Death - It's just a stage we're going to flash fiction

Death — It’s just a stage we’re going to

The Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Rodeo is over for another year and the weekly flash fiction challenges have resumed.

Carrot Ranch flash fiction challenge Day of the Dead

This week Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the Day of the Dead. It can be the Mexican holiday, a modern adaptation of it, a similar remembrance, or something entirely new. Go where the prompt leads!

I would have to say that, here in Australia, we have been rather insulated from the Halloween phenomena until recent years and it was only very recently that I became aware of the Mexican holiday Dia De Los Muertos, which celebrates the dead, remembering them and celebrating with them as if they were alive. What a wonderful way of keeping the memory of loved ones who have passed, alive.

We are not very good about discussing death in our culture, especially with children. Rather than accepted as a normal stage of life, it is kept secret as if to be feared. Yes, none of us want to go before we’re ready, but there isn’t one of us, as far as I know, who has found the secret of living (in this Earthly lifetime) forever.

The Tiny Star

The-Tiny-Star by Mem Fox

Last week I had the absolute joy of attending the launch of a lovely new picture book The Tiny Star, written by Mem Fox and beautifully illustrated by Freya Blackwood. The book is a joyous celebration of life’s journey from the beginning when ‘a tiny star fell to earth and turned into a baby’ until its return to the night sky where it would be ‘loving them from afar and watching over them … forever.’ The book provides a beautiful opportunity for discussing, even with very young children, the passage of time and the passing of loved ones in a way that is sensitive, respectful and meaningful. It is a book, just like each ‘star’, to be treasured. You can hear Mem read the book by following the link in the book’s title above and listen to her discussing the book with illustrator Freya Blackwood in this video.

The Fix-It Man

The Fix-It Man by Dimity Powell

Another lovely picture book that deals well with the topic of death for young children is The Fix-It Man, written by Dimity Powell and illustrated by Nicky Johnston. The book deals, sensitively and honestly, with a child’s grief at the loss of a parent. The child discovers that her father, who is usually able to fix any broken thing, is unable to fix her sick mother. Together the child and father find a way to support and strengthen each other through their grief and come to terms with their loss.

The Forever Kid

The Forever Kid by Elizabeth Cummings

The Forever Kid, written by Elizabeth Cummings and illustrated by Cheri Hughes, is another lovely picture book that sensitively tackles the topic of death, this time with the loss of a sibling. Each day, on the ‘forever’ child’s birthday, the family keeps his memory alive by celebrating with his favourite activity—lying on their backs on the grass telling cloud stories. Families who have experienced the loss of a child may be moved to find their own ways of remembering and celebrating the life that was. (I interviewed Elizabeth about The Forever Kid for readilearn here.)

Flash fiction challenge

So, back to Charli’s challenge to write about the Day of the Dead. While Halloween and the Day of the Dead have similarities (perhaps more to the uninitiated than to those in the know), they are not the same thing. However, my story is probably more like Halloween than the Day of the Dead. Oh well, that’s where the prompt took me, maybe because of the discussion about Halloween not being an Australian tradition that arises at this time every year, and perhaps because, in the 80s (anyone else remember that far back?) we teachers were instructed to not do anything involving Halloween or witches in our classrooms. That has now been revoked and many teachers work a little fun into their program with Halloween-themed activities. (As I suggested on readilearn recently.)

Anyway, here goes.

Full Bags, Dying Heart

From his room, Johnny watched the parade of monsters and ghouls wending from door to door. They laughed and giggled, whooped and cheered, clutching bags bulging with candy.

“Get inside,” she’d admonished.

“Why?”

“It’s the devil’s work. Dressing up like dead people. It’s not our way.”

She’d dragged him inside, shut the door and turned off the lights.

“We don’t want those nasty children knocking on our door.”

“But, Mum. It’s Graham and Gerard and even sweet Sue …”

“Enough! Get to your room!”

He watched, puzzled—How could it be devil’s work? They were his friends having fun.

Thank you blog post

Thank you for reading.

Note: I would have liked to write a sequel to this where Johnny sneaks out and joins his friends, but I ran out of time. Maybe another time.

I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.

 

59 thoughts on “Death — It’s just a stage we’re going to

        1. Norah Post author

          I didn’t ever go to boarding school but understand how your boarding school fare may have little appeal. Pumpkin soup is my favourite soup. In fact, I pretty much like pumpkin anything, including pumpkin scones which were made popular by the wife of a premier here. And mum used to make a pretty good dessert pumpkin pie. 🙂 However, I probably like pumpkin roasted best.

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  1. writersideup

    Wow, Norah, what a loaded post! Addressing death and belief systems is always loaded, for sure. I have strong feelings about all of it and won’t get into them here, having been on the ignorant side of things for years, then coming to understand them more clearly (in my opinion).

    There are so many different beliefs as to what happens when people die, most of them stemming from the need to handle the loss and also feel comforted by the possibilities of what happens to those who’ve died. That being said, THE FOREVER KID sounds the most appealing to me since it doesn’t seem to project anything but celebrating the person who’s gone and keeping the memory of them alive in their hearts and minds 🙂

    And Halloween? The “dressing up” has always been fun for kids (and adults), but the holiday itself originates in paganism. It’s a syncretic blend of Celts believing the spirit world was closer on that night–that they could “enter the world,” and was blended with being the eve of All Saints’ Day (Hallow-Eve). How people respond to that is just as varied as any other belief. Most people have no real clue or care about the origins of many of the things we do and celebrate. Others react to it in extremes or vague ways without explaining where the fears or beliefs come from :-/ I, for one, was always a big decorator and love “fantasy” and pretend, especially for kids, so used to have all kinds of Halloween “fun,” but once really taking to heart its origins, I can no longer participate in it. I still love seeing kids dressed up (when it’s not gory, etc.) and having fun, but wish it wasn’t for that reason.

    So, yeah, we all make choices as to what we embrace and what we reject, not just with how we address traditions and celebrations, but certainly with the subject of death and what happens to those who’ve died. It’s a great subject and should most definitely be addressed with children to help them deal with it! Of course, there can only be one truth, regardless of how diverse individual “truths” are. How we address things like death and celebrations is always based on our own beliefs, and we each choose the tools to support those beliefs.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for your in-depth response to the post, Donna. I like the way you expressed what I think is your main point: ‘there can only be one truth, regardless of how diverse individual “truths” are’.
      I read a really interesting book years ago which your comment reminded me of. It is called Theo’s Odyssey and was written by Catherine Clement. It was an investigation into the different ways death is treated by different people around the world, in story form. Theo was about 13, I think, and seriously ill. As I remember it, he and his aunt travelled the world to find a cure, and it doing so found out about how different people approach and deal with the end of life and death – not just the big religions, but the little ones too. It was a fascinating journey and reminded me of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. I think you’d enjoy it, if you haven’t already read it.

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          1. writersideup

            I ordered both through the library (literally only ONE copy of THEO’S ODYSSEY in the county system!), but they’re lengthy so the chances of me reading them fully is slim, but I really want to take a look 😀 Thanks!

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            1. Norah Post author

              You may not be able to stop yourself when you start. I love Jostein’s Gaarder’s books and have read most of them. Sophie’s World was the first I read. It is a fascinating narrative mystery history of philosophy. I’ve read it at least three times, once aloud with my daughter when she was about 12 or 13. Theo’s Odyssey does something similar for the world’s religions. I’ve only read it once. I must try to fit in time for it again. There aren’t many books I read multiple times (especially not books as lengthy as these). Please let me know what you think.

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              1. writersideup

                Norah, I REALLY hope I can get to them! I have novels here waiting for me for SUCH a long time, and a pal recently asked me to read her upcoming novel to get some pre-pub reviews. Depending on when she mails it, I can’t wait to read it, actually, because I LOVED her first book. I’m still waiting for them to arrive at the library so we’ll see! Anyway, I never have enough time to read the books I want and ALways feel like I’m missing something. But you re-reading these this way, I KNOW I would be missing something! lol

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                1. Norah Post author

                  I understand, Donna. I have so many books part-read and some many more in the TBR pile. We all have different reading preferences and priorities. Don’t worry if you don’t get to them or they don’t appeal. I’m chuffed that you would even look for them.

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  2. Hugh's Views and News

    I remember living near neighbours who thought the very same things that Halloween was the Devil’s work, Norah. They also referred to bars and nightclubs as ‘The Devil’s House’, yet they were always kind people and polite.

    ‘The Tiny Star’ sounds like an amazing book. I like the concept very much.

    Death is a hard subject to talk about. However, in a recent post, I wrote about death, and I was amazed by how many people wanted to talk about it. I’m not sure why we fear talking about subjects because we believe the subject should not be discussed or is too sad to talk about. In many ways, I think talking about a topic goes a long way to helping us understand it or what we want from it. I see it as talking about a problem rather than allowing something to bottle up inside us.

    I’m sure the books you mentioned will go a long way in helping children understand what death is about.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts, Hugh. Death is a difficult subject to discuss. These books will provide a great opportunity to explore the topic in sensitive ways. I’m sure people who joined in the conversation on your blog were pleased to have the opportunity to do so. They wouldn’t have commented otherwise. (I think I missed that one.)

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      1. Hugh's Views and News

        No, you left a comment, too, Norah. All the comments on that post were fascinating to read. They showed so many different aspects of what happens to us all after death. I’m glad that schoolchildren are not left out when it comes to talking about something that happens to all of us.

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  3. Miriam Hurdle

    I know how hard it is for children to grasp the concept of death. It’s so abstract and sad. It’s good to books to help them understand. Thank you for sharing.

    Your flash is to the point of how adults deal with Halloween. My daughter has a first grade teacher who was open minded. They wrote poetry about the death. We entered my daughter’s first poem about the witches and the blood into an anthology. She was just excited to see her poem printed in a book. She then made her own little book and wrote a dozen more poems. ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Miriam.
      How exciting to have another poet in the family. I can just imagine the excitement at seeing your granddaughter’s poem in print. And how wonderful that she then went on to write her own book of poems.

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  4. dgkaye

    I loved this post Norah. I appreciated the introduction to Mem And Freya and the premise of the book along with your other recommends. It’s so important to have books like these for children. I know first hand the sensitivity involved with dealing with death and a bewildered little one. My grand niece was 3 and wise for her years when my mother died, she was quite confused about where my mother went. Again, this poor child just a year later would come with my sister and I, 3 times a week to visit my aunt for months in hospice and then again confused when my aunt passed. I think I did a good job of creating scenarios of angels and heaven to ease her little mind, but it is a tricky predicament so I’m glad to learn there are books for children to help. ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Debby. I’m sure your grand niece benefited from your explanations. I think the confusion and fears set in when they are not given honest explanations. Children are able to understand far more than we often give them credit for, and not talking honestly and sensitively with them about difficult subjects like death only creates confusion and fear. Better, as you did, to explain. Each of these books tackles the topic in a unique and special way.

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  5. floatinggold

    Halloween was never my thing. The older generation in my family has the same sentiment as your story. I do think it’s weird because kids will dress up and all and know nothing about the Day of The Dad, All Saints’/Souls’ Day, etc.

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    1. Norah Post author

      I think to children today it is all about fun and nothing to do with the fears and superstitions of yesteryear. As soon as we can rid the world of those fears and superstitions that hold us back, the better. I think.

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  6. Susan Scott

    loved this post Norah thank you! I listened to the video and enjoyed your interview with Elizabeth Mary Cummings about The Forever Kid. Yes, death is part of life, strange as that seems. Your flash was very alive!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Susan. I’m so pleased you listened to the interview with Mem and Freya, and read the interview with Elizabeth Cummings. All three books are excellent, dealing with such a difficult subject in a very sensitive way.

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  7. Anne Goodwin (Annecdotist)

    How lovely you were able to attend Mem Fox’s latest launch as I know how much you admire her books. All three sound great — and necessary.
    Your flash is sad, but true to some lives I’m sure.
    I learnt recently (or maybe relearnt) that some cultures (fundamentalist Christians) ban Harry Potter for similar reasons. Seems to misunderstand what fiction is about.

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    1. Norah Post author

      It was a wonderful session with Mem, Anne. She is such a vibrant personality and a pleasure to listen to and learn from.
      As you say, all three books are excellent and approach the topic of death in different ways.
      Back when witches and Halloween were banned here, we had a fundamentalist Christian as premier and he was very much influenced by an educator with similar views. I think there are still many bans in place around the world. It is interesting to hear about books that have been banned and the reasons for it.

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  8. Charli Mills

    Your post and shared children’s books are touching, Norah. That interview with Mem Fox got me all choked up for many reasons — in part because she teared up over “Tiny Star,” and the dynamic between her and her illustrator. It is important to have conversations about death. I don’t know if Australia has Death Cafes but they are fairly new to the States. People can gather and talk about death, ask questions and share stories.

    Further, I like how your flash shows a child struggling to understand something an adult fears. That parallels talking about death.

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      1. Norah Post author

        Oh, I forgot to respond to that comment of Charli’s. Thank you for doing so, Anne. I’m not aware of any such cafes here but there might be.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Charli,
      I’m pleased you watched Mem discussing the book with Freya. I have just watched it again. It is very delightful. We had over an hour of Mem in the talk I went to. Freya wasn’t there but Mem was interviewed by another author who loves her as much as I do. Mem told us about reading to her grandson when he was in the humidicrib. I don’t remember now but I think it was for two months. I think he was born at 29 weeks. It was beautiful to listen to. The other author (Trent Dalton) told us about when he was launching his first (and only so far) book and a question came from the audience that he didn’t know how to answer. The question was about the timing of his second book and he told the audience that he was at a difficult spot in it and didn’t know where to go with it. An ‘angel’ appeared in the audience and told him to go back to his hotel room and just write it. When people lined up later for signatures, the ‘angel’ lined up too. When it was her turn, her thanked her and told her how inspiring her encouragement was. When he asked her who he should sign the book for, she said, “I’m Mem Fox.” How affirming that would have been. She said that she’d already read his book and had loved it. I guess I must put it on my list now too.
      Yes, adults can put many unnecessary fears onto the shoulders and into the hearts of their children. I carry a few of those. I tried to not pass them on to my children. I think I did pretty well, but was by no means perfect.

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  9. Chelsea Owens

    Thank you for sharing the books. I’m glad to hear there are such excellent ones out there.

    I’m glad I never had restrictive parents about Halloween. If my children were drawing evil symbols and dancing around a bonfire I might talk to them, but I know they just like the fun.

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    1. Norah Post author

      The books are wonderful, Chelsea.
      You are fortunate to not have had restrictive parents. I’m sure it has enhanced your parenting style too.
      Who could disagree with having fun!

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  10. Patricia Tilton

    Sweet story! I enjoyed the books you shared about celebrating memories. Will book mark them. Darlene Forster’s MG novel Amanda in New Mexico deals with the celebration of the Day of the Dead. (Will be gone for 12 days, so won’t be blogging/commenting.)

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Patricia. I’ll have to read Amanda in New Mexico. I’ve been wanting to read one of Darlene’s books. This is maybe a good one to begin with.
      Enjoy being away. See you when you get back. 😉

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