Death Smells
August 5, 2011, 5:30 am
Filed under: africa, death, liberia, love, Parenting, social justice | Tags: , ,

“Death smells” my seven year old son told me. I was caught off guard to say the least. We were riding in the car home from church, just John and I. We were discussing the fact that I was going to go with my husband to bless a baby that had died on Friday. It was now Sunday, and John was confused. When someone dies in Liberia, where it is 100 degrees and 100% humidity the body is often brought back to the home for a time of grief and whaling, after a few hours you can imagine the smell. We were going to bless a baby that had died two days earlier. John blurted out what he knew to be true. Death Smells. I was weary, distracted, nervous about the ceremony and now of all times John wants to talk about Africa, about death and about life.

Life is just that way. Important discussions and life altering decisions do not seem to come at convenient times. Our children do not get the word “appropriate.” Their timing and reasoning are all their own. They process things differently than us, but when they are ready to talk, we need to be ready to listen. After a long day with your whiny 3 year old and all you want to do is put her to bed and she says ”Momma, is there really a God?” You’re at a busy grocery store just trying to get it done so you can go home and make dinner. In the check out line your son says rather loudly while pointing to a black man “what happened to that person? He’s painted a different color!” You are zoning out at a stoplight and your daughter calls out “Mom, mom maaaaaah why is that person asking for money? Where does he live?” Your 16 year old son asks if you ever smoked pot.

It may not be these exact questions, but trust me the questions will come. It won’t be when you are ready, or when you have time to think of the perfect answer. It will irritate you and catch you off guard. For me, my response, too often, is quick and conversation ending. Our Children have so much to teach us. They are so much more aware of the world around them than I give them credit for. John was just 4 when his dad died but the scent stayed with him. Our children are soaking up everything around them whether it is war, parental fighting, differences in color, language, or social or economic classification. They do not have the socially or politically correct way to express it. It comes out at awkward and chaotic times and would be so easy to blow off.

“Death smells” John told me and I was able to hear his heart. We had a great conversation about his dad, life in Africa and what we think heaven will be like. It is a conversation I will not forget. It made me wonder how many I miss because it wasn’t convenient, I did not have the time or I was not sure they would “get” it. As parents we are teachers, learners, givers, receivers and hopefully patient listeners. May we have the insight to discern which one is needed, when.



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