The Facts of Death
No one I know gets excited about the prospect of teaching kids The Facts of Life.
My mom lies and pretends to be enthusiastic about it, but that’s because she’s a school nurse and she gets paid to do it. When she taught me the facts of life, it took me most of the lesson to realize that Mom wasn’t talking about punctuation.
Now, with her paying audience, she spends a healthy amount of time on something we never had at home – the “question jar.” Kids are allowed to submit anonymous questions to the jar covering everything they ever wanted to know about the "Meericle" of Life. Most questions are about anuses and hermaphrodites. No one, it seems, asks about any of the central players in the birth process.
Thankfully, I have a few years before I have to talk with Lucy these embarrassing facts.
For whatever reason, I do not have similar qualms about the Facts of Death. Lucy has two windows in her room, and every so often, insects get caught in the space between the screen and the glass. It’s awful. They crawl about and shake their antennae, as if to rail against the nasty, short, brutishness of life.
Last week, a bee found its way into the glass-and-mesh tomb. I knew my moment had come. It was time for me to teach Lucy about death.
“Lucy,” I said. “That bee is trapped.”
“Bee,” she said. “Bzzzzzzzz-ting!”
“Yes. Bees buzz and they sting,” I said. “That is why I am not going to let the bee out and into your room.”
“Fly,” she said.
“No, Lucy,” I said. “It’s not a fly. It’s a bee. Bees have stripes.”
“Bee,” she replied.
“Lucy,” I said, my throat growing tight, “This bee is going to die. If it can’t get out and go home and have something to eat and drink, it will die. The bee is stuck. The bee will die.”
“Bee,” she said. “Die.”
This talk was going better than I thought. Lucy looked very concerned. If she keeps it up, she’ll be a candidate for a mid-eyebrow Botox injection, just like I am. But that’s another kind of fact of life.
I moved in for the kill, so to speak.
“Lucy,” I said, taking her tiny hand in mine. “When something dies, like a bee, it doesn’t move anymore. Ever. It’s dead. And all living things, even Mama, will die someday.”
With this, I was nearly in tears. I can’t stand the thought of being dead, and the only thing that makes it at all tolerable is that once I’m dead, I almost certainly will no longer care.
The talk now over, I changed Lucy’s diaper and went downstairs, feeling wistful that Lucy, who is not yet 2, has had to face something as appalling and final as death.
The next day, we looked for the bee. And we found him, motionless on the bottom of the window. His little bee hands held on to the edge of the screen, clasped as though in prayer. I felt like a real jerk for not setting him free when there was still time, but I would rather Lucy learn about death than bee stings.
“Lucy,” I said, “The bee died. He will never move again.” A numbness spread through my veins, the anesthetic of misery.
“Bee died,” she said, looking morose.
We changed her diaper, and as I disposed of the contents, I at least had the comfort that life raged on inside my daughter’s bowels.
The next day when we checked on our poor, dead friend, we discovered something: the bee wasn’t there.
That was because he had crawled to the other side of the window, a feat that led me to conclude that he was not, in fact, dead.
On the one hand, I was glad I had a second chance to set the bee free. I felt awful about letting him die in the first place. This was my chance to restore balance to the universe.
On the other hand, I had told Lucy that dead things don’t ever move again. And here was our dead bee, crawling all over the screen and waving his antennae indignantly in our general direction.
“Lucy,” I said. “The bee!”
“Bee dead,” she said.
“No!” I said. “He’s alive.”
She looked confused. So much for the Facts of Death, as taught by Martha. But there was one thing I could do right that day. I could save the bee.
“Hey Adam!” I hollered.
He came into the room, and I explained the situation. With the two of us, we’d be able to capture the bee and set him free, and we wouldn’t have to leave Lucy unattended, or in the path of a seriously pissed-off bee.
“I can take care of it for you,” Adam said. He fetched a paper towel, while I secured Lucy.
Then he opened the window, ever so carefully and reached for the bee.
“Got it,” he said, as he crumpled the napkin.
“Adam,” I said, “You killed the bee.”
After I emerged from the fog of shock, Adam explained that the bee was too weak to make it on the outside. His action was swift mercy, not bee murder. Note to self: Adam should be kept far, far away from the plug if I'm ever on a respirator.I still feel bad about the bee. And Lucy seems somewhat confused by it all. But one thing is for certain: That bee won’t be moving any more. That bee is dead.