Friday, October 26, 2012

Talking to children about murder

Thank you for all of the love and prayers in the comments.  You are the sweetest friends!  And another huge thank you goes out to those of you who have donated to help my brother's family lay their son to rest.  I cannot even find enough words to express how grateful I am for such a loving community.  We have had donations coming in from all over the world, and I am so touched by your support and generosity.

I've been up until the middle of the night most nights this week talking to my brother or other family members on the phone.  We've been crying and praying, trying to figure out what else we can do to help them from so far away.  It is unbelievable how much funerals and burials cost.  The national average in America is about $10,000 USD.  Talk about kicking someone when they are down.  It certainly makes me think about insurance.  Who among us thinks about the possibility that our children may be murdered?  As parents, it is our worst nightmare, but how many of us actually invest money specifically to pay for it in case it happens?

To be perfectly honest, I haven't.  I hardly ever let my children out of my sight, but that's not to say that something couldn't happen someday, especially once they go off to university.  Whenever the thought of something that horrific stirs inside me, I push it away.  It's unthinkable.  Unimaginable.  And yet... it happens all too often.

It happened to my brother's son.  KC was your average American teenager living in a small town.  A 30 year old man preyed upon these teenagers, and my nephew stood up to him and was brutally murdered for it.  His friends say he was protecting a girl.  They say that he had a big heart, and if something wasn't right, if something was unjust, he wouldn't stand for it.  He was no angel himself, but he felt a moral obligation in his heart to stand up even in the face of danger.  He was a lot like my brother in that way.  I remember my brother standing up for me when we were young.

During one of these phone calls with my brother we talked about having to explain to our children what happened.  It's hard enough to tell our teenagers, but our younger children... they have so many questions.  They have questions about death anyway, but somehow when a person is old or sick, death seems to make more sense.  When the person who dies is young and healthy, when it's murder, it is so much harder.

How can fighting with someone make you die? 
       Why are there bad people in the world?
               Will someone make me die?

I don't know how much my brother's youngest was able to understand, but he had plenty of questions.  My kids had questions, too.  I shelter them from the news, media, and videos.  I even preview books before I let them read them. My teenager still hasn't been given permission to read all the Harry Potter books, much to her chagrin, let alone those Hunger Games books her friends back home are talking about.  So my children, probably much the same as yours, don't have much context to work out the ideas of murder.  And when it's someone they know personally, their cousin... it's somehow scarier.

I sat them down and told them in the simplest terms I could think of.  Your cousin died.  He was protecting a friend from a bad person, and the bad person hurt him.  After they pressed me for more details, I told them there was a weapon involved-- a knife.  I didn't dare tell them where or how because I can't even say those words aloud to myself, the details are so terrifying and unthinkable.  But I did have to say that by the time the police arrived, he was already gone.  His soul had left his body.

It was an absolutely heartbreaking conversation, but I couldn't help to think how fortunate it is that our Waldorf homeschooling lessons don't gloss over some of the more terrible aspects of humanity.  From the time we begin teaching them the fairy tales, they learn that bad ends come to bad people.  Murder is something sort of mysterious and magical though, that can often be undone-- like in the Grimm's tale of The Three Little Men in the Wood where the queen gets tossed out the window into the river and turns into a swan.  To bring her back to form (i.e. life) the king has to swing his sword over her head three times.  If only it were that simple!

In grade two we teach them stories of saints and heroes, some of whom meet an unfortunate end.  But how many of us actually tell those ends?

In grade three we begin teaching the Old Testament.  To me, this is where we really hit upon ideas of violence and murder with Cain and Abel.  I remember telling this story to my girls and their eyes were wide in horror.  I think the strength of the story serves a purpose at this age, but clearly I had no idea just how much I would need that story to be something they could call upon and examine so soon.  We also have the making of knives by Cain's son, the theft of a knife, and how it's used to murder someone.

My girls both remembered this story, and they grew very silent thinking about it.

The tales of murder and destruction only increase from there.  The Old Testament stories are rife with them, as are the tales from the ancient mythologies, Rome, the middle ages, and surely the reformation.  The underlying message is that people who stand up for their beliefs, stand up for truth and righteousness, often get killed for it.  We admire these people, they are heroes and martyrs.  But it doesn't change the fact that they get murdered, often in cold-blood.  It doesn't make it any less terrifying to think about.

Moonshine, thinking of how her cousin died, reminded me that the Norse believed it was better to die in battle than in your bed.

But perhaps most fortuitous of all, this week I had started telling Moonshine the story of Siddhartha, the Buddha, for her ancient India study.  Siddhartha was a prince completely sheltered from all sorrow in the world.  When he finally encountered the old, the sick, and the dead he was so troubled that he became a hermit and meditated on how to reduce suffering in the world.  In the Kovacs' book Ancient Mythologies, Siddhartha asks the question: How can people and their souls become free of evil?

A demon comes along and tries to lure him away from his meditation by telling him that his son will die unless he goes to him immediately, but Siddhartha isn't swayed.  He answers: All men must die sooner or later.  I must find consolation for all sorrows, not only for my own...

Eventually, he receives an answer to his question, and he is transformed into an enlightened being.  People and their souls can become free from evil through compassion, kindness, love, and pity.  Through caring for each other more and more.

It's a strong but simple message, one that hopefully brings my children peace.  Continue on loving and living and caring for others, even in the face of sorrow and hardships.

You've really brought that message alive for me this week.  And I thank each one of you with all of my heart.


  1. My heart goes out to your family, and to everyone involved in this. It's such a tragedy. I'm so sad too to read of the funeral costs in America, that's staggering.

    I envy you having censored your children's reading. I haven't censored mine, for various reasons that have been important in context, and I often regret some of the things she has read. Its wonderful how you take care of your children's spirits.

    I hope your family finds peace and consolation following this awful brutality. I can imagine it must be hard for you to be far apart from them at such a time.

    1. Thank you so much, Sarah. I so appreciate your sweet words. xo

  2. Oh, Sara, I am so sorry you had to talk to your children about murder. Nobody should have to do that. It must be so hard to process your own feelings but still be there for your children, for your brother.....I only hope that knowing there are people out there who want to support you brings your family some strength in these terrible, terrible times. God Bless xo.

    1. Thank you so much, Cathy. The outpouring of love and compassion has been overwhelming, and in a way it does help bring some transformative light to such a horrible tragedy. I was just telling another friend this-- that in the face of such terrible sorrow, the only thing we have to offer is our love. Nothing can take away the unbearable pain my brother and his family is going through, but the tide of love swelling around the world for them truly helps. xo

  3. Your children are so blessed to have you there to guide them through such a horrendously painful life help them find the good, the honest, the truth that we must all continue to seek and stand up for. I love you all so much and my heart aches for you but I also feel intense gratitude for your your generous spirit that keeps believing in the beautiful. I am grateful that YOU have your children to help you, Sara, better understand the ugly things that happen in life. I am grateful that you all have one another to hold close. You're in my heart and I send you each much love and peace and thoughts of comfort.

    1. Moxy, I love you dear friend. You bring me to tears with such sweet words. Thank you. xo

  4. Oh Sara dear, your beautiful, thoughtful post made me cry (which is a bit awkward since I'm at the orthodontist's office). We've had to explain death to our children, but not of the violent kind (both their grandmothers died from cancer). I can't even begin to imagine how I could go about explaining something like that to them when they were younger.

    Like Moxy said, your children are indeed fortunate to have you guide them gently through many of life's really rough spots, and you are fortunate to have your wonderful children to ride out those bumps with you.

    My love and thoughts are with you.


Thank you for taking the time to leave a message. I appreciate your sweet words so much!

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