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If you can’t take the heat, don’t get “carmationed”

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Our society is so squeamish about death. Until the last six or seven decades, I imagine that death was not so hidden. During agricultural times, we were used to farm animals dying and to dressing our own dead, to having their remains sit in the parlor downstairs until we marched them in a pine box to the family plot in the community cemetery. Perhaps death wasn’t such a spook then.

Now, we are so unfamiliar with death that we don’t know how to process it when it inevitably comes into our lives. I try to think about it now and then. I allow my mind to “go there” to lessen death’s foreign-ness, at non-threatening times and in a non-threatening way.

Witness the lagoon of quicksand that swallows me when I take this stand with my children.

A few years ago in the car, Tessa asked if we could visit the grave site of my grandma, GG (for “great grandma”). I explained that GG was buried in another part of the state and that it was too far to go to today. Reed then asked where I would be buried.

I haven’t shied away from difficult subjects before (such as adoption and birth). Matter of factly, and answering only the question that was asked, I said that I didn’t want to be buried. Can you see where this is going?

Tessa said, “Then what will happen to you, Mommy?” I explained that cremation was another way to deal with a body after a spirit no longer needs it. “What’s carmation?” asked Reed.

I explained as best I could. And may I just say that I didn’t know that their school had had a fire drill last week?

The back seat freak-fest began. The Wailing. The Gnashing of Primary Teeth. “No! Mommy! I don’t want you to burn!” “Don’t burn up, Mommy!” “Mommy! PROMISE US YOU WON’T BE CARMATIONED!!!”

I had to pull over.

Lest you ever find yourself in a similar situation, take it from me. Don’t try logic, like, “But then you won’t have to go ANYwhere to visit me — I’ll be wherever you want me to.” Don’t try metaphysics, like “Once my spirit is gone, I won’t need my body anyway.” Don’t lie to them by promising something you have no intention of doing (thankfully I stopped short of that).

And even I knew not to try “I’d rather be quick-fried to a crackly crunch than be digested by worms.”

Yup, I’m great at knowing what NOT to say. But I can’t tell you what TO say. Please, YOU tell ME. Because it’s bound to come up again.


Lori Holden's book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open AdoptionLori Holden blogs from metro-Denver at and can be found on Twitter @LavLuz. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole  is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful gift for the adoptive families in your life. Lori is also available to deliver her open adoption workshop to adoption agencies and support groups.

Lori Holden
Author: Lori Holden

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  • comment avatar Amber Johnson November 6, 2008

    We have been talking about death this week with my 4-year-old daughter. During a walk in Evergreen, we stumbled upon a graveyard. We wandered around looking at all the graves and discussing how old people were when they died. Some were babies and that upset her.

    But at this age, she is easily comforted by heaven. That conversation won’t be quite so simple in a few years when there is more emotion and a sense of loss attached to it.

  • comment avatar Momma, The Casual Perfectionist November 6, 2008

    Well, I haven’t really dealt with this thing (cremation) yet, but when Claire’s great-grandmother passed away this summer, we talked about death and dying quite a bit. We focused on our belief that Great-Grandma’s memory will always live in our hearts. Claire, being that she was just 2-and-a-half at the time, thought that was fine, but then would get upset when she couldn’t talk to her on the phone like she used to. 🙁

    It’s a process, and we’re just working on it matter-of-factly whenever it comes up.

    My husband and I want to be cremated, so it’s good to know that the actual explanation of what that is will be tricky. Thanks for forging the way, Lori! 😉 I think we’ll just focus on where we want our ashes to be spread and compare that to how Great-Grandma’s body is in that cemetery back in that state in the Midwest.

    Maybe taking “my body” and “fire” and “burning up” out of the equation is the way to go? Maybe something like this? “Some bodies go in a box like a coffin and are buried in a cemetery. Some bodies go in a different box that turns them into ashes. Sometimes those ashes are buried or put in a special place. It’s all the same really (differing religious views notwithstanding)…the memories will live on in our hearts. Either way, it’s not something you need to worry about right now.” (because I think that’s what’s disturbing them the most…the thought of being without you, and the reality is they don’t have to worry about that right now.)

    What a tough one!!


  • comment avatar Lori November 6, 2008

    As with many topics, from Santa to sex, it’s hard to find the right way and tone to explain. It’s also hard to be prepared ahead of time because you don’t know when the subject will come up!

  • comment avatar Marge November 6, 2008

    I’m with the Casusal Perfectionist and I think she gave a great example of a gentle introduction to the topic. If they are under 10, it may be difficult to approach some of these concepts in a straightforward way without triggering fear. They have not likely made a clear distinction yet between the mind, spirit, and body.

    The specific question was “What will happen to you?” I think I would have taken that opportunity to assure them that your spirit and love will live on with them after you die no matter what happens to your body. And of course, then return their minds to the here and now with a happy distraction. “I’m here right now and every hug you give me makes my spirit stronger!”

    Kudos for you for tackling these subjects. (and learning the hard lessons for everyone else’s benefit) 🙂

  • comment avatar MELISSA D November 6, 2008



  • comment avatar Caloden November 8, 2008

    After suddenly losing my father a little over two years ago, we are pretty snug with death in our home. My youngest son, Devon, was almost two when his grandfather didn’t return from work and very confused as to where his favorite person had gone. We chose to tell him that Pop had gone to the other side of the stars. This seemed like a tangible explanation for hsi age.
    The process of being so actively submerged in grief was enough of a distraction to prevent the questions of where did the body go, etc. But now when we discuss death Devon peers up at the stars and says that is where people go. So we have dealt with the sticky subject by a bit of unintentional avoidance.

  • comment avatar Catherine November 9, 2008

    I’m late coming to this conversation, but just wanted to say GREAT topic! I, too, have been trying to make the subject of death an easy one with my children. My son went through a period where he was OBSESSED with the topic in a fearful way. And, as new-agey as this might sound, meditation helped. (He’s eight, by the way) The act of purposefully quieting the mind has made us BOTH calmer in so many ways. Although, I’m not sure if this would have worked with him even a year ago…. just because of his level of maturity.

  • comment avatar Lori November 10, 2008

    Oh, Catherine, I can hardly wait for the day when I can meditate or do yoga with either of my kids. Eight will be a good time to try.

    I need to put all you ladies on speed dial for the next time this comes up!

  • comment avatar Susan January 20, 2015

    Such a tough topic but you did great answering with straight answers and not avoiding or acting squeamish. I try the same tactic when my kids ask the tough questions. I don’t always succeed.

    Thanks for the honest post and sharing a moment that can be scary for both kids and parents to talk through.