It ranks up there with the hardest 30 minutes of parenting I've ever gone through. The bees were number one, though I have memories of that night that indicate that I turned into a ninja. Full on ninja hallucinations. The brain is amazing. Anyway, this was number two.
My tender heart-ed boy. My boy who has a deep connection to all living creatures and even loves ants. My boy who has not eaten meat from the moment he was aware of where it came from. My boy who hurts when you hurt. My boy who needs a lot more time to work through sadness and grief than the rest of us. This was his first real experience with knowing and loving the dead.
I had gathered them up and we sat on the couch together. "I need to tell you something. I am sad tonight because Doug has died."
Pants immediately screamed at me and covered his ears. I was ready for this because he often works through anger first. He went for his coat. "Let's go to grandma's. Let's go see Doug RIGHT NOW!" He was on the brink and my answer gave way to the fall. "We cannot go right now. Doug is not there. He has died. I know you are so sad. I am sad, too." and I let my tears fall.
His anger poured out. He wanted to throw a chair. I let him tip it over slowly. He cried so hard and I just let him. Stomping his feet. Plum began to softly cry. I pulled her close. He noticed. And after a few minutes that felt like hours he began to quiet. The questions came in a rapid fire. So fast that I needed to write them down so I wouldn't forget. I wanted to answer them all. Many came in triplicate or more.
"But where did he go?" "When will he come back?" "Where did he go?" "Is he coming back?" "But where?" "Where is he?"
The questions stung. My brain attempted to run. I cried with him. Plum sat quietly in my lap and took it all in. She allowed her brother to ask all the questions. She listened with her lip shaking the way that it does when she is overwhelmed with sadness.
"WHY did he died?" - He was very old and had lived his whole life.
"Is grandma sad?" - Yes. Grandma is sad.
"Why can't he come back?" - Because dying means that he is gone from here.
"But what if he WANTS to come back?" - He is ok. His old body doesn't hurt anymore. He cannot come back but he is ok.
"Did he fall off a cliff and break?" - No. He was very very old and he died.
"How did Doug get old?" - He lived for a long long time. He was around for a lot of years before you were even born.
"Did it hurt him when he died?" - No. It did not.
"Is Gloria gonna die?" - Yes- But I expect her to be with us for very long time. She will live her whole life as a part of our family.
"Are you gonna die, mama?"
The question that I pretty much knew was coming but it was still a punch to the throat. I had done some reading about that question and I am so glad that I did. Because what wanted to come out of my mouth and my brain actually sent was "Nope! Never. We will be together forever always alive and never dead. Amen."
Thankfully the answer I gave, because they are so young still and fear separation was to ask the question, "Are you worried that I will not be be here to take care of you?" He nodded through tears. I could see the anticipation of my answer scaring him. "I don't expect to die for a very long time. I expect to take care of you for as long as you need me."
"Ok.", Plum whispered. "I so sad"
I pulled them both in and mercifully we had finally crossed into the place where Pants allowed me to hug him. I hugged them tight and they hugged me so tight I have a bruise on the back of my arm.
Then I pulled the blanket up around us and made a fart noise and blamed it on Gloria. Because like Truvy, laughter through tears is my favorite emotion. And my kids think farts are the funniest thing ever. Because they are. Then I pulled out the ice cream and cookies. I believe in honesty and talking to kids about the hard stuff but I also believe in relief. So we ate ice cream and giggled between moments of silence and remembering.
It's been almost a week. The questions are still coming and I suspect they will for a while. This is one of those life-long lessons that we learn more and less and then more about as we go.
While playing in the snow yesterday Pants turned to me and said, "Mama? When do squirrels die?" I answered that I wasn't sure how long they lived but that I would find out. "Do you think they like to eat Cheerios?", he wondered. He just happened to have some Cheerios in his pocket leftover from the snowman we had just built.
He walked over to the base of the tree at the side of our yard.
"I'll just leave some here just in case they get hungry.", he said
"Bud, you have such a loving heart. Some squirrel is going to be so excited when they find those", I said.
"I hope they know that I love them, mama.", he paused and his lip started to quiver,
"Did Doug know that I love him?"
"Yes he did, bud. He sure did."
"Are you sure?"
"Yep! I am sure. Because your love is so warm and awesome. Everybody and everything can feel it."
"That's cool.", he said with a bit of a smirky smile. And then my sweet angel made a snowball and chucked it at me.