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Death and Childhood

How death can sensitize a child in ways one can never imagine.

Photo of Priyanka Kalmane
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I was 7 and it was 16 years ago.  It was a sunny, lively morning. I had my vacations and I was excited about staying out and playing with my friends. That’s when I heard my grandfather yell out of pain. He was in the neighboring room. Let me tell you one thing I knew about my grandfather from those crumbs of memory I have of him. He was a strong man. He didn’t want his wife, sons, daughter or anybody for that matter, know what exactly he was going through. But when he complained, we understood the degree of agonizing pain he must have been dealing with. Because when the doctor told us that he was diagnosed of Pancreatic cancer and he wouldn’t survive it, we knew that there was a lot of pain he tried to bury deep down.

I was 8 and it was 15 years ago.  I vividly remember the myriad of emotions my family and I were going through as my grandfather fought for those last few breaths. As my grandmother stood at the door watching her husband trying to hold on and trying to beat death, I was wondering why she wasn’t weeping as hardly as I was. As I watched my father sit by his side holding his hand, trying to soothe the physical pain he was going through, I tried to reason as to how my father managed to remain that strong. It was at home and my grandfather was surrounded by all his loved ones. He longed for that and leaving the world amidst the people he cared about is all he could ask for.

I am 23 now. Watching my grandfather leave us all behind was probably the most excruciating detailed memory I have from my childhood. On a young, impressionable mind like that, death can have a huge impact. I resigned for a while. But that incident sensitized me in ways I can never imagine. Death of a loved one can teach you so much compassion. You see the person in the naked emotion sort of way and you see fear, anxiety and desperation to not let go. These feelings teach you mind blowing things about humanity. It makes you vulnerable. And vulnerability is beautiful. Vulnerability is the key to human connection.

In this age, where we are so self-absorbed , not willing to let people in, trying to appear strong on the surface and fail miserably, it is important to maintain sanity and feel human. Although death of anybody you love can cause anguish you would never want to endure, it makes you touch base with what all we are all capable of feeling and makes us human.

PS: I’m generally not a person who can really put down how I feel about things. But I’ve made an effort because this incident is very dear to my heart and taught me number of things of end-of-life experience.


What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Letting yourself feel pain will make us better, compassionate humans.

This inspired (1)

Death of a Taboo.

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Photo of Nancy Shapiro Rapport

Lovely share, Priyanka. I'm sitting here trying to imagine a world where vulnerability, especially with loved ones, was available to people long before having to say goodbye. You are so right about how meaningful personal growth has the potential to accompany grief. Being open to the growth is key. You demonstrated that beautifully; as a result, I'm guessing you have brought that perspective to many whom have crossed paths with you. 

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