Be There Some More
As the traffic light turns red, I slow to a stop and let my gaze wander. My eyes land on the funeral home to my right. I’m used to looking that way. It’s on the corner–in an awkward location given how multiple streets meet at this light. I always think there’s not enough parking, too, though the lot is usually empty when I drive by. Today it’s not. I see the men first, then the casket, then the hearse. Without thinking, I hold my breath for a second, then release it. And then I think what I feel must be the stupidest thought of all, which is That sucks. Yup, death sucks. Really deep.
In the next moment, I remember that Boo is in the backseat. And I am ever so grateful that he grabbed those two trains he must be playing with. I don’t turn around to look at him. I don’t say anything. I just think Oh please don’t ask me what those guys are doing. Please don’t look up. Please, please. He doesn’t say a thing. The light turns green and I’m off the hook. I hadn’t realized I’d been holding my breath again until I let out a small exhale of relief.
So yes, I had a mini-freak-out over what I would say to my son, who as far as I’m aware, has no concept of human death. He knows that batteries die, bugs maybe. That’s about as far as it goes (to my knowledge, anyway). It’s entirely possible he understands more than I realize.
I know we’re getting close to the question. He’s looked through my mom’s wedding album and asked who my grandmother was. I told him and saw his little brain working, wondering where she was. He has a framed photograph of my husband as a child, his dad, and his grandfather. Boo is named for them (the IV) and sort of understands that, too. He’s asked my husband about his grandfather. And in the moment it took for my husband to think of a response, Boo had moved on to something else (a truly rare occasion, as he typically badgers us with the same question until he gets an answer he understands well enough.)
I’ve heard stories of parents who’ve needed to talk about death with their little ones. It seems like in most cases, the simpler the explanation, the better, and that kids ask fewer questions than parents expect. I know we’ll be honest when he asks. But he’ll worry; it’s just who he is. And I’ll about fall on the floor in shock if he doesn’t ask at least 20 follow-up questions. Hell, we can’t get through a board book in under 10 minutes around here.
I think most of my issue about this (hence, the freak-out) comes from my own beliefs about death–beliefs that would offer no consolation to a preschooler. I would like to believe in a heaven or an after-life of some kind, but I don’t. For me, death is death. It’s a fact of life. A crappy fact of life. So I’m left empty-handed, so to speak. I have nothing to offer him.
And I can’t help but think of how often this will happen throughout his life. Times when I can’t console him or make him hurt less. When I can’t take away his worry or fear. And when I can’t make promises. Like anything else with this parenting thing, I suppose the only thing I can do is my best. I can be there for him. I can answer his questions. And I can be there some more.