It's always difficult to lose a loved one. Worse yet is having to explain the loss
to a young child who has, at best, only a very basic understanding of what death
means. Nevertheless, when faced recently with just such a loss in our household I
didn't shirk from my grim responsibility. I sat down with my four-year-old
daughter and gave it to her straight.
"Sweetie," I said, "I have some sad news to tell you. Maybe you've noticed
that I've been pretty upset the past few days, and you may have even seen me
crying a little bit. Well, there's a reason. And much as it pains me to tell you,
I think you're old enough to hear the truth. Daddy's computer died."
I admit I was tempted to use one of the standard lines we feed to kids about death,
like saying that the computer she'd enjoyed playing so many fun games on was
getting old, so daddy was sending it back to the "computer farm" where it was
born so that it could network and play with all the other machines.
Or I could have sugar-coated the truth by saying that the computer was happier now
that it had gone up to a better place called "PC Heaven."
"You'll see it again one day, I promise," I could have lied. "As long as you
keep doing good behavior, that is." Nothing like using a family tragedy to keep
kids in line, that's my parenting motto.
The whole ordeal was tough for me too, however, as I worked through the standard
stages of grief. At first, when the computer began acting funny and crashing more
frequently, I was in denial.
I reassured myself by saying, "Oh, it probably just needs a new motherboard."
But in my heart of hearts I think I knew, in that intuitive way you sometimes
understand the truth of a situation even though you don't want to admit it, that I
had no idea what a motherboard is.
Eventually I had to face facts -- the end was clearly approaching for the machine
that had seemed so vibrant and fresh when I bought it way back in the long-forgotten
era known as the spring of 2002. This was tough on me. Sure, my computer may have
become hopelessly obsolete, and yes, I admit I had recently gazed longingly at the
computer ads in the newspaper circular, but the fact remains that my old PC and I
had been through a lot together.
(If this column is ever made into a movie, here's where the slow motion soft-focus
montage of the two of us will go: scenes of me laughing over yet another hilarious
forwarded email from my Aunt Libby, my tears pouring out onto the keyboard as I
watch my entire investment in www.TubeSocksDirect.com go down the toilet, the
computer and me frolicking hand-in-mouse as we run through a field of daisies, etc.)
But then things actually started looking up for the old machine. The fixit guy at
the local repair shop called to say that he couldn't find anything wrong with my
computer. I figured we'd just witnessed a high tech version of "Scared
Straight" -- once my PC got a look at the other machines strewn around the back
of the shop with their guts spilling out all over the place and technicians applying
red-hot soldering irons to their private parts (the computers' private parts, that
is), my old desktop figured it had better shape up or else.
Sadly, before long the same old problems cropped up again, until the machine stopped
loading entirely. But as with any great loss, eventually comes acceptance. And while
I'm no grief counselor, I'd pinpoint the moment I achieved that critical stage
at about the time my new computer, with its powerful Pentium D microprocessor, 500
gigabyte hard drive and rewriteable DVD drive, arrived a week later.
My daughter, unfortunately, is still wallowing in denial. She gazes sadly at the old
machine, perhaps lamenting all the games she played that I haven't yet bothered to
load onto the new computer. Today she even came up to me with excitement in her eyes
and said, "Daddy, Daddy, the old computer didn't really die!"
"Of course it didn't, honey," I reassured her, not looking up from my new
17-inch flat screen monitor with its razor-crisp graphics. "And it never will, as
long as we keep its memory alive."
"No, Daddy," she said. "I pushed the button and it came on just like it's
supposed to. We don't need the new computer!"
"There there," I replied, patting her on the head and standing up. "Honey,"
I added, as I walked over to unplug the old machine from the wall, "I think it's
time Daddy told you about a wonderful place called PC Heaven."