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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, July 21, 2002

Death through child's eyes teaches lessons

By Michael DeMattos

I was 11 when I first learned about death, and now at the tender age of 5, so has my daughter.

We were supposed to meet my daughter's best friend Maya at the Punahou Carnival. As is usual with a 5-year-old, we were running late. When we got there at a little after noon, the place was packed.

We bought scrip and the obligatory malassadas, and then it was off to the kiddie rides, where we soon found Maya and her mother, Lenore. To our delight, Maya had brought her friend Jaimie. My daughter liked Jaimie.

As the kids headed into the "bouncy castle," Lenore informed us that Jaimie's mother, Sally, had died earlier that morning. I immediately thought of how surreal this day must be for Jaimie.

I watched, as despite her deep sorrow, Jaimie could not help but laugh as she bounced off of the walls and into her friends, a meteor shower of youth.

Later that afternoon, we shared with my daughter that Jaimie's mommy had died.

My daughter has attended two funerals, but she did not know the deceased. This was different. She knew Sally, and more importantly, she knew Jaimie. She knew that Jaimie was just a couple of years older than she was, and now, that she lost her mommy.

My daughter's eyes watered as she put two and two together. I heard her thoughts in her silence: "If it can happen to Jaimie's mommy, it can happen to my Mommy ... or my Daddy." My heart lurched as I saw the recognition in her eyes and her heart. As her tears ran down my neck, she declared, "I'm never letting you go!"

My wife and I cried with her, knowing the fear that she felt, the fear that we all hold and keep locked away in the deep crags and crevices of who we are. After some time, I pulled her arms from around my neck and lay them upon her own chest. Knowing that she knew the truth and unable to "make everything better," I instead acknowledged her pain and her fear and told her that I loved her and that I was here — now.

The next day, my daughter announced that she would not be going to Sally's funeral. She would stay at school instead. We honored her decision, acknowledging that going to this funeral might be especially difficult for her. She smiled, seeing that we understood.

The funeral was beautiful, and Lenore gave a eulogy that spoke of the light that emanated from this kind soul. We said goodbye to Sally, but friends and family found solace in knowing that her light had not traveled far, just to our hearts.

After the funeral, we headed to school to pick up our daughter. She saw us coming up the sidewalk and quickly ran into the classroom and hid under a table.

I called out to her, "Where are you, Honey?"

She laughed, and I heard her say, "I am here."

So am I, darling, so am I.

Write to Michael DeMattos at: Family Matters, Island Life, The Honolulu Advertiser, P.O. Box 3110, Honolulu, HI 96802; e-mail ohana@honoluluadvertiser.com.