Learning About Death One Moment At A Time

On Nov. 9, 2010 an amazing woman died. Her name was Danyale Ellis and she was my friend. Last weekend was her funeral and I wondered, do I bring Logan or is that inappropriate?

Hubby was out of town and I really wanted to attend Danyale’s funeral. She was only 38 years old and one of those people that the rest of us strive to be. She was successful, but not in a nauseating way, because she was humble. What I liked best is that she was very understanding. She understood my hectic life and never made me feel bad for not doing something, she simply cherished what I could. That’s rare.

We were both in the same sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and before you judge, it’s not the kind of sorority where cheerleading pixies prance around in an oversized white house. It’s a predominantly black sorority dedicated to public service. (Though admittedly there’s former cheerleaders in our midst too…) Danyale and I met in the alumnae chapter.

It was important to me that I pay my respects, but I was failing at finding a sitter for Logan. Would it be weird to bring my boisterous boy to a funeral? What if he had a colossal meltdown in the middle of a tear-jerking eulogy? Saturday morning I decided I would regret not trying to attend the funeral more than regret an ill-timed tantrum.

On the way to the services, I started to lay out my expectations of Logan, telling him we were going to a funeral and he was to be quiet, if he wanted to talk to me it was to be in a whisper. He asked me what’s a funeral. I paused, I had been so obsessed with figuring out the logistics of getting to the funeral I didn’t even think about how it would mean talking about death with my 3 year old.

We’ve talked a little bit about how things die, but I suppose I figured the bigger talks would come after a goldfish died and we had a ceremony to flush it down the toilet like the Huxtables. So in the car, we talked about people dying, what it meant and how it can make us sad because we will miss the people who died, but that they’re OK. The main thing he wanted to know afterward was “why?”

Such a small word, such a big question. I didn’t delve into a circle-of-life diatribe a la Lion King, I simply said: “I don’t know, God decides that.” Thankfully that seemed to answer the question good enough.

We went to the funeral and he was spectacular, quietly played with his miniature cars in the pew and whispering so low I could barely hear him. The service was moving and whenever I felt the tears well up, I’d give Logan a squeeze and draw some strength from him. I was glad he was with me.

When talking to Hubby on the phone that night, Logan excitedly grabbed the phone and said: “Daddy! Guess what? Somebody DIED today!

“What?!?” Hubby asked.

“We went to Danyale’s funeral.” I said into the phone and heard his sigh of relief.

It looks like I’ll get my Huxtable moment after all.

11 responses to “Learning About Death One Moment At A Time

  1. I had this conversation with my oldest daughter Ker’Mari when my nephew passed away suddenly last year. They were only 4 months apart and they loved each other dearly. One day, she asked about her Uncle,” the one who has the 2 boys and 2 girls”. I reminder her that her Uncle only has one boy now and that “Darren is in heaven with God”. She also along with Logan was contempt with my answer and we moved forward with our many conversations. Even though the situation ws very unfortunate, I am glad that she has been exposed to ” people who pass away”. I guess it does not hurt that she attends a Christian school where God is the focus either.

    • How sad about your nephew, I just can’t imagine. We certainly walk a fine line between protecting them from the hard parts of life, while preparing them for all aspects of it.

  2. This is a great post. I think it’s good that you tackled the issue head-on so that he can get used to it the idea of death gradually and not be confronted with it suddenly when it’s someone he’s very close to. And, I am sorry your friend has died. It’s sad to lose someone so young, especially someone as awesome as she sounds.

  3. I think this is beautiful.

  4. I think you handled a tough dilemma well and it sounds like it all worked out, as well as these things can. Very well written post… Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you for your kind words about my sister

  6. I’m sorry to hear of your loss. Talking death is never easy but I’ve been struck again and again how children accept things in life and are able to be sensitive to our needs without even realizing it.

  7. I just came across your blog. It was so nice to hear yet another person who was touched by our Soror Danyale Ellis. She was so dynamic. I miss her dearly. Those we love can never truly be gone when we keep their memories in our hearts.

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