Thursday, November 21, 2019

Books and tears

It never goes away, does it—that hole in your heart, that longing, the sadness? Not completely.

We're fine, but I can tell I've changed because I cry so easily lately and, perhaps, I will forever.

I've been reading The Complete Story of Sadako Sasaki out loud to the kids and while the entire book deals with difficult subjects, the last couple of chapters were especially difficult to read out loud. I was crying and blowing my nose and struggling to get through things. It was just so beautiful, so tragic, so wonderful.

I checked out Pippin the Christmas Pig (by Jean Little) and I've read it to the kids a few of times and I can't seem to get through the ending of that book without tearing up, either.

And that book isn't even about death! It's about finding the true meaning of Christmas!

Zoë can't understand why I'm always crying while I'm reading and I remember thinking the same thing about grown ups when I was little. What possible reason could they have to cry?! They never had any real problems, like being offered a broken cookie or not being allowed to stay up late! And here they are, breaking down over a pig saying, "All babies are special." I mean, come on!

Grown ups are cry babies.

Children are naturally sympathetic, I think (at least most children). They don't like to see others sad. But they often don't understand why others are sad, just that they are sad. Children are very quick to offer comfort when they believe others are upset, which is so very sweet (because, honestly, we shouldn't need to have to understand why someone might be upset before we offer them comfort).

Adults, on the other hand, tend to be more empathetic. As we experience the joys and sorrow of life, we're able to really imagine the pain (or joy) someone might be feeling. Because we've experienced some pretty intense sorrows and joys, the emotions we feel when someone else is going through a monumental time in their life (or story) is intensified.

When I read about Sadako's friends and family gathering around her bed to say goodbye as she was dying, I didn't feel just sad that they were sad because I knew they weren't sad; they were shattered. And I know what that feels like. And it's a heavy feeling.

Zoë knows that feeling, too, of course, but somehow these childhood pains are masked by the general confusion that is childhood. Zoë doesn't really remember standing around Grandma's bed to say goodbye because, well, we dragged her out in the middle of the night to do it so she was confused about being up and about at midnight, but also she didn't recognize that it was Grandma lying there—like she honestly didn't understand it was Grandma in that bed (and when she did, she thought the doctors were the ones hurting her (she accused the nasal cannula of preventing Grandma from being able to breathe)). Anyway, Zoë felt pain last year, but she felt more confusion, I think.

The grown ups were confused as well. We had questions. We still have questions.

But we also understand a whole lot more.

Our awareness caused more pain, I guess. But we only learned to have that awareness because of the many other pains we've encountered as we've gotten older.

Anyway, I was able to read Masahiro's very real pain in this book, which is amazing since Sadako passed away nearly 70 years ago. He still misses and adores his little sister; it was clear he still had an ache in his heart for her. So...I guess that pain really never goes away.

But in spite of it all, we keep going, we keep living.

I love what Masahiro says in the epilogue:
In your daily life, you will face many problems and experience much happiness. And I suppose you will laugh a lot and shed a lot of tears.... Cry when you need to if you have a lot of troubles, but grow up with a kind heart, filled with compassion.... This is the way to create a small bit of peace in your surroundings. When we can connect such small bits of peace together, we will surely have great hope of peace in the future. 
He also mentions that Japanese children are taught to have empathy, that "it is considered one of the most important things a child can learn." And I have some pretty big—if still slightly incoherent—thoughts on that because I don't feel that we teach that in this country (at least not well). We aren't a very peace-loving nation; instead we're obsessed with being the biggest, the best, the most powerful. But we shouldn't be. We should be trying to be the kindest, most compassionate, friendliest nation.

Imagine what the world would be like if all nations (if all people) were striving to be like that?

Also, my friend Susanne recommended a book (which I haven't read yet) but which already has me thinking (so I should obviously go find a copy). Anyway, she shared a part about an 8-year-old witnessing a death and how the quizzical thing is not that this child witnessed a death but that it took them so long to witness a death.

In our culture we're always trying to shelter people from our inevitable life cycle. Births and deaths have moved from the privacy of the home—where family and friends would be present to witness these life events—to the sterility of hospitals—where family and friends are, frankly, discouraged from attending (or if they are encouraged it's all highly regulated).

How would our lives be different if we exposed our children to these very natural processes?

When Sadako's friends learned she was actively dying, they gathered at her bedside along with her family. I suppose they'd already seen a lot of hard things, so this was just one more hard thing to witness. But I'm having a hard time imagining a group of school children being welcomed into a hospital room to witness their friend dying these days?

In addition to the hospital staff discouraging it, I don't think our culture would even think of embracing such an idea. But perhaps we should be more open about such things?

Anyway, I don't know what my complete thoughts on the matter are. All I know is that The Complete Story Sadako Sasaki had me bawling and I'm so glad we decided to read it.

So, like, now we can move on from WWII completely in our homeschool curriculum, right?

(Except I still have a hold on They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, so I dunno...we might be revisiting it in the near future because my queue position is finally #1—I'm next!)


  1. Such a sweet post. I've gotten choked up reading books out loud, too.

    You actually touched on many things Caitlin Doughty did in her book that I recommended. She promotes that kind of thing (putting death back out there for people to see) from what I understand. She has a couple more books, I've heard, include one for kids which I just looked up. It came out this year:

    Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death

    Whenever I hear Donald Trump's "America First! America First!" I often am challenged by all that I learned growing up from the Bible. I contrast that "me first" mentality by what I was taught from Jesus about serving others and from Paul about honoring one another. And even treating others are you treat your own people or love your neighbor as you love yourself (and don't get me started on WHO Jesus said was our neighbors.) And then there is that super-tough thing about loving our enemies, and I think, wow, we would be a changed nation if only the Christians or those who say they are followers of Jesus Christ would, you know, take him seriously and do those things.

    And I challenge myself with this as well because I know I'm not always the most loving towards some...*ahem*

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. So much to consider!

    1. forgive the errors; I should have proof-read before hitting the Publish button.

  2. Good post, and comments from Susanne, too. I am reading "Smoke gets in your eyes" right now!! Thanks for the recommendation, Susanne. I feel like my kids are pretty acquainted with death? Like, you kids spent time with my dad while he was dying, at least. I remember being a little girl at a funeral and wondering why people were crying--it was so confusing to me! And yes, to both of you Nancy and Susanne about being more compassionate and Christlike, yes, if only we all would do what we know we should do. I am trying to be better. I guess that is all I can do--"Let your light so shine."

  3. I agree, Mom! I think we probably did have more exposure to death simply because our family is ginormous (and we also went through some things when we were young that weren't death-related but were still difficult for our family) so we always knew life wasn't meant to be sunshine and rainbows all the time. :)

    Susanne, you are a fabulous example to me of how to be a kind and generous person. So thank you! I aspire to be like you!

  4. Jason's grandmas is at the beginning of the end. It honestly has me crying out loud all the time. I'm sure that's why I was so sensitive at that primary meeting.