Sentimental About Skeletons

Halloween – The dark and twisted time of year when blood and gore rules. When snakes, spiders and other creepy crawlies are considered festive holiday décor. When monsters, goblins, zombies and more stalk the streets in the name of fun.

I’ve never given much thought to haunted houses, walking dead or other traditional scary Halloween staples. Until last week when my 4-year-old started sobbing over a skeleton – a skeleton that reminded him of his deceased little brother.

I was making 3D paper coffins – cute black-and-green ones with big RIP letters on top. My second oldest son watched quietly with fascination as I used a machine to cut them out.

Then he started asking questions.
“What’s a coffin?” came first. I told him it was something that we use to bury dead people in.

He watched for a little while longer and helped me punch out the cuttings. Then I started cutting out the skeletons that I planned to put in the coffins. As we were punching those out he held one up and said, “Can we name this skeleton Luca?”

It caught me totally off guard that he wanted to name one of the skeletons after his baby brother who died two years ago.

How did he think of that? How did he make the connection between his brother and the 6-inch paper skeleton he held in his hand?

We decorated Luca’s headstone a couple of weeks ago for Halloween. After that my 4-year-old told me he wanted to see his brother. That he wanted us to get him out of his grave.

I tried to gently explain to him that his baby brother wouldn’t look like he used to. That he isn’t in his body anymore.

Maybe that’s where this skeleton thing came from.

No matter where it came from it made me sad. I told him that I didn’t want to name one of our paper skeletons after his brother; that I didn’t want to think of Luca as a skeleton.

And quite honestly I don’t. I hate to even think of my baby being in the ground. And as sick and twisted as it sounds, I have had thoughts of the state of his buried body before. Thoughts that I try to push from my mind the instant they arrive.

But kids are a lot more matter of fact. I am sure my 4-year-old has thought of his brother as a skeleton. He was innocently connecting his brother with the Halloween decoration we were making and wanted to name it the same.

When I told him no, he started sobbing. He kept saying, “I miss Luca,” over and over. It totally broke my heart.

It makes me sad to think that my children will grow up their whole lives looking at dead things differently than most children. When I was a kid, no one I knew had died. I was 17 years old before I first saw a close loved one pass away. My grandpa died my senior year of high school, and he was 90.

My sons have known someone who died since they were 3 and 1 years old.

Luckily, I have amazing pictures of our little Luca to remind us what he is really like. After my son was crying for his brother, I printed a small 3 by 5 inch portrait of Luca off for him from the computer. It’s his own personal copy now that he can carry around when he misses his little friend.

As for the skeletons, I finished my craft and stuffed the coffins with candy before giving them out as gifts.

I never thought I would feel sentimental about a skeleton, but I’ll never look at the bony skinny guys the same way again. Not even the smiling plastic glow-in-the-dark ones.

They’ll forever remind me of what they actually represent, former human lives.

Say What? Stupid things you shouldn’t tell a grieving parent

I took dinner to a friend recently whose husband died suddenly. When I got there, I said something I never should have.

The whole way there I kept telling myself, “Don’t say it. Don’t say it.”  But the first three words that blurted out of my mouth when she opened the door to let me in were, “How are you?”

“How are you?” She just lost her husband, the father to her five children. I am sure she didn’t want to answer that question – even if she had an answer.

I felt like chucking the food tray up the stairs to her kitchen then running back to my car and driving off in shame. I was horrified, mortified.

I promised myself after Luca died that I wouldn’t ask anyone that question. It is one of the absolute worst things to say to someone who is mourning.

Yet I blurted it out to a friend robotically, without even thinking.

Unfortunately, our American society uses those three insincere words as a basic greeting. We all say it – all the time. But how often do we mean it? Do we really care how one another feels? Do we stop and let them respond?

Obviously I am guilty of speaking before thinking, but my most recent experience got me thinking about other stupid things we say.

I’ll never forget walking into the mortuary with a tiny white tuxedo to dress my lifeless little boy just four days after I had delivered him. A mortuary worker opened the door for my husband and I, saw the suit and said, “That’s a nice outfit, where is the baby?” All we could say was, “I hope you guys have him.”

Seriously? I don’t know how someone who works at a mortuary could have said something so stupid.

But we all make mistakes.

I’ve compiled a short list of phrases I hated to hear after Luca died. There are more, but these are the most common, ridiculous ones. Hopefully if I can focus really hard, I will avoid saying them to others who are grieving.

“He’s in a better place” – Really? Now I know it’s been at least 28 years since I was last in heaven, and it probably still is a pretty nice place, but is my home all that bad? Would living with me be the worst thing that would have happened to him?

“I know how you feel” – I have met several women who have had stillborn babies and although their stories are very similar to mine, I still have NO idea how they feel, nor do they know how I feel about my loss. So how can I expect someone who has never given birth to, then buried their deceased baby, to “know” how I feel? I think we say this way too often. We may have good intentions in trying to understand how others feel, and we may be able to relate, but we will never know how each other feels.

“I just keep thinking about all the missed opportunities you are going to have” – Thanks. I hadn’t actually thought about the life span of my deceased infant and all of the major life events I am going to miss out on. I needed the reminder that I won’t get to see him take his first steps, play his first t-ball game, walk into kindergarten for the first time, etc.

“I had a friend whose baby almost died…” – ALMOST died? I don’t even want to hear about it. For some reason there are a lot of people who when they hear about my experience, feel the need to relate by telling me of someone they know who almost had a baby die. I don’t want to hear about your acquaintance’s miracle baby. I don’t want to know how they too had a baby’s whose cord was knotted. I don’t care how awesome it was that their child is still alive. It makes me too bitter.

“At least you didn’t really know them.” – Right. I think not knowing them adds to my heartache. At what age would you chose for your child to die? None? That’s what I thought.

“Aren’t you going to hurry and have another one?” In case you didn’t notice, I just endured a 9-month pregnancy then delivery. I should probably pay off my hospital bills and let my body heal before working on having another baby. And who knows when my heart will feel ready to try again.

“At least he is safe from harm. Now you won’t have to worry about him as a teenager” – As crazy as it may sound, I would have loved to have worried about him as a teenager.

“You’ll get to raise them someday” – Now this one I honestly believe and I am completely looking forward to, but I still don’t like to hear it. I wanted to raise my son NOW. While he could play and wrestle with his brothers. While we were all in the same home. It’s hard to remember eternity with empty, aching arms.

Nothing. – As scary and uncomfortable as it may be to speak to someone who has recently lost a loved one, I think avoiding the death and pretending it never happened may be worse. It becomes a giant elephant in the room, threatening to stampede at times. If you can’t think of anything, “I’m so sorry,” is a good place to start.

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