Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Death & Disney

I had to attend a funeral today. It made me think about my Lasa/Lare Shrine and my Grandmother and explaining death to a 5 year old.

My Gran died when he was 83 years old. She was a "Tough Cookie". Everything I learned about tenacity and thoroughness and principle I learned at my Gran's knee. She could also occasionally be a pill, so I remember this when I slip or when my daughter shows these tendencies. Any way, during Gran's on and off stays at the hospital for the last ~8 months of her life my 5 year old daughter and I would visit Gran. My daughter had visited Gran regularly before the hospital stays started but, we visited every other weekend while she was in the hospital. I say this so you will know that my daughter *knew* her great-grandmother. This was the first person that she has ever known who died. So this was a *BIG* deal.

Here is where I thank Disney. There isn't much death in Disney. There are only a few scenes where you actually *see* death happen. I can recall the Mom's death in Bambi (but you really hear and *feel* that death more than see it), the Dragon in Sleeping Beauty, Ursula in the Little Mermaid, (which we “zoomed past” for a long time because of the negative witch portrayal) and the Gorilla in Tarzan. The Gorilla is Tarzan's pseudo father so seeing his death has a bigger impact on the watcher. About the 4th or 5th time we sat through Tarzan, my daughter asked me right after the Gorilla dies, "Mommie why do your eyes close when you die?" Uhmmmmmmm (quick Mom-thinking here)... "Well 'cause you don't need you eyes when you are dead."

My daughter is a big anatomy and physiology fan she wants to know how everything works. She has a huge kid's book, 3 feet high with pictures of kid anatomy and we've covered a lot of the how your body works stuff. So it’s not totally off the wall for me to say: "When we die we don't need our eyes, or our hearts any more that's why we can give them to other people whose eyes or hearts don't work as well or are making them sick or unable to run and play or read books." Well that is, thankfully, enough for her at the time and the end of the discussion.

When Gran died, I had to find a way to tell my daughter. I also had to prepare her for any stuff that people could say to her about her Gran's death. So we had a little quiet time that evening and I told her that Gran had died. With small kids it is sometimes hard to know what they think so I went on: "Mommie thinks that when you die you go on to be a spirit. We don't need our bodies any more and so we become spirits." I don't say Angels. I intentionally use the more generic term Spirit. And I very specifically say *Mommie thinks*, because Dad thinks when you're done, you're done, that's it! Here is where I thank Disney again. "Do you know how Mulan lights the incense and then the Blue Spirits come out and find a way to help Mulan?" Yes, big head nodding she remembers this... Who can forget the Blue Ancestor popping out and Eddie Murphy as Mushu! "Well now Gran is a Blue Spirit." More head nodding and eyes lighting up in anknowledgement. O.K. I see that works. Whew!

New Orleans is a very old fashion town so we have a wake/visitation but only from 8-11 AM. Then there is the service at the funeral home by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Pastor and I sit through it thinking how glad I am not to believe the stuff. When the service is over at 11:30 I dash out to get my daughter from School. The Gods must have helped with the timing because I got to school right at 11:40 which was when I said I would be there and as I was driving on to the cemetery I dropped off of the Interstate with the funeral procession exactly 5 blocks behind me. So we go on to the burial. We watch as the casket is taken out and I tell my daughter that even though Gran doesn't need her body anymore we still put her body in a special box and in a special place because we loved Gran. That works, thankfully, for my very practical daughter.

There was a huge flower arrangement on the casket from children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren and after the service all of the children and grandchildren and great Grandchildren take a flower or 2 out of the arrangement. Later, after gathering with close friends and family for lunch, hanging out and telling tales about Gran, we go home. My 5 year old holds the flowers as we drive and we decide where we are going to put them. She wants to put hers in the dining room. I have 2 roses and say I'm going to put them in "Mommie's special spot downstairs". She dutifully remembers which flowers go where and makes sure that they get to the special spot. The special spot is, of course, my Lasa Shrine. I don't push anything that evening. The kid has had a full day, but she watches as I light a candle before going upstairs.

A few days later, I'm digging through some pictures to find a picture of my Gran and PaPa to place in the Lasa Shrine. I find it and my daughter helps me take it downstairs and I put it next to the flowers. And we talk, for the first time really, about the Lasa Shrine. "You know how Mulan goes to a special house to light the incense for her ancestors? Well this is Mommie's special spot for her ancestors and now that Gran is a spirit I thought that we could put her picture here and light a candle for her." Eyes lighting up, she gets it (totally cool!), then "Mommie can *I* light the candle?". Sure kid. Thanks Disney.

Ever notice that the Fairy in Pinocchio is Blue? Traditionally the lasa/spirit light and the life in the light of the spirit flame is said to be blue. Disney either got lucky or really did their homework or had a Pagan link way back there. I’m envisioning a sort of a group of modern Age of Enlightenment type thinkers, not really Pagan but open to those sorts of ideas. Either way it’s nice to be able to use these mundane tools to help explain my path to my daughter.


Amberlyn said...

Nola, the story of your Gran's death and the way you explained it to your daughter, really touched me. How fortunate she is to have a mom like you! I really loved the Disney lessons!

When my own father died, I was fortunate to have our tradition living inside me. I was strongly supported by my belief, unlike those around me. Our Ways, when aligned with them, make *everything* easier.

Anonymous said...

I like Mulan for similar reasons. Though Hellenic tradition deals differently with souls and what happens after death, it has been a valuable tool for Cara to understand the concept of the soul after death. I do not use spirit since spirit means something entirely different in Hellenic religion, but yes Disney has big kudos from me on that point. Even a few things from Hercules (as much as I hate the mythic warping in that movie) offered alot for me to point out to Cara.
Cara has yet to experience a death in the family but it is good to know that thanks to disney as a tool she has some concept of death for the future.