Clothes in Heaven

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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.

Bumper Sticker Beliefs

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I would like to feel like I am fulfilling some greater purpose, while waiting behind you at this red light. Other than just sitting in traffic. Thank you for your attention to your bumper. This is a multi-step process that you have completed. Kudos to your ability to stay on task and finish a project. I already admire you. You researched what bumper sticker you would like to purchase. You bought it. You cleaned off your bumper. You proudly smoothed that sweet sticker all the way across your car’s rear end. No air bubbles and it’s totally straight. You nailed it. Well done. I have a difficult enough time putting my license tag renewal sticker on every year. Like I said, there are a lot of steps. A lot of distracting things can happen when walking from the kitchen counter out to the bumper of my van. I may notice that dirty dish. Put that in the sink. Ouch. I just stepped on a Nerf gun. Oh, I should start that load of laundry. Whoops. There is a kid crying somewhere. Wait a second, what was I even doing?

I hate to psychoanalyze the mindset of bumper sticker loving people. However, I do want to jump inside your head for a bit. I get it. You like a certain sports team. Rock Chalk. Go Mizzou. Or hey, your child made the honor roll. Congrats! Isn’t there free ice cream for that too? When you’re trying to go all deep with your beliefs, on the back of your car, what’s that about? If I try to make eye contact with you, will you roll down your window, meet me for coffee or something to talk about your bumper sticker beliefs? Or will you just think I’m a creepy staring mom and pretend you don’t see me? I really want to know. So, you believe in evolution. Or people with the worst posture ever. Their backs must kill. Cool. You like stick kids. Zombies. Obama. Hey, wait, don’t drive off so fast. I was just getting to know you. I want to be friends.

Maybe it’s just me, but if I want to read something on someone’s bumper, while waiting f-o-r-e-v-e-r for the left turn signal, I would like it to be in the fortune cookie genre. “You should say you’re sorry. And mean it.” Or “Take the highway not the side streets.” Or “Don’t keep ignoring your check engine light.” Maybe even, “Be careful. You will get a flat tire soon.” Can’t leave out, “You will inherit millions. Go buy a lottery ticket.” Maybe we don’t order Chinese food enough.

I can be all sorts of indecisive. Is it too much to ask that your bumper sticker help me make some simple or really difficult choices? A magic eight ball approach to bumper stickers. Just simply, “Yes.” Or “No.” I haven’t done my research and perhaps I haven’t driven in enough cities to truly know the diversity that may exist in the bumper sticker world. Or the psychological research done on the powerful impact of a bumper sticker. What do I know? I’ve only unintentionally driven around with an eighties rockstar on my car. My husband put a picture of Rick Springfield on my right bumper last summer. I drove around for weeks not knowing he was even there. Big surprise. Perhaps people behind me at red lights thought that my husband wished that he had Jesse’s girl. I think they probably just associated Rick Springfield with a distracted mom that didn’t GO right as the light turned green. Honk! Honk! Sorry, I was trying to grab a fallen Batman action figure. It was really important. And hard to reach without unbuckling. See you at the next red light. I will make sure and smile and wave at you like we’re old friends. Why are you ignoring me, like we didn’t just have a meaningful moment at that last red light? Or if I get stuck behind you, I will just read your bumper stickers. Hey, there it is, “Coexist.” How ironic.

Inoperable

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Inoperable. A devastating word. A life-altering word. A word that just should not exist. When some people find out where I work, they respond by saying,

“I could never work in a children’s hospital.”

They mean well, maybe, but I can’t help but feel like I’m some sort of insensitive cruel person. Because most days, I truly love my job. I am honored and constantly grateful to work with some of the best people that this world has to offer. Completely self-sacrificing, beautiful, poised, compassionate, grateful human beings. The kind that make you tear up because they are so amazingly skilled and inspiring. And fully engaged and present in some of the most difficult times a child and family will ever encounter.

In the hospital setting, you witness kids battling, overcoming, devoted parents persevering, supporting and loving their kids wholeheartedly, you meet siblings feeling so deeply that….it’s just like no other experience sometimes. A child’s resilience, determination, and brave little spirit will knock the breath out of you. Sometimes because the little Hulks have kicked you. Spunky little fighters. They will say stuff, hard, honest, deep, trying-to-figure things out stuff that will cause your eyes to well up with this intense crazy hard-to-explain emotion. They are the best gifts that this life has to offer. Their honesty, their passion, their compassion, and their tenacity to get better inspires even the most lifeless of adults. And that’s why the good days and moments impact you in the meaningful way that they do. And that’s why the painful, horrific, sad and challenging days impact you in the unforgettable way that they do.

There are the nights that I can’t get to my car fast enough. Twelve plus hours can be a really looooong shift. These kind of nights, I know why people say that.

“I could never work in a children’s hospital.”

Bad stuff, mind boggling awful stuff happens in this world. We all know it, in the back of our minds, but to kids? Yes. Even to kids. Sweet, innocent, dependent children. I have not found a way to callous my heart, or to restrain my thoughts from going to the deep, dark places that I have seen at work. I have safe places to cry and release the pent up tears from the day’s utter, unexplainable, inoperable sadness. In my car. At my kitchen table. On the treadmill. In the shower. In my husband’s arms.

Sometimes, all day long at work, I’m trying to balance an emotional response that shows that I truly, deeply care without completely letting myself feel the intense pain of a horrible diagnosis, a tragic accident, a child hurting. Or a mother leaving with empty arms. I don’t get the luxury of unraveling because it’s not my child. I just met him. Or her. Or them. The siblings. I tell myself, “Just do your job well. Try and relate.” No, don’t relate. Not too much. Wait, he has the same birthday as my boys. Will he even live to celebrate another birthday? Stop thinking so much. Keep it together.

In one moment, I witness a parent’s life-filled smiling eyes replaced with fear, uncertainty and knowledge. Not the kind of knowledge that any parent wants. And I just wish I was somewhere, anywhere else, making someone a latte, or alphabetizing insurance forms.

But not tonight. I missed my exit. Again. Tears rolling down too quickly to wipe them all away. Thoughts firing at a rapidly difficult pace to keep up with. The “what ifs,” the “whys.” The pain. The hope. All of the day’s events. The sad music playing in the background. I plead with God. Through choked up breaths. I cry out. Why? Just why?

So I get it.

“I could never work in a children’s hospital.”

But, I have for 10 years. I’m not super insensitive or super human. Far from either, I think. Any strength I have is not my own. When you clock in, you have no idea what the day will bring. You open yourself up to be there for kids and families in some of their most painful, vulnerable moments. And that’s exactly what you do. You open yourself up. Fully exposed. To crying children that don’t understand what’s going on. To scared, confused parents. To a mother wailing for her dead son or daughter. You’re exposed to the fragility of life. The uncertainty. The unfathomable and incomprehensible. There is something so strangely beautiful in the midst of it all. The love woven delicately throughout the hurt. The strength amidst the unspeakable pain. The nurses, care assistants, doctors, social workers, radiology techs, interpreters, pharmacists, who I witness sacrificing their hearts to be fully present with families. To provide the best, most loving, compassionate and gentle care to people who they’ve just met. They are God’s hands. And shoulders. There, truly right there in that room, for families in some of the most painful, exhausting and utterly horrific times of life.

You pause. You walk down the hall. Then, boom, you remember your own family. And you panic. You call home. Please answer. You hear their voices. Temporary relief. Back to it. Then, you finally clock out. Anxiously drive to get home, walk through your garage door. Get upstairs. See and feel for yourself the sleeping breathing boys. You’re reminded of the beauty of loving someone so intensely that your chest hurts thinking that you may not get home to hold them one more time.

The thing is when you open yourself up…you hurt…you feel, and you experience life through another’s eyes. And you remember those moments forever. You love more deeply. You laugh more readily. You forgive more easily. You live. You grow. And more than anything else, you walk around with this added sense. Perspective. Different from seeing or hearing or even touching. It’s an acquired sense. From your many, many experiences. There are no guarantees in life. One moment you may be helping your 93 year old Grandma go to the bathroom. And the next, you may be sitting with an 8 year old child who may not live to blow out 9 candles.

You’re not perfect. You’re going to get upset sometimes at the small things. Spilled drinks. Sometimes, the bigger things will get you too. But you hug your loved ones longer, tighter, more often and you make sure they always know how deeply you love them. And you try your absolute best to protect them. You have to. Because you owe it to those who you’ve met. Those who left this world too soon. Or those who didn’t get to experience relentless love. And those who didn’t know that the last time they waved goodbye or hugged their child would be that. The very last time.