Grief, Kids, and “The Dash”


live your dashMy uncle died. Well, two of my uncles died this year (thanks for nothing 2020), 9 weeks between each other, but due to COVID-19, I missed one of the funerals. I was, however, able to attend my Uncle Mike’s unveiling. In the Jewish religion, it’s tradition to go back to the gravestone once it’s in place and “unveil” it. And so that’s what I did to honor his memory.

I didn’t tell my older daughter about my uncle’s death for many months. I felt like with everything else going on in the world, and in HER world right now, she didn’t need to process that just yet.

But that weekend, as we were packing her bags to stay with her aunt so we could attend the unveiling, I felt like it was time. We sat together, and I explained where her dad and I were going. I watched those big brown eyes turn into giant, sad saucers. And of course, her sad face and the words I was saying made it hard to control my own grief, and the tears rolled down my cheeks.

My girl has a heart of gold, and she ran to get me a tissue and then rubbed my leg until I could compose myself. This was exactly why I didn’t want to tell her. I didn’t want her to fall into the cycle of my grief. But she’s almost 8. She knew my uncle, and most of all, I didn’t want to lie when she asked where we were going.

We’ve had more than a few conversations about heaven in our house. My husband’s mother died long before our children were born, but my oldest is named for her. We keep memories alive in our house by talking about those who left us and telling stories about their lives.

At the unveiling, the rabbi quoted a poem, “The Dash Poem,” by Linda Ellis. The part that really stuck with me was, “What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.” The dash refers to the time between your date of birth and the day you pass away. That literal dash is your lifetime, and the poem wants you to think about how to spend your time here on earth.

Right now, in this crazy time of “2020,” I’m sure so many moms, dads, and families are thinking about so many things. We’re worried about the safety of our relatives. We’re wondering how to find some normalcy for our children. And we’re wondering how we got here and what we can learn from it all. I think at some point, we will be able to look back, proud that we soldiered on through months of unknown. And I hope we made the most of our dash.


I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning…to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth, and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars…the house…the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

Linda Ellis


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