Yesterday marked a year since my grandma died. After she died, we talked with Lucy about how we keep dead people in our lives by remembering them, telling stories about them, looking at pictures of them, and sometimes seeing them in our dreams. Lucy was a big fan of her great-grandma. We took a vacation with my grandma when Lucy was 2 years old — an adventure in balancing the quick (Lucy constantly running) and the slow (grandma) — and Lucy loved the undivided attention that my grandma always devoted to her.
After Martin Luther King day this year, Lucy talked about death and how we communicate with and remember dead people. She wanted to know why a dead person’s birthday is celebrated (MLK) if the dead person isn’t around to eat cake and blow out candles. Then she wanted to know if we could celebrate her great-grandma’s birthday (since we celebrate MLK’s birthday) and asked if she could send her a letter telling her that she loves her and misses her. I was stumped — have her write a letter and send it to the cemetary?
I asked for suggestions on Twitter and Facebook (because everyone knows that the answer to any question is on the internet). I got some great ideas from my brilliant friends (who I didn’t identify here to protect privacy, but if anyone wants attribution for their idea, just poke/ping me):
- Write the letter and save it. I kept a journal as a kid to keep my neighbor up to date when he died suddenly.
- Since she’s already felt it in her heart, she’s already sent it
- The cemetery might work, and you can call first and let them know it’s coming so it wouldn’t be returned to sender. If Lucy’s already ok with the concept that greatgrandma is “dead”, you could address it to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dead_letter_office
- Maybe you could say that when her greatgrandma died, her body went away but she’s still around in spirit because of how much she loved her family, kind of like how Lucy can feel your love for her even if you’re not in the same room. Since she doesn’t get mail any more, the way to send her a letter is to write it out and then burn it and when the smoke rises up, Lucy’s message will be carried to that place where her greatgrandma can read it.
- 1. Mail it to her with no return address. Greatgrandma c/o The AFTERLIFE 2. Go to the beach or some place special and read the letter out loud to her and then burn it or bury it
- Be pragmatic and tell her the truth — that life is without meaning and there is no point in anything…just kidding :-)
- Oh Lucy I wish we could write to the dead but they are gone so they cannot get mail, but we can always keep them in our thoughts and deeds, like Dr King. And in a way they are always with us.
- Ask her if she remembers what it was like before she was born. Tell her that’s where Grandma is.
- I like the idea of her writing an actual letter. Maybe you could find a place meaningful to share it? My mom and stepdad have two trees (one for his mother, one for one of his daughters) and my mom has a birdbath as their spots. Maybe Lucy can find something that becomes a sharing spot and a box she/you can make that is her mailbox. That way, she can write the letter, she knows her grandmother won’t literally receive it, but if she can symbolically send it.
- I also like the idea of her writing the letter. But I’d hold onto it in case she wants to see it later. No point lying about doing that either. Perhaps you can say “You should write the letter and when you are happy with the words, we’ll put it in a special place and if the letter can get to her, it will. Someday you can go back and look at them too. The important thing is what you want to say and how you feel because even if your great grandma gets the letter, she can’t just write back.”
- It’s a lovely idea to write the letter and then save it for her to read later. If she really wants to send it……then I guess you have to be honest and tell her that nobody really knows where people go after they die. It’s one of the great mysteries of life.
As of today the letter hasn’t been written and she hasn’t brought it up again, but Lucy remembers everything and I know she’ll ask about it again soon.
I get the best advice from the internet.