One conversation that I find difficult to have with my children is the death conversation. People die every day; we all know that death is a part of life. But none of us want death to be a part of OUR lives. That’s part of human nature. That’s part of survival.
Even though we learn through the gospel that there is a better place that we will go upon our earthly demise, we can’t grasp the concept that being away from our loved ones would be better than some other place, even if that place is called heaven. And even if heaven is as amazing as Jesus describes, how do I know that that’s where I’m going?
All of these questions came up in my family this past week because I had chest pains and high blood pressure that resulted in a not-so-complimentary stay in the hospital for four days. I’m much better now and am undergoing treatment for my new set of health issues. The larger issue arose when my girls started asking me: Mom, are you having a heart attack? Are you going to die?
It’s the first time they’ve been faced with my or my husband’s mortality in a way they could feel deeply. They were scared, and they didn’t know what to do when they found out each day that no, I can’t come home today. On the first night, when they visited me, my youngest said “Mom, all I could do is pray.”
I nodded and hugged her tight. That’s what we always do as a family when something happens that we can’t control or explain. We pray. We pray for people in car accidents, homeless people we see on the streets, the kid who can’t stop crying in line in the grocery store. We make up our own prayers or pray The Lord’s Prayer. I shared the prayer for the sick with them and showed them how to look up prayers at The Book of Common Prayer online. Their relief was palatable.
As I spent those nights in the hospital, I could feel their prayers surrounding me like the prayer shawl I received as a gift. I wrapped myself in their prayers as I faced my own fears and anxieties about my condition. Most importantly, we prayed for others patients who were in much worse conditions than what I was experiencing. We asked God to bring God’s healing love and peace to everyone working in the hospital.
While I wish I hadn’t had to go through my experience, it presented my family with another opportunity to love and grow together with God all around us. We remembered not to take each other for granted. We remembered to pray when we don’t know what else to do. We remembered to call on God, and know that God will answer. When a pitch comes at us, we don’t always need to hit the ball out of the park. Sometimes, we’re the catcher of life’s curveballs. God guides the ball into the mitt and gives us strength for the next pitch.
In the Morning from The Book of Common Prayer, p. 461
This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.
How do you talk to your children about difficult topics such as illness and death? What tools do you have in your spiritual toolkit to help you?