Monday, March 2, 2015

Unanswerable Questions

“I wish I was never born...”

My heart sank, as I tried to process the sentence coming from my sweet, precocious six year old as we drove down the road. I didn't think such things until I was in the middle of my junior high “yuck” phase, hating everything about my life, a female George Bailey with no Clarence to convince her otherwise. But this was different. My daughter was still innocent.

“...because then I wouldn't have to die.”

And then my heart shattered. Poor E is still processing all the grief of losing a loved one, and grappling with the inevitability of death. I have a hard time with it myself, so it's no wonder that she would consider such dark ideas. Hell, I caught myself thinking the exact same thing only the day before.

My father passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in August 2013, followed a month later by my maternal grandmother. Since that time, both my children have been obsessed with death. And who wouldn't be? I'm obsessed with death and think about it all the time. Perhaps it's because I have no answers, but I have the same questions they do. What happens? Where do you go? What do you do? Do you see your family? Can you talk to people? Does it hurt? And my favorite - Are you magical?

Aside from Christmas, Easter and when her baby teeth fall out, I am completely open and honest with my daughter. I try to tell her the truth in everything, in the best way I think she will understand. When I broke the news to her about my dad dying, she was initially upset that she wasn't going to be getting pretty dresses for Christmas and her birthdays anymore. And then she blew me away and broke my heart by saying “He'll be your daddy forever and you'll never see him again.” We held each other like our lives depended on it and cried until our tear ducts dried out.

Until December of last year, I've been able to reassure her that I won't be dying anytime soon. While I've been honest that I don't know when I'm going to die, I may have allowed her childhood innocence to believe that only old people die. My three year old drives her crazy because 32 is the biggest number he can fathom, and he's convinced that is the magical number for death.

“Mommy, when you turn 32, that's when you die,” he says.

“But Mommy's 41! Don't say that, L!”

And the tears flow.

Just a few weeks before Christmas, a dear friend of mine lost her baby at 27 weeks gestation and my daughter learned that death does not discriminate. The only thing more heartbreaking than watching your daughter realize that you can die at any moment, is watching her realize that she can die at any moment.

Hearing her only logical solution to this mysterious and frightening puzzle on routine drive home from the store made me question my ability as a mother. How can I reassure her and restore her love for life when I'm not 100% certain about this thing myself?

We sat on the couch when we got home, and we talked about those unanswerable questions. I told her that I don't know exactly what happens. I told what I believe, why we go to church, and that we should look at death as a peaceful thing - not something to fear. She asked if we would be with our families when we die. I told her that I certainly hoped I would get to see my dad and my grandparents again, and that I hopefully would be reunited with her when it was time. But I don't know for sure, and that's what's hard. And scary.

I spent the first six years of my child's life holding every answer to every question in the palm of my hand. I was the omniscient and omnipotent being in the household. I was God, and Unit 14 at Timbercrest Condominiums was the Garden of Eden. As my daughter's innocence is stripped away, I feel my resolve weaken. I cannot protect her. I cannot save her. I am just as helpless and vulnerable as she is. I'm fairly certain she figured this out long before I did, even though she still seems to act like she adores me. But maybe that's because she's six.

I can't protect her and I can't promise her that nothing terrible will happen. I can only promise that I will continue to eat my vegetables, keep up with my running, try not to hit other cars in traffic, keep my doors locked at night, drink ample amounts of water, avoid soy, take my vitamins, brush and floss my teeth, and practice yoga.

I can promise her that I will strive to bring joy into our lives. A friend of mine who lost the battle with breast cancer many years too soon always ended her journals with the line: “Every day is beauty – beauty in the every day.” I promise that I will find that beauty, I will share it, and I will treasure it. From early morning wake-up kisses, to the surprise pumpkin muffin in the lunch box, to raspberries on her cheeks at tuck-in. I will treasure the not so pleasant moments, too. The legos I step on in the middle of the night, the rush to the car for school in the morning because she decided to play in the bathroom instead of brush her teeth, the screaming with her brother in the car over which song to sing, who has what toy, or whatever egregious deed she accuses him of.

I can promise to treasure each moment as she grows from precocious six year old to the intelligent and creative young woman I imagine she will become. I can promise to share all of my joys and hobbies, and create memories that we can cherish together and will keep us warm when we're not.

I can promise her that I will support her through her hardships, cheer her endeavors, and relish her accomplishments. I can promise that nothing she can do or say will diminish the amount or intensity of love I feel for her today, and it will only grow stronger as time goes on. I can promise that I will never give her reason to doubt my love.

Because without love, what is there to live for?

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