My 8-year-old daughter and I were discussing how one of her middle names is spelled in honor of her aunt, my husband’s sister who died in a fire in 1985; also lost in the fire were her husband and 5-year-old daughter, all relatives that our daughters will never get to know. This discussion led to the other family members who have passed away.
Between 2008 and 2012, our daughters’ maternal grandmother, Nana, and one of their paternal grandfathers died, as well as our dog Roxy. Roxy’s passing was our older daughter’s first lesson about the permanence of death, a lesson learned at the tender age of two. Their Nana was the only grandparent who lived locally; she was a constant presence, so her loss was particularly felt. My father had passed away in 2002 and their maternal grandfather had died in 2004. While we talk about them often, they are all family members whom they will never get to meet.
Clockwise from top left: Bill's brother John; his husband's sister; Bill's daughters' maternal grandmother Nana; and one of their paternal grandfathers; in center: Bill's two daughters
In our living room sits the urn that holds the ashes of my brother who died of AIDS in 1995. John’s birthday was December 11 and he passed on December 29; just a couple more reasons why this topic is on my mind. John’s urn is currently decorated with a Santa hat for Christmas. At times it’s sported a “Happy Birthday” tiara, other funny hats, holiday decorations, and random items that his sense of humor would appreciate. They might never get to meet him, but the girls still enjoy having the spirit of their Uncle John around.
A related bit of concern: my husband is HIV positive. At some point we’re going to have to discuss his status with the girls, and also at some point be more specific about the illness that led to their Uncle John’s dying. For that, we think it's best to wait until they’re able to grasp the differences between 1995 and the current state of living with HIV/AIDS.
That’s a lot of lessons in mortality for such young souls. Our 5-year-old doesn’t seem fazed by any of it but our older daughter is prone to deep thoughts; always has been. We can only hope we’re handling the subject of death appropriately, considering how much thought she is no doubt putting into it. We never shy away from discussing it with her and approach it as matter-of-factly as possible.
For us, there will always be that sense of melancholy knowing that our kids will never meet their aunt, uncles, cousin, and grandparents. And for those whom the girls had known, the sad reality is that their memories will fade as they get older. Thinking about this makes me glad about my near-compulsive photo-taking. At least we have many images of the ones we’ve lost, and of the moments that some of them spent with the girls.