Monday Mournings: The Death of an Uncle

Hello. My real name is Anna, but I blog and write under the pen name Carrie-Anne, which I adopted for myself in May of 1993 after The Hollies' song. I'm 32 years old, though I still pass for someone in her twenties. No one ever guesses my age right. I've been writing since I was four years old and last year took my long-deferred dream of being a published writer off the back burner. I write 20th century historical fiction sagas and sometimes write soft sci-fi. I'm originally from the Pittsburgh area, but I've lived most of my life in Upstate NY. I also lived in the Berkshires for awhile, during which time I went to UMass Amherst for a degree in history and Russian and Eastern European studies. In the near future, I may finally be going to grad school for library science, though I still dream about getting a master's degree and doctorate in 20th century Russian history, my passion. Most of my hobbies and interests stem from my lifelong love of history, like silent film, antique cars, vinyl records, coins, stamps, old books, old cemeteries, and genealogy. Speaking of genealogy, one of my nine-greats-grandfathers came to Colonial America in the 1640s, supposedly to escape Oliver Cromwell, and I'm extremely proud to have such vintage American roots on that branch of my family tree.

DW: Who was the person that died?
CA:  My maternal uncle Paul. I always had so much fun with him, and loved going to his house. He had an awesome dollhouse I loved playing with, helped get me started in my lifelong hobby of numismatism (coin-collecting), loved giving me toy dinosaurs and telling me neat facts about dinosaurs (one of his interests), enjoyed playing board games with me (even if he sometimes cheated at Candy Land because he didn't want to be beaten by a kid!), and had a great sense of humor. We had the kind of close relationship where, had he lived long enough and had I chosen to go to college in Pittsburgh, he would've unquestioningly let me stay at his place. And I'm sure he would've been supportive of the decision I made about what religious path I wanted to follow when I was eighteen, even though it was a different faith than his. I firmly believe he was watching over me when I was run over by a car in 2003 and miraculously got away with relatively minimal injuries, a broken leg and some burns. To this day, I still have the posthumous last present he ever gave me, three $2 bills his widow sent me for my birthday at the end of that year with a note saying he would've wanted me to have them.

DW:  How old were you at the time?
CA:  Eight.

DW:  How old was your Uncle?
CA:  I think he was 33.

DW:  Was it a sudden death or did you know it was going to happen?
CA:  He and his wife were driving to work on St. Patrick's Day 1988, and the car skidded on black ice and went through a rotting wooden guard rail. It was completely unexpected for everyone. His wife was a nurse, so she immediately knew he was dead. One week later, the guard rails were replaced with proper modern metal ones.

DW:  Had you experienced any other deaths in your personal life before your Uncle died?
CA:  Because I was so young, I hadn't really personally experienced any deaths of friends or relatives. At most, I remember my great-grandpap Ben passed away a little before this, and that did upset me, since I'd really liked him. But since I was only seven years old when he died and we hadn't had an extremely close relationship, I wasn't hit that hard.

DW:  Were people supportive of your grief or did they shy away when you were grieving?
CA:  I didn't even know he'd passed away till my mother came home from the funeral in Pennsylvania with my little brother. Even today, I'm still upset I wasn't told right away and was denied that chance to say goodbye. Even more upsetting was when I learnt, years later, than my paternal grandma actually counseled my mother not to tell me right away. As a result, I felt like I never really got closure on his death and kept everything bottled up inside for years. It didn't help that I was also having some social, emotional, and behavioral problems at this point in my life, the reason for which was finally figured out three years ago. It's only really been in the last nine years, since my own car accident, that I've been able to open up and talk about my uncle, and his death, instead of avoiding the subject or closing down. The first time I was really able to bring myself to cry over his death was when I was in the hospital after the first of my surgeries in August 2003.

DW:  Is there anything you wish you'd done differently with this person?
CA:  I wish I hadn't refused to hug him one of the last times I saw him, and hadn't been such a stubborn kid or had those childhood issues that contributed to my being not so touchy-feely at that age. And I wish my family had spent more time living in Pittsburgh instead of relocating to Upstate NY, so I could've seen him on more than visits. But in spite of not wanting to hug him, I knew he wasn't upset with me. I've never forgotten how my mother told me, when she went to his house after the death, the last letter I ever wrote him was on the refrigerator, along with a picture. It had meant so much to my southpaw uncle that I'd written him a letter and drawn a picture with my left hand, and I'm sure that from the other world, he's very proud of me for having finally come out of the closet about the true extent of my left-handedness.

DW:  Was he buried or cremated?
CA:  He was buried in the Pittsburgh area.

DW:  Did you learn anything about the grieving process that you'd like to share?
CA:  It's not right to hide the news of a death from a child and not give her the chance to say goodbye. There are always age-appropriate ways to convey the news and help the child to start grieving in normal time. It's worse when you keep it a secret and think it's better to find out after the funeral.

DW:  Last but not least, were any songs played at the memorial that were important to your Uncle?
CA:  I didn't attend the funeral, as I've mentioned, though years later I saw a scrapbook in my uncle's memory in my grandparents' home. I believe "Amazing Grace" was one of the songs listed as being played at his memorial service. He was a person of deep religious faith, though it was certainly never something he was overt about.
This one goes out to Paul

Okay blog readers, what are your thoughts and opinions about discussing death with kids?  Should they be allowed to attend funerals?  Know of any good books for kids who are grieving? (I get asked this quite a lot)