Sunday, September 18, 2011

Death and Axes

Our neighbor had a tree cut down a couple of weeks ago. She's lived alone the last several years as her husband has Alzheimer's disease and she could not care for him in their home. She visits him every night at the nursing home where he lives. I've always thought her a hard woman, often expressionless or if an expression leaked out it would be a sour one. Her lack of humor was evident when, at our wedding reception, she spat out that she hoped we wouldn't be having any more parties. Craig and I never hosted a party before we got married, and since then we've hosted only kids' birthday parties. Except that one time we hosted my dad's 60th birthday party and let me tell you THAT was wild time. I still have no clue what she was talking about.
Anywho. She asked Craig if he wanted the wood from the tree. We don't have a fireplace, but Craig likes to have campfires with the Bigs in the summertime. He also likes to help friends out when they need wood. He finds splitting wood therapeutic I think. Something about the rhythm of swinging the axe, the satisfying thud of the axe striking wood; the gratifying crunch of the wood splintering into two.
When I was the assistant manager at a shoe store I always liked "running" shoes. We'd put all of one style together in size order and as things got sold and new stock came in you had to move the stock on the shelves in a certain pattern to get everything out on the sales floor and in order. It was sometimes a math equation to figure out how high boxes would need to be stacked to get all the new stock in. It wasn't the math or even the new shoes (though I did enjoy seeing all the new styles first!) that satisfied me so much. It was watching the somewhat haphazard shelves becoming neat again. I could SEE the result of my work. I expect this is the type of gratification that draws one to become a carpenter or a road worker. Tangible results.
The neighbor's tree was brought down at a "good" time. Craig's favorite aunt, who has been sick for several years now took an ultimate turn for the worse right around that time. I imagine splitting wood offers time for reflection. If I were strong enough, I could see myself throwing the axe into an offending log and working out anger toward life in its complete lack of courtesy.
For my kids, the death of this aunt is the first death of someone they knew (however briefly, however limited in contact...she was sick most of the time they've known her). My son took the news of her death surprisingly hard, though in retrospect I shouldn't have been surprised. He has a very sensitive soul. He wept, loudly and openly, that he didn't get to tell her goodbye. We'd thought it best that the kids didn't see her after their first visit to the hospital this last time. She held on for more than a week after the hospitalization before she passed. I know the Bigs thought this would be like all the other hospitalizations before. She was sick, but she'd get better.
M, as the oldest Big, has obviously known this aunt the longest. The first time she got sick and ended up in the hospital, M went with Craig to visit her and was unfazed every time by the tubes, sounds and smells of hospitals. I was so proud of how she acted then and now. She drew pictures and talked to Jean as if we were visiting her in her home. M seems to be taking the news of her death pretty well, but I'm guessing there will be fallout soon. The funeral/memorial service is on Saturday. We'll take the kids. The Bigs, Craig and I will probably cry. Some of us more than others because we're just big cry babies.
Death is a part of living. I know my kids will learn to know this fact. I also know that how their parents handle death and grieving will influence how they handle it. I'm hoping I can guide my kids through this first experience with grace.

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