One evening last week when we were visiting at my parents' house, Sweet M and I were sitting together in the living room, away from the rest of the family.
Sweet M turned to me and asked, "Is Grandpa going to die soon?"
I paused for a moment as I was a bit surprised. I didn't even know she had a concept about dying, although there was that one goldfish, Snappy, who we consigned to a burial at sea by splashing her into the Hudson River estuary . . .
Then I said something that I thought would be reassuring: "I don't think so. I think he'll be around for a good long while."
"Well I hope he dies in an hour," she replied.
I was sort of shocked because there had been little interaction between them, and what little there was appeared to be pleasant enough. And, on the other hand, he is in an increasingly difficult and impaired state, and obviously very advanced in years. It is scary and disconcerting to see someone who is up in years and who is losing their functioning. Between that and the fact that I hadn't known that she had any idea about death and dying, I was more than a bit taken aback.
I wish I would have asked her more about what she said, but I reacted in what now seems like a hopelessly banal way, by saying "I don't want to hear you say that again. That is very mean and it would hurt Grandpa's feelings if he heard you say that."
At some level, of course, Sweet M is on to something. In some ways it would be merciful for my father to move on to whatever happens to people when they're no longer alive, but her response felt and sounded mean in a visceral way that I'm not accustomed to experiencing from Sweet M. Afterall, we call her Sweet because she typically is.
We want them to use their words, and then when they do we can find ourselves shushing them when they have something they want to say that we, or others, don't want to hear. Should we be saying "use your words, but only for what we want to hear." I don't think so.
But on the other hand, we don't want them saying things like "I wish this one or that one were dead."
What I wish: that I were smarter, more flexible, and more ingenious in dealing with Sweet M.