Children bring life in the face of death

My cousin Jerry McKee died yesterday at age 74. He suffered from severe health problems for a long time, and his death is a blessing for him, although many people will grieve his loss. I sure do. He was always a ray of sunshine, ready with a joke and that apple-cheeked smile.

Lately it seems like everybody is dying. We had two funerals at our church last weekend. A member of our choir died a month ago, and another is dying of cancer. A writer friend is losing his battle with pancreatic cancer. Yesterday on Facebook, I read about two of my late husband’s old buddies who are also struggling with cancer. Too much. But that’s what happens when you get into your 60s. Your older relatives and your peers start heading for the next life.

When you don’t have children and grandchildren around you, there’s a danger of not seeing anything but aging and death. We have talked a lot about the practical aspects of growing old alone. Who will take care of us if our health fails? Who will manage our affairs and take care of our stuff when we’re gone? But you know, we can find people to do those things. We can recruit family members or friends or we can even pay someone to manage everything for us. It would be nice if we had children to do it, but there’s no guarantee they would be there for us.

Jerry, widowed about 14 years ago, leaves an adult son, Eddie, who is developmentally disabled. I talked to him yesterday. He is distraught, but he is also helpless when it comes to arranging a funeral or figuring out how to take care of himself on his own. He’s in his 40s. It’s unlikely he will ever get married or have children. When I think I could have had a child like him, I’m honestly grateful I never did.

But here’s my point. While anybody could manage the practical aspects of aging and dying, we have psychological needs that aren’t as easy to satisfy. I think we need young people around us. If we could cuddle a baby in our arms as we say goodbye to the old people, if we could find ourselves playing with a toddler or comforting a teenager facing her first funeral, it would be both a comfort and a distraction, a reminder that these young people need us and life is not over, that there’s something ahead as well as behind. Despite Eddie’s problems, it helped me to talk him to him.

When we don’t get to have children for whatever reason, we may avoid being around other people’s kids. They remind us too much of what we don’t have. Also, at least in my case, we might feel awkward because we have no experience with children. But I think we need to get past that and recognize what wonders children are. If they were puppies, we wouldn’t hesitate. This has gotten a lot easier for me in recent years, maybe because my own reproductive years are over, maybe because losing my husband has given me something bigger to grieve about.

What I’m trying to say is embrace the children in your lives. If there are none, find ways (legal ones!) to be around them. Teach, coach, volunteer, be the crazy aunt or uncle and have fun with it.

Life is short to waste moping. Jerry never did.

RIP, cuz.

5 thoughts on “Children bring life in the face of death

  1. I found it so much easier to avoid children altogether. I refused all these years (and still do) to hold people’s babies. I would lie to people and say that I have an extreme fear of dropping them, but in reality, it would just kill me to hold one. I compare it to–would you ask a recovering heroine addict to hold a syringe of heroine? Of course not. Same thing with me. If I can’t have one, I surely don’t want to hold one that belongs to someone else. I did hold my three nieces when they were infants, but I lived thousands of miles away, so it was only temporary when I was there for a visit. Even to this day, if a child comes close to me (like in a store), I get the heebie jeebies and go way around them like they have the plague. The older kids get, the better I do, like later elementary school age. Ladies that worked for me had girls, and I would have girls night at my house with my staff and their daughters. It is fun, but I do keep a safe distance. If I had my choice, I would live on an island where children didn’t exist and I would never have to see them. Oddly, over the years when I have met people, so many people ask me if I’m a school teacher. I politely say no, but in my head I scream a more inappropriate answer. Like I said, I avoid babies at all costs. I appreciated your comment about not having experience with children. When my husband’s son got married, they had planned on starting a family right away. The wife didn’t have any family except me and I was in a panic every time I thought about them having a baby. I had assumed she would come to me for advice about babies or help and I wouldn’t be able to offer her anything. And then the thought of having to act like the doting grandma was enough to make me sick with fear. How would I handle my jealousy and yet do the right thing? Sadly and happily, the marriage ended before they had children, so I’m off the hook. The son now lives 3,000 miles away, so if he did remarry, I wouldn’t have to play grandma. So selfish, I know. I do feel bad that my giant green monster of jealousy is a bit much for me to handle, but I at least keep trying.


  2. I avoided children and people with children for a while, especially when I was in the should I stay with my husband or go phase. But now, I don’t know, I’d kind of like to be in a kid’s life. I don’t have siblings though and neither does my husband, so being an aunt is out. One of my closest friends is pregnant now, due sometime late summer. I would really love it if I could be included in things and have a close relationship with her kid, but realistically I don’t think it will happen. She will be busy, and isn’t likely to want me hanging around her house. Also, both she and her husband have two siblings each and parents nearby. They will have plenty of other visitors, plenty of support. I know my friend still cares about me, but no matter how close you are, you can never be at the level of family, and ultimately I think we’ll drift apart long before her child is old enough to actually know me. I think what’s hard is even if we want to have children in our lives, parents, especially if they are not related to us, are either unwilling or unable to include us. I think now that I’ve (sort of) gotten over never having children of my own. It’s that feeling of being excluded that hurts the most.


  3. A close friend of mine lost her 16-year-old sister when she was 19 years old. About that same time, she found out she was pregnant. When she told the father, he took off. She was living with her parents, and she has always said the birth of her son, even not under a perfect situation, helped her parents. Their grief was subdued by the birth of their grandson. It gave them something else to focus on. She would much rather have gotten married to have her son, but she thinks it all turned out fine, her being a single mother at home with her parents. This was 36 years ago.


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