Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Alone With Life and Death

Some stories just stick with you. Edna Crews, Regional Director of Coastal Community Foundation's Beaufort office told one today that is a keeper. While greeting one of the volunteers at Friends of Caroline Hospice in Port Royal the conversation turned to grief counseling. Edna told a story of how when she was a counselor at a public school a teacher made her aware of a little boy who chewed the collar on his shirt. I mean, chewed and chewed and chewed until the collar was just broken threads. After talking to the family Edna learned that the boy's Grandmother had died some weeks before. Talking to the little boy she found out the whole story.

The little boy said that on the night that his Grandmother died she called him into her room in the evening and said that she wanted to say goodbye to him because she was going to die that night. She also said that he was not supposed to tell anyone of their conversation. He went off to bed and woke the next morning to find that his Grandmother had in fact died. Edna found out in conversation with the boy that he believed he was responsible for her death. He felt if only he had told someone what his Grandmother said that she would have lived.

I felt my chest tighten and my vision telescope onto the nodding heads of Edna and the Hospice volunteer. What a story! The conflict between honoring his Grandmother's wishes and taking responsibility for her is an overwhelming burden, even for me as a bystander. I would be doing more than chewing my collar trying to work out that puzzle. Whose wishes do you honor? Moreover, Grandma was just trying to tell the boy how much she loved him. She did not intend for this to cause him any grief and in fact was probably trying to help him.

I had assumed that children do not need to know the details of death and if you just say that "Grandma has gone away for a long time" a small child would be okay. This story made me realize how much we depend on others; in Edna's case teachers, counselors, and family. More broadly, at least in the case of death from a child's point of view, Hospice volunteers, caregivers, and the whole interconnected community that surrounds our lives.

Life and death is more than we can handle alone.

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