I need help talking to my kids about death. Lately it's been a constant topic of conversation for them...and us..because of course they have to draw me into it. This summer all three of our cats died. One right after the other. Now, while we loved our kitties, they were not real fond of us, and kept their distance, so I didn't think their deaths would phase the kids all that much. I'm so intuitive I tell you. Well...um, yeah...not so much. The first one had to be put to sleep because she was ill and the kids moaned and sobbed for a good hour after I put her in the carrier to go to the vets. I might have been sneakier about getting the cat out had I known how traumatic this would be for them. Then the other two dying in quick succession only made things go from bad to worse. I am fairly truthful with them about death and what follows. We are Catholics so we believe that our souls eventually make their way to heaven, some spending longer in purgatory than others. but the death of our kitties made for some difficult questions.
First they wanted to know if cats had souls. I am of the belief that they do, I know that's not proper Catholic teachings but I'm an animal lover so ppphhhffffffttttt! So I told the kids of course they do and their little souls go straight to heaven. Sam, my scientist, then asked me what happens to their bodies. Hmmm. Okay. My response that "the bodies will decompose, crumble back into dirt" seemed to satisfy them. Phew! They weren't upset with this truthful answer. They asked their questions, listened to my answers and then went out to play superheroes. I patted myself on the back for being so forthright and not making up little stories that are ridiculous so as not to upset them . I am so so good at this parenting thing.
Later that night, long after they had been put to bed, kissed good night, prayers recited and stories told, I heard the thump thump thump of not so little feet come pattering down the stairs. They made their way into my room and there was sad little sniffling Teresa. Sam followed after her, trying hard to comfort her. Honestly, I think he realized this was a grand way to postpone bedtime because in between his concerned looks I caught him looking quite happy. I asked Teresa what was troubling her and she said between sobs that she didn't want to die and asked "Am I going to die like the kitties?" Alright...truth or little white lie???? I made a split second decision to go with truth and I told her that we all die eventually but most people live long long long long long long lives. She stopped crying and looked at me in horror..."Are YOU going to die too?" Well, yes...but not for a super super long time. I still had lots of living left to do. This made the sobbing worse. She couldn't decide whether she was more frightened of her own death or mine. Then Sam, my Nobel prize winning scientist in the making, puts two and two together. "Mumma!" he shouts "Mumma, does that mean that we turn into dirt too...just like the kitties?"
That was it. Teresa could barely catch her breath she was sobbing so hard. When not sobbing, she was moaning that she did not want to turn into dirt. That she loved her body and did not want it to be underground and help plants grow. Why would God make such a horrible yucky thing happen to her.
OH. MY. GOD. Look at the freaking mess I made of this one. As it got later and later and as the hole I dug for myself got deeper and deeper I finally caved.
I told her that she wouldn't turn into dirt.
She looked at me and asked sceptically "then what will happen to my body?" Here's where it gets really bad. I told her that God will bring her right up to heaven, body and soul. She was still sad about the dying part of it all and continued sobbing. I, not so patiently, asked why she was still crying and she went on to lament how lonely she will be without all of us. Why, of course we'll all get to be together in heaven. That's for certain. Still sobbing. Because she doesn't want us to go to heaven before she does or she'll be lonely on earth but she doesn't want to go before any of us either because then she'll be lonely in heaven. I was in so deep at this point I told her not to worry. We're all going to die at the exact same moment, we'll live together happily in heaven, talking and laughing and having a grand ole time. Finally...finally, she stops with the crying and and asks me "Then it's just like here. Why do we have to die and go to heaven for that? Why can't we just stay here?" I threw in the towel and asked her if she wanted candy. That distracted her long enough that I could change the subject and I got them some more water and walked them back up to bed. After a bit they both fell asleep.
I lay there next to them for a bit. Wondering how it got so that I was promising my children that they would be assumed into heaven body and soul. The first to do that since Mary the mother of Jesus. I really need to go to confession. How awful is it that I lied AND I lied about GOD stuff??? I think I may have extended my stay in purgatory with this little conversation.