Death worms its way to dinner conversation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Death is the recent topic of discussion in our household.

“What happens when you die?” was the oldest girl’s question.

“Where do you go?” was the youngest girl’s question.

“Do worms eat you?” was the middle girl’s question.

Of those three, you can guess the one I could answer.

“Yes, Mia. Worms eat you when you die.”

It didn’t have quite the ring of “Yes, Virginia. There is a Santa Claus,” but we can’t all be prize-winning editorialists.

Their paternal grandmother, also known as “MeMaw,” is dying of cancer. It’s a nasty kind that started out as a tumor in her liver and has slowly and stealthily entombed itself in what seems to be every organ in her body. It leaves her weak, shaking and disoriented, unable to put one foot in front of the other.

It leaves my children confused.

There has never been a time in any of their lives when she wasn’t there. She came to live with us when the oldest girl was about 6 months old, and aside from a couple of brief stints (neither of which lasted more than a year), she’s always been there.

In the last year, they’ve seen her steadily go downhill from spry 80-year-old to someone who sometimes doesn’t remember their names.

At the time of her diagnosis, which was early spring 2010, the doctor gave her six months to live. Since then, the girls have watched the yo-yo. They’ve seen her get a little better, then worsen. They’ve seen her leave home and go to the nursing home, only to return when a paperwork issue caused her to lose her bed.

I don’t lie to my children.

I don’t sugarcoat things either, or at least not overly much.

So, when the oldest asked me a while back if her Memaw was going to die, I said, “Yes.”

At the immediate tears and wailing, I realized that’s why they say that the truth can be brutal.

From then on, all three of them have been morbidly fascinated with the process of death.

I’ve tried to explain to them that I believe the end result is one of two things – Heaven or Hell – and that the way we live on this earth dictates which of those it will be.

Of course, the smart-alec “what about worms” girl asks, “What about ghosts? You could be a ghost.”

Heaven help me.

“Being a ghost is not an option,” I said. “Have you heard anything at church about ghosts? No. Everybody dies, but if you’re good and live like you’re supposed to, you go to Heaven, and then all our loved ones are there. If not, you go to the other place.”

“Hell fire,” she said.

I’m still not sure if that was an affirmation of my previous statement; if she was cussing about all of the misdeeds committed in her all-of-seven-years on this earth; or if she was conjuring up thoughts of down below.

Either way, I think they left the table a bit more comforted in the fact that death is a natural process. It’s how you live your life that matters.