Tonight, at dinner, it was the boys and I for some leftover orange chicken and rice with banana-pineapple smoothie. “Leftover” as in from lunch earlier in the day. A classic too-tired from weekend-working kind of Monday meal. So, this conversation illustrates that the most meaningful and also heart-squeezing discussions can be around the table with reheated leftovers. It doesn’t have to be fancy, took all day food.
The boys and I talk frequently, rather light-heartedly about how everyone is born and everyone dies. Sometimes it can be as simple as a quick statement like, “Colby, you are gonna die. Everyone dies.” Ouch. But that’s the end of the conversation. No hard feelings. Plain uncandy coated truth. Well, tonight, it was different. And I begin to tear up just trying to write down the pure innocent and insightful, yet difficult thoughts and questions that I got bombarded with for a rather long and painful 15 minutes. Or more. It’s a tough age, having two nearly six year olds almost feels like you’re trying to get one arm loose just in time for the other one to be grabbed out of nowhere. Restrained. Bombarded. Helpless at times. At a loss for words, specifically answers.
We were talking about how your heart beats and pumps blood throughout your body. And also how your heart is kind of like a battery and as it gets old, it doesn’t pump as strongly as when you’re a kid. This inevitably introduced the idea of death and Heaven. So, boom, just like that, we were talking about what Heaven would be like. It’s hard to put biblical descriptions and concepts of Heaven into a concrete, developmentally friendly manner for young children. Thanks, but no thanks, Revelations. Julian became preoccupied with what clothes we would wear in Heaven. Still light dinner conversation at this point. I stated,”I don’t know. We may not wear any clothes.”
I rather thoughtlessly responded. In my defense, I haven’t been to Heaven.
Oh, if I could rewind and reach across the table and grab those words before they made it to Julian’s sweet ears. I proceeded to go deeper with how a lot of things may be different than what we are used to. I look over and Julian’s face is red and enveloped in his two hands. And he’s crying. Oh, no, my mind tries to remember all that I’ve said in the past minute or so. I’ve scared them. It’s too much. I should have changed the subject to super heroes or Halloween.
“Julian, come here, what’s the matter?” I ask gently, scoot my chair out and open my arms.
He gets up and comes over to my lap. In moments like these, I realize how big their bodies are getting, but how small and fragile their hearts still remain. I hold him as he curls his long skinny legs up into my lap and places his head on my shoulder, sobbing. Just like a baby. He’s crying hard now, having a hard time coordinating his breathing, through his tears. And I still have no idea what exact thoughts or words have triggered this response.
I ask him, “Julian, why are you crying?”
He responds, as he looks up through his sopping wet gigantic eye lashes,
“Do you NOT wear clothes in Heaven?”
In a flash, I’m relieved and yet, also reminded of how awful this concept could be for my “overly private” child. When he goes to the bathroom, he locks the door and he has near break-downs when his brothers try to coincidentally go to the bathroom at the same time. “I need privacy,” he says. So much so that his 3 year old brother now says, also when going to the bathroom, “I need pi-racy.”
I backtrack and tell Julian maybe, instead, you get to wear your most favorite clothes in heaven. This is helping. So I elaborate. Your Batman shirt. Your favorite pajamas. Then, his twin brother chimes in with what he wants to wear in Heaven. Then, it’s back to what Heaven will be like. The coolest playground. Full of love. Nothing to make you cry. In which, Asher adds “you could cry from happiness.” Seriously, why could their dad not be here for this dinner? I talk about how I would like to jump from cloud to cloud, and maybe even fly. They want to jump clouds with me too! I think we have fully recovered and can clear the table when Julian erupts again, a volcano of tears. Oh, no. My heart hurts.
“Julian, what’s upsetting you?” I ask him, while still holding him.
He answers, “How will I find you and Dad in Heaven?”
I almost can’t take it. And I see why adults shy away from such difficult conversations. But it’s not fair to leave it up to them, to navigate such rough waters without a captain of the ship. I help him brush his hair. I help him find his shoes. I have to help him learn about God’s love and if for some awful, painful unexplained reason I die too soon, I want my kids to trust that we will be together again. In the greatest, most love-filled and happy place.
I answer him. “Mom and Dad will be at the front door of Heaven waiting for you with God and Jesus. You won’t have to look for us. We will be there to give you the biggest hug.”
I think they are sensing how hard it has become for me to talk about this.
Asher starts crying too and says, “how will they know to come find us when you and Dad die?”
Ahhhhhh. No. Too much.
“Who are all of the people who love and care about you so much?” I respond.
Asher starts listing grandparents, aunts, friend’s moms.
I say, “I hope that I die when you are a lot older and I am really really old. If I die when you’re little, the first thing that anybody is going to do, Oma, Gigi, Pop Pop, Granda, are going to make sure that you are safe. They are going to love you and you are always going to have pictures of Mom. And be able to remember things we do together. I will make a special envelope full of pictures and stories for you to have if I died.”
“Where will we find the envelope?” they asked.
“I will put it in a special place so it will not get lost.”
I’m emotionally exhausted but unable to outwardly portray how gut-wrenching this conversation has been. Enough difficult questions for one dinner. As if right on cue, Asher states, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore.” Me neither. “Let’s go take a bath.” Deal. I will take all of the dishes to the sink for everyone. And just like that, clothes ironically start hitting the kitchen floor, from one boy, at least. Bath time it is. Deep breaths. And up the stairs I go.