Last week while presenting in Vancouver on the practice of pedagogical narration I decided in a split second decision that I would present my narration on the dead duck. I told myself it was because I wanted to challenge myself and present something new, a narration I wasn’t comfortable with, that I couldn’t predict or expect the questions or reflections that it would inspire. We had a thoughtful conversation about the narration.
As I was driving home from the presentation I realized that wasn’t the reason. Truth, I want to talk about death. That moment on the beach with the children has raised so many questions.
Why are children able to discuss it so openly but adults tend to shy away from the subject?
What age do we stop talking about it? 5, 8, 12…?
How does one learn to stop talking about it? Are we confronted with the taboo, are conversations rejected, dismissed or are we scolded for talking about it so openly?
Where did this assumption that children don’t understand death come from?
I wonder how I can explore death with the children in a meaningful way. (A way that wouldn’t freak out my colleagues or families)
So I invite you to add your perspective, your layer to my inquiry. What are your thoughts? What questions does the dead duck bring up for you? What stories do you have about death?
So yes that’s a picture of a dead duck. A duck the children found on the beach. A duck I tried to keep them away from. A duck I was worried little fingers would poke. As I tried to usher the children away from this duck a child stood their ground and said “But we have to do something. We can’t just leave him here!”
“Well what do you think we should do?” I asked.
“We should put him in the Ocean.” I was told.
“Well okay.” I said “But I am not touching it so we need to find a long flat piece of wood.”
The children searched the beach for the right piece of wood. It was found rather quickly and I slid the duck (without touching it) onto the long flat log. We walked it down to the water’s edge. I had visions of sending the duck off in a Viking style funeral sailing it out on his wooden pyre. (there would be no fire in this ceremony though) It would be a more sailing off into the sunset type funeral. I place the log on the water and hold one end.
“Should we say something?” I ask.
“Goodbye dead duck. We will miss you.” Says a little girl.
As I go to launch the duck into his last sail across the sea, he falls off and I am left with his body lapping in the waves by the shore. I was always taught to be respectful of the dead creatures we find. So as I try to push him out to sea with my failed pyre I find myself apologizing to the duck.
Finally the duck starts to drift out to sea. The children are wishing him well. “Go to the sunset.” one little girl yells to him.
Eventually the children and I walk up to the driftwood where we were first playing. The children start talking about death and the duck.
I ask “What does it mean when you die?”
“You never see them again.” says a little boy.
I listen as they talk about death with such honesty. I am moved by their openness to discuss it. I have had a year full of death. I have had to say goodbye more times then I cared too this year. With all this death I had been witness to I had never once engaged in such an honest and philosophical conversation. As I listened I could actually feel a swelling of emotion. There I was on a beach trying not to cry over a dead duck.
A young boy comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and says “Danielle its okay.” And I brace myself for it, that big truth this child is going to share with me. “There are lots of ducks out there.” he says.
A couple years ago my husband and I drove my grandfather back from another emergency visit to the o.r. in Victoria to his home in Campbell River. Upon arriving we were greeted by the local home care nurse, who wanted to go over grandpa’s medicines and care. She sat across from my grandfather and said “Well Mervyn we need to come up with a plan for you.”
“Plan, I don’t like that word.” He said.
The nurse sat there looking confused.
“You see” he continued “When I was a social worker I didn’t like coming up with plans for the people I worked with. Plans imply there is something wrong and we have to work on it. What I tried to do was find out what that persons strengths were and I nurtured them.”
I silently chuckled to myself as he continued to school the nurse in strength based practice. My grandfather is the reason I hate checklists, assessments and learning goals. See my grandfather schooled me as well.
When I lived up island every week I would make the trek from Courtenay to Campbell River to have tea with my grandfather. We would talk about social justice, equal rights, race, pain, children and love. My grandfather and I would often joke that we were solving the worlds problem’s in an afternoon. We couldn’t understand why they weren’t listening to us. Often at the end of my visit he would hand me a book to read. Don Quixote, Winnie the Pooh, Life of Pi, Jude the Obscure, the list could go on. My grandfather would share such wisdom during those visits. He didn’t do it by saying Danielle this is the way to do it. He would tell me stories from his days as a social worker. The stories he shared stemmed from questions I was having about my own practice, need for advocacy and life.
When I moved to Victoria my visits were less frequent but in times of questioning I would call him and we would talk for hours.
Saturday I visited my grandfather at the nursing home. I walked into the room and found a frail man, who couldn’t talk. He was happy to see me. He wouldn’t stop kissing my hand. So I pulled up a chair and told him what was happening in the world. I told him about Idle no more, Chief Theresa Spense’s hunger strike, I told him about Helaina starting preschool, I told him about the work Kim and I were doing, I told him about Christmas with seven small children. I rambled on about my belief that change is happening. I told him I talked to his friend Peter. I cried as I told him that I lost a baby just before Christmas and how his son(my father) doted on me. I told him how I wished the world would realize how amazing my dad was. I told him everything I could think of and I tried not to be sad that he couldn’t share a story with me.
Most girls have a box of old love letters tucked away somewhere in the back of their closet, I don’t. I have a box of cards and letters my grandfather wrote me. From time to time I go through those letters, sometimes they make me smile, sometimes they make me cry, they always make me think, So much wisdom. Today I am thankful for those letters, his wisdom, the tea shared and the school of Mervyn Davis.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”