She walked into my room with the old hooded towel from her baby days on her head. Her fist flew to her eyes, a sure sign of impending tears. I said, “Hey, what’s wrong?” in alarm and pulled her onto the bed. (But not onto my lap because she was in her wet swimsuit, having just returned from the pool.)
She cried, then, rubbing her eyes. I ran my hand over her legs. “Are you hurt? Did you fall?” She shook her head. “What’s wrong?” She sniffed some more.
Then, finally, “I don’t want to be dead!” she said.
“You aren’t going to die,” I assured her.
“And I don’t want you to die!” she said.
“I’m not going to die until I’m very old.” Perhaps a lie, but I offered it anyway.
“Yes. Great-grandma is still alive and she’s 101.”
“What about my regular grandma?” she asked.
“She’s alive, too.”
Then, fresh tears and, “I don’t want to die!”
“You aren’t going to die.”
“Because children don’t die?” she asked.
I paused. Then chose to lie. “That’s right. Children don’t die. You’ll live for a long, long, long time. Probably.”
Her tears had stopped by then, comforted by my lies. My husband said Grace had been talking to a little girl at the pool and the conversation was about death. Grace could not stop talking about it when she got home, and apparently on the drive home from the pool, she carried a terror of dying which she could only hand to me in person.
During her bath:
“Mom, what would your mouth and eyes look like when you’re dead?”
“Mom, what does God look like?”
“Mom, are you going to die?”
“Mom, when are we going to die?
I believe in heaven. I believe in God. I believe that death is not the end, only a doorway to another life. But looking in the blue eyes of my 4-year old daughter, I offered lies because I can’t bear for her to consider a loss that great.
I’m sure we’ll be talking about death for days and weeks to come. I can only hope that no one in our family–including 101-year old Great Grandma–dies anytime soon. Or ever, really, as long as I’m hoping and wishing.
* * *
I should note that we often talk about death around here . . . I am matter-of-fact about the topic. My kids know that my dad died when he was 47 and they’ve asked about that over and over again. But yesterday, she was so worried about dying RIGHT THEN that I felt it was not appropriate to have a rational discussion. We will talk about it again soon, I am sure, and than I will clarify . . . I say this in response to the comments advising me to be truthful. I have been in the past and under normal circumstances, I am forthright on this topic, but yesterday? Yesterday I chose to assure rather than offer facts. (Geez, do I sound defensive or what?)