I am grateful for Linden and Dianne Swansburg and the example they make. Let me explain.
The expression “it takes a village to raise a child” has always been true, but recently I was reminded that it takes a child to show us what truly matters. My six-year-old grandson has “lost” someone very precious to him. Linden didn’t misplace his special friend; she didn’t move away and not tell him. She died, suddenly though not easily, understandably but unexpectedly. It seemed to happen so fast, as death tends to do, leaving us unprepared. Her passing has been Linden’s introduction to grief, that first difficult lesson of what life is all about.
Dianne was Linden’s surrogate grandma, the sort of person who loved him eagerly, who let Linden be himself in her presence, who picked him up from school on Tuesdays and spent happy times together until his mom picked him up. Dianne and Linden did crafts together, went on walks, visited the pet store regularly while Linden tried to convince Dianne her life would be so much richer with a hamster in her home. She made rice krispie “cake” complete with sprinkles, which is incredibly fabulous in Linden’s opinion and he suggested I adjust my recipe accordingly. I did. They played with Lego and read books and created dinosaur eggs they hid in plaster of paris. Dianne always had some activity ready to go when Linden visited.
Linden listened intently to his mother’s explanation of where Dianne had gone and why and though it filled him with immeasurable sadness, he tried very hard to understand and what his life would be like now, without Dianne in it. His immediate concern was not for himself, but for Dave, Dianne’s husband, and their family dog and would they be okay without Dianne’s love.
Linden and his mom have created the idea of performing Diane Deeds, to honour her memory and what she meant to them and to follow her example. A Dianne Deed is an act of kindness for no apparent reason, not for credit or praise, but purely for reaching out to someone, to a stranger, to a friend, to a relative, to brighten his or her day. A Dianne Deed isn’t measured in size, isn’t judged for benefit or return. It can be as simple as bumping heads with a “wild” person in the grocery store. You know those sorts of people, strangers on the street. After bumping heads with this wild person, Linden apologized and took responsibility, asking if the wild person was okay. Turns out, she was. At school, Linden tidied up the cloak room without being asked after his teacher grumbled about the mess. “Dianne Deed of the Day,” he told his mom when he got home, happily with a thumbs up.
We can never have too many people loving us; there is no such thing. Linden’s life was enriched by someone who had no obligation to love him, no duty or responsibility. Dianne loved Linden just because.
Understanding something removes the fear of it. Linden understands his sadness, but Dianne’s death is not something to fear. He replaces the ache in his heart with being kind to others and in doing so, he keeps Dianne close by.
Linden will attend the celebration of Dianne’s life and along with his mother he will invite those who attend to jot into a book a favourite memory of how Dianne touched his or her life. Linden will offer up his six-year-old conversation and curiousity, and he will help others with their grief. And he will do so because he is Linden and because Dianne’s love helped him be the person he is.