There is a scene in the book Inside the O’ Briens by Lisa Genova I won’t forget. Joe, a Boston police officer, has been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease and is beginning to experience some of the more devastating effects of this terminal illness which has no known cure. He is feeling angry and hopeless and expresses those emotions in a violent way. His youngest daughter Katie has a heart to heart talk with him. Since Huntington’s is hereditary Joe’s four children all have a fifty/fifty chance of having the disease too and like their father may begin to experience symptoms in their mid-forties. Katie tells her Dad to remember he has taught all his children by his example what was right and wrong, the importance of integrity, the value of having a work ethic, the need to respect others and the importance of loving your family. Now he is teaching them how to die by the way he faces his own death.
I know I have often considered what kind of example I am being to my children and that has been a powerful motivation to me as I try to make good choices. But I had never thought about the fact that even in the way we face death we act as a role model for our children. I watched both my mother-in-law and mother face illness and death with courage and more concern for others than themselves. They have been role models for me and someday I will be called upon to be a role model for my own children in how I face death.
It is a sobering thought but an important one. We can teach our children many things. We can also teach them how to die.