Sweet daughter has been reading a story about a family of four girls having to deal with the death of their mother. It’s set in Mexico, mid 1900s.

It’s a story written by a woman, for girls about the age of ten, as mine is. As a manly man (ahem) nearing 40, this does not represent my favorite oeuvre. Nevertheless, it sparked a brief conversation with said offspring about death and how to handle it.

We don’t do this very often, as Americans. Death seems to still be a rather taboo and unseemly topic of conversation, which reeks of irony considering what we actually do talk about. (I’m looking at you Richard Sherman.) But we need to talk about it. Not dwell on it, mind you. Let’s address it as we would any other topic about which we need to teach kids.

So that’s what I did. We talked about grief. We discussed how the idea of an afterlife confuses the survivors, for if we’re going to see our loved ones again, what’s the point of being so sad? Sweet daughter seemed to grasp without much trouble at all the concept that when someone dies, they’re gone and that’s it. Most importantly, in the midst of grief we have to believe that we will be happy again.

The pain we feel isn’t for the one passed. It is for ourselves and for any other survivors. As such it is something that we can deal with. We need not pretend that the dead live on and so “watch over us” or take interest in what we do. Our lives are our own, and we need not live them for the departed. We can honor those gone, but we don’t need to be ruled by them in any way. Consequently, we must acknowledge that happiness can and should return when the grieving is done.

Looking back on those I’ve lost, this perspective fills with me with a great sense of freedom. It feels healthy to miss them from time to time but–in the main–to take joy in having known them. They do not look down on me from Heaven. Instead, their lives have left an indelible (I hope) mark on my life, for the better.

Life, short as it is, seems much sweeter, much more precious, when its brevity is fully comprehended. And while it hurts to lose someone–indeed, the pain can sometimes make us feel as if we will never breathe again–we must remind ourselves that the pain will pass and that happiness, happiness is the whole point of life.

My hope is that when my daughter experiences for the first time the loss of someone close to her, she will grieve well…and then move on and grasp the fullness of joy that life has to offer.