Everyday I try to write a blog post. Everyday I jot down notes about various topics like discipline or about patience or about how Amanda Bines and Lindsey Lohan will probably NOT become best friends.
Most days, these notes don’t amount to anything. I file them away in a folder called “In Process” and usually don’t look at them again until many weeks later. At that point, I almost always delete them because the writing is terrible or because I realize that most people don’t know or care who the hell Amanda Bines is.
I also have several posts “In progress” that are truly in progress. Posts that I want to finish, but just haven’t. For instance, I’ve been writing a post called Cousins: The Unsung Heroes of Families for about three months. (Cousins are a big deal in our house… I love my cousins, the kids love their cousins… and I’m writing a tribute. But I just haven’t been able to find the right way to make that interesting to anyone other than me… and probably my cousins).
Then, every once in a while, a topic just slams into me. (Weird description, I know. But that’s kind of what it feels like.) It starts with an event (like Mother’s Day) or a [I hope] funny idea (like, “Hey, I should describe A Day in the Life!”) and I just write and write and barely read it over and then I hit publish while the post is still full of typos and run-on sentences.
This is one of those posts. And it’s about death. (I know what you’re thinking… awesome.)
KJ’s grandfather passed away last night. He was an incredible man who lived to be 97 and at one point, he was the oldest, living, active Merchant Marine on record. He told cool stories about transporting bombs without knowing it and confronting pirates. Real pirates. He was seriously BAD ASS. He – and his amazing smile – will be missed dearly by his family and friends.
I just told The Loud One that Great-Grandpa died and after clarifying the familial ties, she said happily, “I bet Grandpa was really happy to see his Daddy. I bet he was yelling, ‘Hey father! I’m over here!’ Maybe they’re going to celebrate in heaven by bowling with the angels. Or maybe they’ll ask the angels to make a special heaven cake.”
I LOVE that her first thought was a happy one… that her Grandpa must have been happy to see his father. Because really? That’s my comfort as well. That the people I love are partying it up in heaven with some delicious food and a nice Chardonnay – together. And that they’ll be there when I get there.
Talking to kids about death is so… tricky. They have questions, but we don’t always have the answers. Kids are so literal, while so much about death is unknown and vague.
Yet, these conversations are so important. Now that the Loud One is six, I am always acutely aware of the fact that yikes, she may actually remember this.
I documented the following on December 2, 2010, about a month after KJ’s father passed away.
Background info: My kids know all about my Mom, despite never meeting her. They point to her picture and say, “That’s your Mom. That’s DiDi. She’s in heaven.” And I’ve told the Loud One that my Mom used to say to me, “Oh Kris, you make me laugh” and that it would make me feel so glad.
The Loud One said something funny in the car earlier today and I said, “Oh LO, you make me laugh,” and then we had this conversation:
LO: That’s what your Mommy used to say to you! Is your Mommy DiDi?
LO: And she’s in heaven with Grandpa?
Me: That’s right.
LO: Do you wish you could visit her?
Me: I would love to see her again, but you can’t visit someone in heaven.
LO: Well, you can go there, but just once… when you’re much, much, much, much older. And you’ll be happy to see her, right?
Me: That’s right… and yes, I’ll be very happy to see her.
LO: Do you PROMISE that there’s only one heaven? So we’ll all be there together someday?
Me: [gulp] Yes.
LO: But how do you know?
Me: Weeellllll, that’s just something I believe. When you believe in something that you can’t see or touch or hear, it’s called “having faith” in something. And I just have faith that there’s a heaven.
LO: [pause] Can I have ice cream today?
I mean, this killed me. The “Well, you can go there, but just once…” ?? Come on.
I remember feeling relief after this conversation ended. I was happy when she abruptly busted out the ice cream request. I can handle ice cream. Ice cream is safe. But death? Just talking about death? That’s scary.
To clarify, it’s not that I don’t want to talk to my kids about DiDi and Grandpa and heaven. Trust me, NOTHING warms my heart more than when the Loud One asks questions about my Mom.
It’s just scary because I simply don’t have the answers. And as parents, we always want to be able to give our kids the answers. But I don’t know what happens when you die. And I don’t know what heaven looks like, although yes, I’m fairly certain there is cake. (HEAVEN CAKE, apparently.)
We can only tell our kids what we believe to be true.
We can also tell them that we are simply not sure.
And then we can help them grow up and formulate their own beliefs… about life, about death, about God, about faith.
One more story… I emailed the following to some family members this past February:
Just spent 20 minutes in the car with the Loud One discussing death, heaven and DiDi. Some of her more interesting questions/comments included:
- Is heaven in outer space or just really, really, really high in the sky? (I don’t know.)
- If our bodies are buried, how do we get to heaven? (I have no idea.)
- Do Grandpa and DiDi, like, see each other in heaven? (I really hope so.)
- Are their puppies in heaven? (Depends on who you ask…
And after all of this exhausting (for me) dialogue, including my noting that these are all good questions and I don’t really have great answers, she closes with…
“I wish I was a bird so I could sneak into heaven while I’m still alive and have ice cream with your Mom at a restaurant.”
PS. I’m pretty sure there’s a blog post in here somewhere.
There was. It just took me this long to find it.