The other night, I was putting my son to bed and he started asking questions about my Grandma. Gram passed away when I was pregnant with my boy, so he never met her, but we talk about her so often it’s like he almost knows her. I like that.
So, as I’m tucking him in and we’re talking about the events of our day (a nightly ritual), he asks where my Grandma is.
“She’s not here, so where is she?”
“Heaven, buddy. She went there before you were born.”
Immediately, I regretted it. I opened that door. He would inevitably start asking questions that I would have to answer, and I wasn’t sure either of us was ready for it. Don’t get all judgy on me; I don’t mind that my kid is asking questions, nor am I afraid to talk about the “touchy” subjects, but you have to understand: he is the most sensitive soul on the planet, and he really internalizes things. His level of empathy trumps most of the grown folks’ I know, and while I am certainly grateful that he is so compassionate, I worry that he takes too much to heart.
The conversation continued.
“Where is heaven?”
“Way up in the sky, past the clouds, sun, and airplanes.”
I did my best not to elaborate unless he specifically requested. Which, of course, he did.
“Like, with the birds?”
“You know how we go to church and learn about Jesus? Well, that’s where Heaven is; where Jesus is.”
Silence. Thoughtful pondering.
“Why did your Grandma go there?”
What’s the opposite of bazinga? Here we go…
“When we get really old or really sick, we go to Heaven.”
And that, my friends, is the part I wish I could take back. When my son gets a cold, is he going to think he’s going to Heaven? When someone in our family has the flu, is he going to think he’ll lose that person? And then he asks:
“Am I going to go away?”
His little lip quivered. Go away. I was actually surprised at the way his question made me feel. My initial reaction was to scream NO! and cover his body with mine because nothing, NOTHING is going to hurt my baby. But that’s just not reality. My heart ached. I immediately thought of all the parents whose babies are already waiting for them in Heaven. So unfair. I wanted to cry. I had to make a decision. What was I willing to tell him? What was he ready for?
“Not any time soon, buddy. You’re young, you’re healthy, and you have nothing to worry about.”
“Are YOU going to go away?”
“Dad and I are young, healthy. Please don’t worry, okay?”
I wanted to end that last sentence with: “I promise,” but you just can’t promise things like that.
One of my favorite actors, James Gandolfini, died yesterday. He was 51-years-young. I realize I didn’t know the guy, but I love his work and my whole family likes to pretend we belong on an episode of The Sopranos. Preferably an episode where no one is getting hacked to bits in the back of Satriale’s. At any rate, I’m super sad about his untimely death, and the irony that my 3-and-a-half-year-old was asking about Heaven the night before isn’t lost on me. Here’s hoping James finds peace, and I get better at having deep conversations with my kids.
Have you had to have “the death talk” with your kids? Help me!