Sunday, June 9, 2013

Questions About Dying from a Five-Year-Old

Act #160: Listen to the voice of a child. 

Yesterday my family and I spent 12 hours laying my husband's 91 year-old grandfather (whom we affectionately referred to as "Pop") to rest.  From the small funeral service at the local funeral the cemetery for some private graveside moments before burial....on to the family gathering over fried chicken and potato salad at his widow's home, and then one last impromptu sunset family drive out to the cemetery.  Because my husband played a significant role in supporting his mother and serving as pallbearer, I was fortunate to have spent those 12 special hours with my wise and curious 5-year old son holding my hand the entire time.  What a gift that was for me.

Being the interfaith family that we are, my son was not raised with preconceived notions about the after-life, nor did he have the solace of any particular religion to ease his loss or answer his questions. Here are the profound questions he posed to me yesterday. 

Did you know that pop was in the military?  He had guns!
To him, this 91-year-old man who is no longer with us in the physical sense, was still amazing and heroic to him.  I suspect that he always will be.

Will my people be there?
My son was referring to our extended family, but I had never heard him refer to them as "my people" before.  Interesting how times like these truly define one's frame of reference and place in the world.  My typically active kid laid around comfortably during the post-burial family gathering at pop's home.  We were there for 5 hours with no toys and no other children.  (We may have had a little help from the Cartoon Network though.)

Why is Abby crying?
It never occurred to my son that his 12-year old cousin might be sad - because in his mind, this was a celebration of pop's life.

Can we get cake for pop's party?
It was beyond his comprehension why we wouldn't continue to honor pop by getting his favorite cake.

Why is the graveyard not even spooky?
Between Scooby Doo and Halloween, I guess he was expecting the worse.  Our sunset drive out to the cemetery was quite memorable.  He skipped happily and comfortably between gravestones, stopping to read and pay his respects to various strangers.

Do zombies have souls?
Damn that Scooby Doo. 

Aren't we all mortal?
At this precious young age, my son was already able to grasp the notion that death and dying was a natural part of everyone's journey.  What he chose to focus on was not what happened to pop after he was laid in the ground, but rather how he impacted those around him over the last 91 years.

Can't pop just live inside my heart?
Why yes, son.  Yes he can.

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