Death and Ladybugs

The Next Family

By: Tanya Ward Goodman


Last night, when I opened the door to greet my daughter as she arrived home from school she looked up at me and said, “When our friends and family members die, my heart will break open.”

She is five and a half going on thirty.  Part Hello Kitty, part Sarah Bernhardt.  She is devastatingly sad and ragingly angry and her heart (broken or not) is huge and juicy and filled with passion.  She is clearly the child of my womb.

I moved aside, to let her walk into the house.

“Did something happen to make you sad?”  I asked.

“Just thinking about death,” she replied, skipping into the dining room and doing a little twirl.  “Look what I’ve got.”

She held out a white paper tub.  Beneath a circle of mesh on the lid a mass of small black bodies moved together — shiny black legs and abdomens and an occasional flash of enameled red wings.

“Ladybugs!  They’re ready for an aphid buffet.”

As Sadie made plans to set the ladybugs free in our cauliflower bed where they would decimate the population of aphids, I went back to stirring the risotto on the stove.  My kids have been to several funerals and memorial services.  They are interested in cemeteries and know what a casket is for.  Sadie will often tell people that we have three pets and three graves, which, though slightly disconcerting, is true.  We’ve lost an old cat, a hamster and a fish and we’ve still got an old cat, a hamster and a fish, so chances are this loss is not going to stop.

My dad died just over seven years ago.  When Sadie was three she could not stop asking, “So your Dad is dead, right?”  At first this question brought tears to my eyes, but after awhile, I kept answering and answering and it opened the way to a lot of long conversations.

“Yes, my Dad is dead,” I said.  And Sadie and her brother wondered what happened next.  We talked about heaven and reincarnation and the possibility that this life, here and now, is all we’ve got.  Theo likes the idea of heaven because he wants to know he will continue to move around and Sadie hopes there are angels because they have beautiful wings.  We talked about how dinosaurs might be reincarnated into people, but how they most likely evolved into birds.  We all think it’s nice to imagine that there is a kind of observatory where our loved ones can train telescopes on our lives and gaze at us for a few minutes.

The risotto finished cooking, my son hopped out of the bath and Sadie returned from the garden smiling.  She’d tipped out her little bucket of live things and now she was set on making a necklace for the cat.  Sometimes the workings of her mind are so fluid, it’s hard to keep up.  My dad was this way.  I hope he’s watching.

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