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.

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