Thursday, May 5, 2022

A Very Special Assembly... talking about death.

I talked in my last blog post about the strangeness of finishing my Melody Harper book series.

It's a book I poured a lot of my heart into, and right now, I have a friend dealing with the death of a loved one, and there's a part I want to share with them. This comes from book four, so spoilers, but then if you've not read the books until now, you probably won't really mind! ;-)

Just for context, as without the book series, a little might be confusing,

The natator is Julia, a 19 year old from the Moon, currently come to Earth with her partner, Melody. Julia has lived on the Moon all her life and needs a wheelchair in Earth's gravity.

Dylan is the seven-year-old girl she's adopted, who lost her parents. One to an accident called the Hub Crash, and the other to alcoholism.

Melody has just given birth to a baby for a couple of friends. The baby was named Harmony, to complement her mother's name.

Even though Harmony isn't her sister, Dylan refers to her as such.

Although a sci-fi book, a lot of it deals with characters growing up, finding love, and becoming adults. There's a lot of fun, but there are also difficult things to deal with too like grief and trauma.

A very special assembly

21:32 Wednesday 1st March 2084


Dylan’s teacher, Mrs Bottomley, approached me last week about her idea.

“Dylan has mentioned in class about missing the memorial service for her mother, for the whole Hub Crash event,” she’d told me.

“Oh? Well, there is a service planned on the Moon, which we were going to attend by video link. But to be honest, Dylan hasn’t mentioned much about it,” I replied. “I’ve brought up a few times if she wanted to talk or do anything for her mother, but she’s been quite buttoned up about it.”

“We were thinking of doing a special assembly for her, as a kind of memorial. But wanted to check with you if you were comfortable,” Mrs Bottomley explained.

I hadn’t jumped into it right away but talking to Dylan, she said she wanted to remember her mummy with her friends and the nice teachers at her new school, so gave consent to it.

Well, today was the day for the special assembly in the main school hall.

We arrived to find all the kids from Dylan’s school were sitting cross-legged on the floor, which looked incredibly uncomfortable. They all stood up for us as we moved to take our places at the back - Melody, Dylan, Ernie, Annie, Jessie and even Harmony, who Melody was rocking and trying to keep pacified.

I’m glad I came in my wheelchair. There’s an odd feeling of being in Lilliput being in a primary school. Everything feels ‘scaled down’ for use for under-10s and even the chairs they bring out for adults look too small for function, especially with my long limbs.

Dylan sat in a chair next to me, eventually coming to sit on my knee.

The assembly was introduced by the Principal, a lady named Mrs Morgan, who was dressed in a smart business suit. She warmly encouraged the children in the hall to sit again, and there was a few moments of chaos as a couple of hundred children returned to the floor, with at least a couple of children pushing a neighbour who they’d felt was encroaching on their space.

“I’d like to welcome you all to this very special assembly,” Mrs Morgan began. She was an odd character, she exuded warmth and rapport with the children, and yet there was a certain no-nonsense about her. I expected this went hand-in-glove with being a head primary school teacher. “It was almost a year ago now that we woke up to the news that something terrible had happened out at the Lunar colony. I remember it upset a lot of you wondering what was going on, scared about what had happened to the people out there.

“As a predominantly Christian school, we prayed every morning that the colonists there were safe. I know those of you of other faiths prayed in your own ways as well.

“Of course, a year ago, those people seemed so far away, but we felt a strong connection to them. So many of us as girls or boys have dreamt about moving away and becoming a colonist on Mars or the Moon. The people living out this frightening episode could so easily be us, people we identified with and wanted to be.

“What few of us could imagine was that some of those people would come and live among us just a few months later. We have Dylan and her family with us today, most of whom call the Moon their home.”

Principal Morgan raised her hand in greeting to us, and a great many curious children looked behind to get a look at us.

“Of course, we know overall the colony was lucky. They got through the Hub Crash crisis, and there are steps to make sure something like that never happens again. But unfortunately, people did die. They included Dylan’s mother and friends of Dylan’s guardians.

“What I want to talk to you about a little today is the subject of death. It would be nice if death was something you only encountered off world, but it’s a part of life here on Earth too. Even at your age, the likelihood is you’ll have encountered death on some scale. It might have been a beloved pet or a grandparent.

“Facing death is often a difficult journey, even for us adults. People who are going through grief can seem to us very sad or very angry. Fundamentally, they’re missing the person they’re grieving for, and adjusting to the fact that someone they’ve always known is no longer here with us. As their friends, we need to remember always to practice kindness with them because it’s a difficult time for them.

“It takes time to adjust, and different people take different times for this. It’s a very personal journey. So, we also need to practice patience. Someone who is grieving might want to talk about the person they’re missing today, but not want to tomorrow. We need to remember to respect their boundaries and let them lead.

“I asked Dylan how she’d like to remember her mother on this anniversary of her passing,” Principal Morgan said, and Dylan put her arms around me and clung tightly. “She said she remembers her mummy as someone who gave the best hugs. She misses telling her about her school day, which would be a ritual they’d do over dinner on the colony. Her mummy used to take her to the domed gardens they have on the colony and would tell her the names of all the plants. Dylan misses when her parents used to put her to bed with a story at night. Little memories which remind Dylan how much her mummy loved her. But they are important ones.”

Dylan buried her head in my shoulder, and I patted her back.

“Maybe you’re going through your own grief process, and there are little memories you’d like to share. You know my door is always open, or your teacher is always able to listen and talk to you if you need to share them. I like to think of this school as a family, and whatever our differences, we support one another through the years we share together.”

Harmony began to stir a little at this point, and Melody did her best to rock her with a few soothing shushes to attempt to placate her.

“Well, I’m very pleased to have that little interruption,” joked Principal Morgan, and the school assembly broke into light laughter. “We’ve been talking a lot today about death, and how it’s an important but sad part of life. About its ending and about us having to say goodbye. But there’s an opposite to this that we can take joy in.

“A year ago, Dylan’s sister, Harmony, didn’t exist. She was born back in January and is the reason Dylan’s family came back to Earth for a while. Birth is the beginning of life, and it’s a reminder that although it’s sad when people leave, there’s joy in remembering that new people will come into life as well.

“And on that note, let us pray.”

They then broke into prayers. I have to admit I just stayed silent, not really being one to pray. Dylan had been crying a little, and I gave her an extra squeeze of a hug.

At the end, the school filed out, and we hung behind. I asked if Dylan was going to be okay, and she said yes, but she wanted to know if I could stay around school just in case.

Afterwards, when all the other children had filed out, I met up with the Principal and thanked her for her words.

“I try to do an assembly on death once a year, especially if someone has recently lost someone. It raises a lot of anxiety in other children, and sometimes they don’t know how to deal with that person,” Principal Morgan explained. “I like to think it’s something that we as a school do really well, but of course some parents think it’s taking time from education.”

Mrs Morgan was delighted to have me join her class and had me talk to the children a little about life on the Lunar colony. I explained about how the gravity was lower and we had no air on the surface, but lived mainly underground, growing food on the glass houses on the surface.

I got asked questions about if I needed to use my wheelchair on the Moon (no, because I just find Earth gravity too intense), have I ever walked on the Moon (yes, I work surveying with my partner’s father, who is an ex-student of this school), how did I get to live on the Moon (I was just born there).

Later on, I helped Mrs Morgan by having some children read aloud to me, giving them prompts when needed. It took me back to teaching Dylan when I was back in school. I really missed interacting with the kids. Hopefully, I’ll be able to do more of this once I’m considered sufficiently apprenticed with Mr Malcolm.

Yes, that reminded me, how formal Earth schools seem, using people’s last names like Morgan and Bottomley. I think our way is much better. They sound like they’re in Victorian literature, addressing people with their surnames.

I noticed though, Dylan kept looking across from her table to me, to check I was still there. It looked more nervous than anything. It was a reminder that just my presence was emotional support.

At night, Dylan opened up a bit more.

“Something Principal Morgan said got me thinking,” Dylan said at bedtime. “We’ve covered different religions in school. Some people think that when you die, you go off to heaven. But others think that when you die, you get born again as someone new.”

I wondered where she was going with this, “I’ve heard of it. I personally don’t believe it myself though. What about you?”

“It’s just I’ve been wondering,” Dylan continued. “Do you think maybe Harmony is a reincarnation of my mummy?”

Oh, that had me stumped.

“It could be,” I said, trying to be tactful. “I know your mummy was someone very special in our lives, and I know Harmony is going to be special too. But I like to think we’re our own people. I think…”

I cut myself off because I was crossing the line about telling Dylan instead of letting her express her own beliefs. I’d criticised others for overstepping this in the past.

But Dylan wanted to know more and kept asking.

“Okay, it’s probably silly. I know when I was young, I used to lock horns a lot with my mother, and not understand some of what she did. There was always some friction between me and my parents,” I explained. “As I’ve been your guardian, I’ve felt that I understand them more. Like I’ve become them in small ways, or at least understand them better. Even if there are still some big items that I still don’t see eye-to-eye with.

“I think those important memories of your mummy that you told your principal about. You won’t see them in other people. When the time is right, you’ll see them in yourself. When you become a parent, you’ll choose to keep alive within you what was important about your parents. That, to me, is how we reincarnate.”

Dylan thought about that for a while, “I like that, but I’ll have to think about it some more myself.”

We finished our bedtime story, and Dylan asked if we could pray about Mummy and Daddy. She’s never really asked to before, and I assume some of school is rubbing off on her, but I said okay, but she would have to lead.

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