by Claire Bischoff
In the past two weeks, my sons and I have learned a bit about life and death without leaving our backyard. Most recently, I was inside tying my shoes in anticipation of a walk to Panera for dinner, when my five year old came running inside, yelling, “Mom, come quick! Come quick!” Fearing the worst, like blood gushing from my three-year-old’s head, I ran outside to find a squirrel swimming for its life in our inflatable wading pool. Dumbfounded, I watched as the squirrel tried in desperation to climb up the rounded plastic sides, only to fall back in. My three year old tugged my hand, pleading, “Mom, do something.”
An image formed in my head: me donning a gas mask, oven mitts, and knee-high waders to face this foe who could scratch me/pathetic creature who needed my help. I quickly realized that I did not own any of the equipment that would make this vision reality, so I ran inside and got a bucket, intent on scooping the squirrel out of the pool with it. After a few attempts, complete with me whispering to the terrified squirrel that I really was trying to help it to safety, the squirrel got a grip on the edge of the bucket. Now terrified myself, I tossed the bucket, and squirrel with it, toward the hosta plants that ring our yard, arms shaking violently. At first the squirrel did not move, but then we saw it shake its head, ever so slightly. Giving it a wide berth, we headed out for dinner. When we returned home, it was gone, and I am going with the story that it finally recovered its breath and scampered off (rather than becoming the dinner of some bigger critter preying on its vulnerability).
Had my kids not been there, what would I have done? Would I have waited long enough, hemming and hawing about what to do or who to call to do it for me, that the squirrel would have drowned, quite literally, in my indecision? But my kids were there, and in the face of their innocent faces, I felt an urgent need to protect the life of this squirrel. They will encounter, if they have not already, so many situations in their lives that make it seem as if death always wins. Instinctively, I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure this was not one of those situations. Along with my urging that they not step on bugs just for sport or pull the leaves off of trees, I hope this rather dramatic incident was a living example of what it means to value the life of all God’s creation.
Possibly, my strong desire to save the squirrel was intensified coming on the heels of an incident the week before in which nothing could be done. Again, my sons and I were in the backyard, this time playing soccer. Just as my five year old was dribbling toward the goal, our attention was caught by something swooping in front of us, dropping something else, and then flying away. Upon closer examination, the dropped object was a malformed baby bird. Similar to the squirrel situation, my three year old implored me, “Do something, mom.” As the three of us gathered round, my five year old listed possible solutions, including trying to return the bird to its nest in the second story rain gutter on our house. However, I sensed that there was nothing to be done, and so we just stood there, watching the bird as it took its last shuddering breath. “I’m sad, mom,” my five year old said when I pronounced the bird dead. “Me, too,” I said, and then I added without thinking, “At least we were here with it when it died. It did not die alone.”
We have talked about God and heaven at other times, but in that moment, it seemed more important that we had borne witness to the short life and quick death of this fragile creature. Rather than callously ignore or in fear run away from death, we had allowed ourselves to feel death’s sadness by staying put. God, empower us to do the same when we inevitably face the deaths of our loved ones, so that we might teach our children that death need not be feared, but rather mourned as the end of life in this world and celebrated as the beginning of life in the world to come.
How do you demonstrate a respect for life in your life? Upon what foundation does this respect for life rest?
Have you found yourself in a situation when you have had to explain death to your children? What have you said? Do you find faith helpful in the face of death? What do you want your children to believe about life and death?