: My Wakeup Call

I learned of two deaths today, and I don't even live in a retirement home.  My 94 year old grandmother is accustomed to such notifications.  When she sees a rose in the lobby of her building, signifying that someone has passed, she says, "Let's see who died" in the same tone she might use when suggesting we check the dinner menu.

But I am a spring chicken and not accustomed to hearing of people passing.  The first death I heard about today was the father of a neighbor.  I hadn't realized he was so sick and feel bad that I haven't been in more contact with the family during what was certainly a difficult time leading up to his death.

The second death I learned of today was that of someone who works for my company.  We got an internal email late this morning informing us that "Alex" had died.  I literally gasped when I read it since I worked with and was friends with him years ago.  I've worked for the same company in the same department for over 20 years.  During that time, a lot of people have come and gone, many of whom I don't remember, but I remember the people I started with.

There were a number of us from work who were friends, everyone young and child free.  We would get together as a group outside of work for this and that, and we all knew everything about each other.  A couple years after I started, Alex moved on to a different job but landed back at my company, although we didn't work together again.  We fell out of touch as people do.  Friends move in and out of your life through the years.

A few years ago, I ran into Alex in the lobby of our building and we chatted for a few minutes.  He had gotten married and had twins, a boy and a girl.  At some point I saw his picture in our company newsletter for something, but in general I didn't really have reason to think about Alex one way or the other.

Until I read that he died.  I quickly started doing some investigating and soon found out that he died of cancer.  His twins were 9 or 10 years old, and an 18-month old had been added to the family.  He had just turned 48.

I also found that his wife, whom I have never met, is a bloggist like myself.  I started reading her blog and her very honest chronicle of the confusing, heartbreaking path toward the inevitable end of her husband's life a few days ago.  Of course she was grieving for herself, but she was particularly sad about the father that her twins were losing and the father that her 18-month old probably won't remember.

I've been to a couple funerals in the past few years for parents who have died in their thirties and forties, leaving behind preschool aged kids, and it truly is heartbreaking for all involved.

When I print my family's weekly calendar, it usually looks pretty much the same.  One daughter has track practice every day.  My son has volleyball practice several nights a week.  Another daughter has religious ed.  The only variables are orthodontist appointments and actual track meets and volleyball tournaments.  During a good week, the cleaning lady comes.

But all days and weeks are not the same.  There is no doubt that Alex's wife would not consider a day mundane if she had her kids' father as part of it, no matter what was or was not happening.  Sometimes I focus too much on the "big" things--vacations or special outings--when I could really find special things about regular days if I paid attention.

Can I make my kids smile or laugh in a day?  I know they can always make me smile.  Can I pick up on a mood and what's behind it?  Can I do something nice for them that might, in turn, make them do something nice?  Did I give each of them a hug?

Everything feels like a cliche or lyrics to a song, but they're all true.  Make the best of what's around.  You don't know what you've got til it's gone.  It's the little things.

If this seems sad and depressing, it's really more reflective.  It shouldn't take the death of someone I once knew to wake me up, but sometimes it does.  And now if you don't mind, I'm off to pick up my son from practice.  If he's not too distracted by his hunger, maybe we'll have a nice chat on the way home.

Filed under: Parenting

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