The Question Revisited
Thank you for the birthday wishes. And truly, not to be morbid, but I wrote this post a few weeks ago and never got a chance to post it. It probably isn’t the best post to follow birthday musings, but since I didn’t have my computer to upload pictures from the Resolve party, I thought, why the hell not. Let’s talk about death.
I was forewarned–Tash told me the first time I posted that the talk of death had only begun and she was correct. Something about an empty gas tank and pulling into a gas station sparked the question: “Tell me some people who have died.”
And who am I going to choose? The ones that float to the top of my mind immediately or sift down to elderly ancestors that they equate with dinosaurs–probably real but too far removed to be certain. I paraded out a great-great-grandmother, a few great-grandparents. She asked if you could die if you stopped eating in the same way that a car will die if the tank ran out of gasoline. Yes, I admitted, you could die from not eating, but you’d have to stop eating for a long time.
And, of course, she freaked me out by deciding to skip dinner a few hours later.
It didn’t take too long for the wheels to turn and the Wolvog, who generally shies away from talk of death looked at me and said, “am I going to die one day?” It was as if my very being had been botoxed. We were done pumping gas, but still sitting in the dormant car at the station. I turned around to face him. “Yes, one day, a very very very very long time from now. It’s so far away that you probably can’t even imagine it.”
He didn’t seem phased at all. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “after I die, I’m going to come back one more time as a baby.”
My little Buddhist.
We went through what happens after you die and I told them that after we die, we don’t need our body anymore so we plant the body like a flower so it can return to the earth. And the things that make a person unique–our neshama–leaves and floats away. I didn’t tell them that I like to think that it hangs around on old recipe cards and in mannerisms we inherit. But I wasn’t answering the question well because it kept getting asked and I finally admitted that since no one knew for certain what happened after we died, we could each have our own belief. The Wolvog could believe in reincarnation and the ChickieNob could believe that we all go to a great party in the sky and I could believe that our body is simply gone and we exist only in memories and tangible objects left behind.
The question returned as I made dinner. If Grandma-P was dead, did that mean Grandma-S didn’t have a mommy anymore?
Yes, I told her, her mommy isn’t here anymore.
And one day she’ll learn, equally heartbreaking, that while there are children without their parents, it goes the other way around and there are mothers and fathers walking around with their children missing.
And that is the point when the tantrum began that lasted for an hour and a half that included a missed dinner, two nose-blowings, a bath refusal, a skipped movie, and a lot of screaming. At the time, I thought it was about the spaetzle I made for dinner (and can I just add for a moment that it was freakin’ handmade spaetzle that I asked her if she wanted and took an hour to pull together), but as I sat down to collect my thoughts for this post, I realized the timing. And the thought that kicked it off. And the fear of the lost mother. So I returned upstairs and reassure once again.
She was still awake, even though I fully expected her to be asleep since I had been out of her room for an hour and she had been silent the whole time. She smiled when I came in and asked how I knew that her brother had fallen asleep with the blanket over his face. I didn’t, I told her, that was just a lucky catch. I came up to see you.
I asked her if anything was bothering her and she went through some strange ones–the fact that I didn’t make a playdate for her today; the fact that they stopped selling spaetzle at the store, necessitating me dragging out the spaetzle maker. I probed a little more and she finally looked at me with the most heartbreaking face and said, “I want you to live forever. I want us both to live forever.”
It was like staring at myself.
It was like being sucked into a wormhole beneath her toddler bed and shot out in 1978, she looks so much like me and that blueness, that thought tossing around in her head for the last few hours. As much as people focus on the joy of seeing yourself outside your body, in finding your eyes or your hair on your child, there is an equal amount of discomfort on the other side when you observe your traits as others see them. And there was such a depth in her blueness, her lower lip pushing on the upper one, her consideration of what lies ahead that I wished I could have the power to control fate. I would have wasted my wish on an impossibility just to set that fact out there. I wished I could live forever not because I wanted to live forever, but I didn’t want her to ever experience me not living forever.
Again, my soul thankfully botoxed within an inch of its life, I reassured but didn’t promise and let her dream that the possibility of eternal life exists in the same way that my mother allowed me to dream for years in the reality of invisible cream. It isn’t cruel to allow a child their imagination–especially one that creates a kinder and gentler reality.
I held it together until she put her head down and I started to stroke her back. I had buried my mouth in her hair, kissing her head, and it felt like I was recording a moment. That I would remember the feeling of her hair on my mouth until I died–that it wouldn’t be just another moment that faded into oblivion. It isn’t just photographs and school art we keep. It’s moments where reality shifts, where we enter a new plane of understanding. A terrible plane of understanding, but one that we can’t avoid forever. As much as I wish we could.